by Frank Hyde
August 19, 1967
The affable giant, who was born in a town that is no more, has kicked the infield dust from his cleats and trudged off to the most enduring locker room of them all where Hugh Bedient and Swat Erickson are waiting. That will be some reunion, for they were part of a baseball era that is gone forever.
It took an exacting foe, like death, to knock Raymond Benjamin (Rube) Caldwell out of the box, for his will to live was as strong as his will to win when he was on the mound for the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians. "I just sort of scratched around from the time I was born in Corydon, PA," Ray told us one time. "And it wasn't easy in those days." Now Corydon is gone, too - part of the vast lands covered by the Kinzua Dam.
Connie Mack once said, "Put Ray Caldwell with a winning team and he would be one of the greatest pitchers of all time." We don't know about that because we never saw Ray pitch, but the records prove he was just that kind of guy.
The New York Americans were the Highlanders when Ray broke into the bigs in 1910, a fairly respectable team under George Stallings and his successor Hal Chase. They wound up second to Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's and it was after Caldwell blanked the A's one day on two hits in Philly that Mack made the foregoing statement.
The Highlanders, soon to become the Yankees, hit on hard times (sort of like the modern Yankees) after 1910. They were seventh in '11, eighth in '12 and seventh in '13. Those, of course, were the days of the eight-team leagues. "That big, 'ol Rube from Ohio wins his share for us, though," Manager Harry Wolverton told the press one day in discussing his team. Wolverton, Fighting Harry they called him, was a fiercely proud Ohioan - so anything good automatically came from Ohio.
Wolverton made his remark the day after the futile New Yorkers got Caldwell one run and he made it stand up over Detroit. That run was like manna from heaven for Caldwell. It was the only run the club had scored for him over a 49-inning span. Three and four day rests were unheard of for Big Ray during his early years in the American League. He was a bear with a bat and often played outfield between mound assignments.
Oddly enough, one of Ray's greatest two-day performances came against the New Yorkers. He had been dealt to Boston in 1919, then managed by Ed Barrow, the man who made an outfielder out of a pitcher named Babe Ruth. On the Red Sox' first swing into New York, Ray asked for a chance to pitch against his old mates. He got it and won his own game with a two-run homer. The next day Barrow looked down the bench for a pinch runner to replace a slow man on third. "Let me run," Ray chirped. So he went in and stole home to beat the Yanks.
"He's real hard-nosed," Tris Speaker, Cleveland's manager said of Caldwell after Rube from Pennsylvania had won 20 games and helped pitch the Tribe to the American League flag. "He's the only starter we have who can be depended on in relief if needed," Speaker told newsmen. Maybe Tris was thinking of the day Caldwell came on in one of the late innings against the A's, bases loaded, and fanned three premier hitters - Eddie Collins, Home Run Baker and Amos Strunk.
Probably no man in the history of baseball can claim a more unusual debut than Caldwell made with Cleveland in 1919. We have a photostat of the story carried in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that day - the day Ray beat Philadelphia, 2-1, after being knocked down by a bolt of lightning.
The Plain Dealer story read: "Ray Caldwell, late of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, yesterday staged a Cleveland debut that will long live in his memory. Not only did he justify Manager Speaker's confidence in him by defeating the A's, 2-1, but he finished the game after being struck to the ground by an electrical bolt that broke over League Park in the ninth inning. Thousands were thrown into a temporary panic by the bolt, which made as much noise as the backfiring of a thousand autos or the explosion of a dozen shells from a battery of big berthas."
The story goes on: "Caldwell and shortstop Chapman (Ray Chapman, the only major leaguer ever killed by a pitched ball) were affected the most. Caldwell lay stretched out on the pitching rubber, but he arose unassisted in a minute or so and the effects of the shock apparently wore off quickly."
As Tris Speaker said, Ray Caldwell was a hard-nosed guy in a ball game but the kind of fellow one is proud to have known.