by Edith Serkownek
Ray Caldwell - Pitcher with "the arm, the head and the heart"
Tall, thin and plain-spoken, baseball player Raymond Benjamin Caldwell was born in Corydon, Warren County, PA on April 26, 1888. Caldwell's exciting and turbulent career spanned more than two decades. He pitched for the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians, as well as many less famous teams.
Caldwell grew up in Corydon and completed high school in Salamanca, NY. Even in youth, Caldwell was known as a hard pitcher, with a well-developed fastball but an under-developed aim. In high school he was discouraged from pitching in games for fear he might kill a batter.
Although he worked briefly as a telegraph operator, most of Ray's time after high school was spent playing baseball. In 1908 he began to pitch for "Corydon's leading semi-pro club" and a year later he signed with a Bath, NY team called the Urban Libertys. From there he joined up with a Kane, PA team and then signed on with the McKeesport O & P team. Caldwell's pitching made a splash everywhere he went and he soon attracted the attention of professional scouts.
Dick Padden, scout for the Washington Senators, was the first to go to McKeesport to report on Caldwell. What he saw apparently left him unimpressed, and when he returned to Washington he reported to the manager that the only thing Caldwell had going for him was "the uniform and the glove."
New York Americans scout "Smoke" Wood saw things differently, and the team bought out Ray's contract in 1910 for $1500. Ray was 22. At the time, the New York Americans were occasionally referred to as the Yankees but were more commonly known as the Highlanders. The team had not yet entered its golden age and was rather outclassed by teams such as the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Athletics. Nevertheless, they achieved a coup in Ray "Slim" Caldwell. Senators scout Dick Padden came to regret his flippant remarks, as Caldwell "made monkeys of the Washington players the first time he pitched against them." Outraged that they had passed on Caldwell, Senators manager James McAleer fired Padden.
At his best, Caldwell was a brilliant baseball player. His pitching was marvelous. He had a good swing and he was regularly used as a pinch hitter. He could play almost any position well, and he often played first base and the outfield. One newspaper reported, "This tall, free-pitching Pennsylvanian has about as much pitching power as any man we know... he has the stuff and the courage - the arm, the head and the heart."
Throughout the teens, Caldwell was regularly compared to the best pitchers of the day. However the comparisons inevitably ended with the phrase "if only he would apply himself" or "as soon as he takes the game seriously." When he was on a streak, Caldwell could do no wrong and then, suddenly, he would lose his momentum.
There appears to be at least two causes behind Caldwell's failure to achieve sustained success. Caldwell seems to have suffered a reoccurring arm injury which at times made him unable to pitch. Additionally, Caldwell suffered from frequent run-ins with baseball management.
During one spring training in the early teens, Caldwell injured his arm and it did not heal for much of the season. He believed that it was permanent and privately told friend that it was his last season in baseball. One newspaper noted, "Caldwell was having all sorts of trouble with his arm. At one stage he couldn't as much as toss the ball across to first base, let alone put something into it.'" Another baseball player mentioned the name of a New York osteopath to Caldwell; subsequently the doctor diagnosed Ray with a misplaced ligament and started to treat him. Caldwell quickly recovered and began a winning streak that fall. Arm injuries, however, would continue to plague Caldwell later in his career.
Despite an easy-going nature, Caldwell's relationships with team management were often adversarial. One newspaper sympathetically recorded Ray's losing battle with Americans manager Frank Chance. "Chance in his usual aggressive manner, rode over Caldwell roughshod for violations of training rules, and it looked for a time as if the eccentric twirler would have to work all year gratis, to pay the fines imposed." His difficulty with management was not confined to the Americans but included other teams for whom he pitched. At times Caldwell's behavior led not merely to fines, but suspensions.
Despite these problems, Caldwell could claim for himself a career most professional players would envy. After eight turbulent years with the New York Americans, Caldwell was sold to the Boston Red Sox and shortly afterwards to the Cleveland Indians. When Caldwell returned to New York in 1919 for the first time to play as a Cleveland Indian against the Americans, he pitched a golden game. He gave the Americans no hits and no runs.
In 1920 the Cleveland Indians won the American League (sic) by defeating the Brooklyn Dodgers. Caldwell had finally found a successful team, and he stayed with the Cleveland Indians from 1919 to 1922. It was during his tenure with the Indians that Caldwell experienced one of the strangest moments in baseball history.
It was August 12 (sic), 1919, and Ray was pitching for the Indians against the Philadelphia A's in Cleveland's League Park. The sky was threatening but the rain was holding off, and it was the bottom of the ninth. The A's had two outs and Caldwell had just thrown his first strike. As Ray prepared to pitch another two strikes to hitter Jumpin' Joe (sic) and win the game, the crowd was thrown into a panic when a bolt of lightning "struck the iron rail in front of the press box, seared its way down the steel posts and furrowed across the infield as it traveled to the mound like a line drive. Caldwell was down." Hit by lightning, Caldwell lay on the mound, unconscious. Amazingly, Caldwell regained consciousness within a few moments and felt himself more than able to pitch the rest of the game.
Although his career with the American League ended after he left the Indians, Caldwell continued to play semi-pro (sic) baseball for the next decade with the Kansas City, Little Rock, Memphis and Birmingham teams. During the twilight of his baseball career in 1930, Caldwell had the pleasure of playing on a semi-pro (sic) team with his son, James Raymond Caldwell, who was then 19 years old. The newspapers noted that James Caldwell had recently left a battery business in Corydon to follow in his father's footsteps.
Although Caldwell spent much of his life away from Warren County, he and his wife returned regularly. One newspaper noted that he kept a country house called "Ranel Manor" in Corydon, and he would often come to the area to relax and hunt. After leaving organized baseball in 1932, Caldwell held a number of jobs including that of welder, car salesman, and railroad station master in Ashville, NY. He eventually purchased a farm near Frewsburg, NY.
Newspaper articles noted that Caldwell continued to pitch in Old Timers games in North Warren, PA and made occasional public appearances throughout the 1940s and 50s. Photographs and newspaper articles from Caldwell's own scrapbooks reveal an easy-going man, who despite his struggles, sincerely loved the game of baseball.