“It ain’t been Overestimated None.”

26 Aug

Adair Bushyhead “Paddy” Mayes was a legend in Oklahoma when it was still a territory; the half Irish, half Muskogee (Creek) Indian—although often misidentified as Cherokee in news reports, likely because he attended school at the Cherokee Male Seminary in Tahlequah — began his professional career with the Muskogee Redskins in the Oklahoma-Kansas League in 1908, but by then he was already considered one of the area’s best players.

Mays, standing second from left, with the Cherokee Mens Seminary baseball team, 1903

Mays, standing second from left, with the Cherokee Male Seminary baseball team, 1903

He stayed with Muskogee the following season when the club joined the Western Association as the Navigators.  Despite hitting just .261, his legend grew.

The Muskogee Times-Democrat said he was “One of the best outfielders the association ever boasted.”

His manager George Dalrymple said:

“He is the fastest fielder and the best hitter in the Western Association.  He is a youngster that in a few years should be in the big leagues.”

In 1910, he joined the Shreveport Pirates in the Texas League.  His first game was painful.  The Dallas Morning News said after he was hit by a pitch “full in the back” he stole second base and “was struck in the head with the ball as it was thrown from the plate to second.  The later jolt seemed to daze him.”

But Mayes recovered quickly, scored, and according to the paper “Played a first-class game.”

He hit .260 in Shreveport, but his speed and fielding ability attracted the interest of Philadelphia Phillies, who purchased his contract.

Mayes quickly made an impression during spring training in Birmingham, Alabama in 1911.  The Philadelphia Inquirer said:

“That Paddy Mayes, the Indian outfielder, will prove a greater find than Zack Wheat is the opinion of Southern ballplayers.”

[…]

“Mayes, the half-breed outer garden candidate is fast as a bullet on his feet, a good fielder and has a wonderful whip.  If he can prove that he can hit good pitching he will probably stick.”

Mayes caricature from The Philadelphia Inquirer

Mayes caricature from The         Philadelphia Inquirer

The paper also called him “A greyhound on the base paths,” and reported that he made several “fine running” catches during spring games.

Despite the buildup, Mayes didn’t make the club and was sent to the Galveston Sand Crabs in the Texas League, but he refused to sign.  In June, with Phillies outfielder John Titus injured, he was sold back to Philadelphia for $500.

Mayes had the distinction of having his major league debut become the subject of a story told for by humorist Will Rogers.

Rogers said he was present at Mayes’ first game with the Phillies in St. Louis on June 11–this is from an early retelling, as with all such stories some of the details changed in future retellings.

“I had known Paddy in the Texas League and what was my surprise one day in St. Louis when I went out to the Cardinals’ park…to see Paddy come up to bat in a Philly uniform.  I hadn’t heard that he had reached the big show.”

willrogers

                          Will Rogers

Mayes was 0-3 and was struck out twice by pitcher Bill Steele.

“I met him at the hotel after the game, but didn’t let on that I had seen him play at the ballpark in the afternoon.  We talked about rope handling and the cattle business generally, and then I asked what he was doing in St. Louis.

“This was Paddy’s answer.

“’They brought me up here to show me the speed of the big league, and believe me, it ain’t been overestimated none.”

Mayes’ never caught up to the “speed of the big league.”  In eight plate appearances over five games, he was 0-5 with a walk, hit by pitch and sacrifice.  He also scored a run.  Mayes’ final appearance with the Phillies was just six days after his first.

Rogers repeated the story of his debut for more than two decades.

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