Max Carey

Max Carey

January 11, 1890
5' 11"
170 lbs
Major League Debut:
10-03-1910 with PIT
Hall of Fame:

Incredible speed, outstanding arm, a solid bat and great determination and confidence epitomized the Pirate career of Max Carey, a onetime seminary student who worked his way into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

On the surface, one reviewing Carey’s career today may not understand how impressive he was as a player.  His career average was only .285, but despite not possessing great power, he was considered one of the most valuable offensive players of his time.  As a base stealer, only Ty Cobb surpassed him and only Tris Speaker was generally conceded to be a superior outfielder.  Carey led the National League in stolen bases ten times.  He also led the league in at bats, triples and walks twice and runs once.  In the field, Carey led NL outfielders in put outs nine times, four times in assists and five times in double plays, all while playing for the Pirates.  At the time of his retirement, only Cobb and Eddie Collins had stolen more bases under modern rules and no National Leaguer passed him until Lou Brock, close to 50 years after Carey had retired.  Ironically, stealing is what Carey continues to be known for, given he set out to become a Lutheran minister.  Born Maximilian Carnarius, he was a student at Concordia College when he went to see a minor league game.  After watching the shortstop play, Max decided he could do a better job.  The team’s manager was impressed with Carnarius’s speed as the student presented medals he had won as a sprinter to back up his claim and signed him to a contract under the name “Carey” to protect the prospects amateur status.  Carey didn’t hit at all, but his speed gave him excellent range and earned him an invitation back the following year.  Carey reported late to the team in South Bend as he completed his studies before arriving and found the shortstop’s job had been taken.  Undaunted, he moved to the outfield where his skills outclassed his contemporaries and practiced swithhitting to help him to give him more of an advantage as a hitter.  His average improved to .293 and the Pirates purchased him in the fall of 1910.  He went three for six and the next spring won a regular job.

Manager Fred Clarke loved Carey’s defense as his speed enabled him to cover more ground than any flychaser in the league.  He hit only .258 as a rookie, but upped his average to .302 in 1912 and finished second in the league with 114 runs scored and 45 stolen bases and led National League outfielders in putouts. His great play in the outfield earned him the nickname “Scoops” for the way he would scoop up would be hits just before they hit the ground.  The Pirates finished second that season, but other than Carey, the key players on the team were getting old and it would be almost a decade before the Pirates were contenders again.

Carey led the NL in at bats, runs and stolen bases in 1913, although his average fell to .277.  He was again the league’s top outfielder, leading in putouts and assists.  His hitting slumped further in 1914, to .243, perhaps due to trying to provide more power, as he set career highs with 25 doubles and a league best 17 triples.  When hitting well, Carey punched the bat at the ball and opposing defenses would play him tight, figuring if he reached base he would likely take second and possibly third as he established himself as a top base stealer.

Although Carey stole only 36 bases in 1915, the figure led the National League.  He led the league the next three seasons as well, swiping a career high 63, then 46 and 58.  His hitting improved, but a .296 mark in 1917 was Carey’s best showing in the three years, although he did lead the league in walks in 1918.  Initially moved to centerfield fulltime in 1916, Carey had an amazing total of 32 assists and his 419 putouts were 86 more than runner up Zack Wheat.  He was easily the team’s best everyday player during this dark period for the Pirates as Honus Wagner’s skills had eroded and the Dutchman retired in 1917.  Carey’s .296 that season was tops on the club and his 440 putouts again easily led the league.  With a shortened schedule in 1918 due to World War I, Carey’s total of 359 putouts and 25 assists were again the standard in the National League.

The Pirates won 71 games in 1919, somewhat surprising, given that Carey missed over half the season with injury.  He hit .307, but played in just 66 games and drove in only nine runs.  With health returning in 1920, Carey hit .289 and reclaimed the stolen base title with 52.  Another factor would help increase his numbers the following year as the lively ball was introduced in the National League.  Carey, a lifetime .273 hitter (27th among players with 4,000 at bats between 1910-1920), would see his average improve significantly even though he was now past 30-years-old.  He hit .309 in 1921, helping the Bucs to finally into contention, and again lead the National League in putouts.  His play undoubtedly helped the Pirate pitching staff to lead the league in ERA.

In 1922, Carey had a terrific season.  He hit .329, collecting over 200 hits for the only time in his career.  Carey led the NL in walks as well, putting him on base almost 300 times that year.  As usual, he led the league in steals and put outs and appeared to be becoming an even better base stealer.  He swiped 51 that year and was caught only twice.  His numbers allowed him to score 140 runs that season, the third highest total for a Pirate in the modern era and second to Rogers Hornsby for the year. 

Carey had another excellent year in 1923, leading the league again in steals (51 in 59 attempts) and triples (19).  He once again missed leading the Nationals in runs by a single tally, finishing second to New York’s future Hall of Famer, Ross Youngs.   His 450 put outs were again the league’s best for outfielders.  Although sluggers such as Ruth and Hornsby were now grabbing the headlines, Carey remained well-respected by baseball insiders and he recognized his ability to bunt could upset infielders as his mastery of stealing bases had done to batterymen.  His daring on the bases helped his teammates get better pitches to hit as well.  Carey was great at chopping the ball and place hitting which made him an excellent number two hitter, although his managers had often moved him around in the first three spots in the order, depending on his supporting cast.  Carey’s personal choice was to hit second, interesting, when one considers the role of the number two batter is often less glorious than that of the lead off man and Carey’s natural abilities to star in that role.

Carey’s hitting dipped to slightly under .300 in 1924, but he gained a great piece of hitting insight that year.  During an exhibition game against the Tigers, Carey studied Cobb’s hands apart style and made similar adjustments which allowed him to flick his wrists at the last second and better place the ball with stinging authority.  Using this technique in 1925, Carey had his best season for average, hitting .343.  He led the league in steals for a final time with 46 and helped spark the league’s best offense.  His 39 doubles were also a career high.

Carey, the Pirate’s team captain, showed why he was so respected in the World Series.  He led all players with a .458 average and was also hit by three pitched balls and walked twice for a .552 OBP.  His 11 hits included four doubles and he stole three bases, scoring six runs.   In Game 4 was robbed of an extrabase hit when Joe Judge made a great play on his scorcher down the firstbase line.

The most incredible part about all this was that Carey was injured helping the team to victory in Game 5.  Although hurting badly, he continued to play and in Game 7 the Pirate leader had four hits, three of them doubles, scored three runs and drove in two.  When he remained in pain after the celebration of the World Championship had died down, Carey went to a hospital and was diagnosed with cracked ribs and a torn ligament in his right side.  He was hospitalized for a week.

Carey, loyal to Clarke, who had been named a special assistant and sat on the bench with Bill McKechnie during the season, chastised his teammates for failing to vote the unofficial coach a share of their World Series purse.  The players relented and offered Clarke $1,000.  Although Clarke declined the money, events which happened the following year must have had Carey wondering why he had stood so closely by his former manager.

Max was still hurting in 1926.  His injuries were slow to heal and restricted him greatly.  He had trouble getting his average to .200 and was hitting only .222 into August.

Clarke at the time was acting president of the club as Barney Dreyfuss was vacationing with his wife in Europe.  After watching Carey struggle in a doubleheader (apparently his range had also been greatly effected), Clarke told McKechnie to replace him as the team was fighting to hold on to first place.  McKechnie told Clarke he had no one to replace him with, to which Clarke was said to respond something to the effect of, “Put anybody in there.  I don’t care if it’s a pitcher.”  Some versions of the story go so far to say Clarke had said to put in the batboy.  Anyways, the conversation was overheard by Carson Bigbee, another outfielder and friend of Carey’s.  Bigbee told Carey what he had heard and somewhere along the way Babe Adams, who had been with the team even longer than Max, was asked for his opinion.  The pitcher reportedly remarked, “A team can only have one manager.”  Carey asked for a meeting of the entire team.  He later said McKechnie agreed to the meeting, but cancelled it a half hour before it was to happen.  Clarke, catching word of what the meeting was to be about, told the players to go ahead and vote and if the players decided they did not want him on the bench, he would not sit there.  A vote was held the next day, with the players voting 18-6 that Clarke could remain.  Now viewed as mutineers, Carey, Bigbee and Adams were quickly disposed of.  The other two were no more than role players and were released.  The Pirates asked waivers on Carey and sold him to Brooklyn.  Carey maintained he had nothing personal against Clarke, but felt his disruptions had led to ill feelings among several players and agreed with Adams’ general statement that a team should be guided by only one man.

Although Carey had not played well in 1926, the ballclub slumped after he was let go, as it tried to use any available outfielder at its disposal, but none fared much better.  While Dreyfuss, on his way back from Europe, stated he was personally saddened as the three players had been with the team a total of 46 years, he stood by the club’s decision.  The Pirates were 63-47 at the time of what became known as the A-B-C (Adams, Bigbee, Carey) Affair, but finished out the schedule 21-22 to fall to third.  Carey hit .260 in 100 at bats for Brooklyn, including two key hits in game against his old employers.  His skills, though, were in decline.  He played with the Robins the next couple of years, retiring after getting into only 19 games in 1929.

Dreyfuss, proving he still respected the man who had worn the Pirate uniform for 17 seasons, agreed to his return as a coach in 1930.  Carey had been hit hard by the stock market crash in 1929, but left Pittsburgh to gain managerial experience in the minors in 1931 and replaced Brooklyn legend Wilbert Robinson as field general in 1932.  He managed just two seasons, but remained connected with the game through 1956.  In 1961, Carey, who was not bashful about his credentials for Cooperstown, was added to the Hall of Fame.  He still ranks seventh all time in stolen bases and is third in outfield catches behind Willie Mays and Speaker with 6,363.  Among Pirates, Carey ranks first in stolen bases (688), fourth in games (2,171), at bats (8,406), runs (1,414), fifth in hits (2,416), singles (1,827), doubles (375), sixth in triples (148), total bases (3,285) and extrabase hits.  Given his play in the 1925 World Series with injuries which kept him hospitalized for a week, Carey must also rate near the top of the list in guts as well.

1961 Hall of Fame, Baseball History, Max Carey, Pittsburgh Pirates
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