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Willey from Cherryfield, Maine area

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Re: Willey from Cherryfield, Maine area

Posted: 27 Mar 2012 10:01AM GMT
Classification: Query
I just happened to spot this and thought it may be of interest to you:


Carlton Willey: The ace from Cherryfield
by Harry Gratwick

As the baseball season begins, it seems appropriate to recognize one of the best ball players to come from the state of Maine.
Pitcher Carlton Willey was a true Mainer. Tributes to him at the time of his death on July 21, 2009, emphasized how humble a man he was and how deep his hometown roots were. Willey grew up in Cherryfield, Maine and, when his baseball career was over, he returned to Cherryfield, where he died at the age of 78.
Folks in Cherryfield remember Willey as a modest, unassuming man who never forgot where he came from. In 1760 Ichabod Willey was one of the town's founding fathers and the Willey family has been living there ever since.
Town Clerk Mona West remembers Carlton as a local celebrity who avoided the limelight. "He was just one of us. He was a great fellow."
To quote Larry Mahoney in the Bangor Daily News: "Every morning since his retirement from baseball in 1965, Willey hosted his old pals for conversations over coffee. At 8 a.m. sharp, every day but Sunday, the men gathered to discuss politics, people, hunting, fishing and of course, baseball." In time this came to be known as "The Old Men's Club".
Willey was a star athlete who graduated from Cherryfield Academy in 1949. The next summer he went to a try-out in Bangor sponsored by the Boston Braves. (The Braves moved to Milwaukee in 1953 and then to Atlanta in 1966.)
When they got to the field, a friend from Cherryfield recalls Willey looking at the more than 200 kids and saying, "There's no sense in me going down there." His friend kept after him, however, and after a couple of weeks of try-outs, Carlton made the team. At the end of a successful summer league season Willey was invited to the Braves headquarters in Boston, where he signed a contract for $800.
Willey spent the next seven years mostly in the minor leagues, honing his pitching skills. He pitched for Quebec, Toledo, Atlanta, Wichita and the U.S. Army. In 1952 he was drafted and spent two years in Germany, where he was assigned to special services. In his case special services meant he played a lot of baseball during his tour of duty.
In 1957 Carlton had a spectacular minor league season winning 21 games and pitching Wichita to the American Association pennant. Following this he was called up to the Milwaukee Braves, who were facing the Yankees in the World Series.
In 1954 Willey married his high school sweetheart Nancy Higgins who was his wife for the next 26 years. When I spoke with the former Mrs. Willey recently I asked her what career memories Carlton would have been the proudest of.
The first one was easy, she said. In 1958 he was selected as Rookie of the Year in the National League; he was 9-7 with a 2.70 ERA. She added that he pitched four shutouts that year and nine complete games.
Although he was very good, Willey frequently went weeks between starts. In his first start in the spring of 1958, he pitched a shutout against the San Francisco Giants. Six weeks later he did it again. The problem was that the Braves had an outstanding pitching staff that included the Hall of Fame lefthander Warren Spahn, as well as standouts Lew Burdett, Bob Buhl and Juan Pizzaro. Under the circumstances, it is remarkable that Willey won 28 games over a five-year period and compiled a very respectable ERA of 3.10.
His second-proudest memory occurred in 1963 when Willey had been traded to the Mets. Nancy said that in June of that year Carlton hit a home run with the bases loaded while pitching for the Mets in the old Polo Grounds. The Mets were playing Houston and in the fifth inning they deliberately walked the batter ahead of him to get to the supposedly weaker hitting pitcher. The Houston pitcher grooved one and Willey hit it out of the park for a grand slam.
Stepping back to 1958, Willey's third favorite moment came in the World Series when the Braves were playing the Yankees again. To quote Nancy Willey: "They were deliberating whether start Carlton or Bob Rush and Rush got the nod because he was a veteran pitcher. In the 8th inning he was taken out and relieved by Carlton." He told his wife later, "my legs were so weak that I didn't know which way I was going. Then this kid from Blue Hill, Maine of all places, ran out on the mound and asked me ‘How do you think you'll do'? I said, ‘I don't know, but we'll find out'". (Willey retired the side, but he didn't get the win, because the Braves lost to the Yankees in extra innings).
In the spring of 1964 Willey was told he would pitch the opening game of the regular season. Disaster struck in the form of a line drive that broke his jaw in the final spring training game. As Nancy Willey recalled, "The game started late in the afternoon because of a festival. When the ball was hit, Carton was blinded by the setting sun and barely got his glove up to deflect the ball, which broke his jaw. He never recovered after that. He hurt his shoulder trying to come back too soon."
Willey scouted for the Phillies for a few years before returning to Maine where he worked as a probation officer and later as the manager of a blueberry processing plant in Hancock. Later, he and his son, Richie, started a house-painting business. In spite of his injuries, Carlton Willey always considered himself fortunate to have played in the big leagues. After all how many of us have had an eight-year major league career?
SubjectAuthorDate Posted
chammond34 14 Sep 2000 5:57AM GMT 
SuzanneBlack6... 28 Oct 2000 9:42AM GMT 
brandiseelye1 9 Nov 2000 7:10PM GMT 
jawilley 25 Jul 2001 4:58PM GMT 
LucretiaW 1 Dec 2000 3:08PM GMT 
Lorri Finton 17 Feb 2001 8:47AM GMT 
Stacy_Sousa 22 Oct 2001 10:37PM GMT 
TeenieBopper1... 7 Sep 2009 7:40PM GMT 
pmbowen1 8 Sep 2009 2:33PM GMT 
jtwilley561 27 Mar 2012 4:01PM GMT 
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