“A Colorful Critter”

17 Feb

John Walter “Duster” Mails was another left-handed pitcher with talent who never lived up expectations and was labeled “eccentric,” or “Another Rube.”

John B. Foster of The New York Sun said:

“Mails’ ability is conceded so far as his arm is concerned, but when it comes to the illuminated phases of baseball Duster must have the center of the stage or he moans in a corner like a monkey with the pip. If he’d make the best use of his left arm, he should be able to win two games for every one he loses.”

Billy Evans, the American League umpire, and syndicated newspaper columnist called him, “A colorful critter.”

In 1925, when the St. Louis Cardinals acquired Mails from the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League for what would be Mails’ third and final shot at the big leagues, Evans wrote:

“Walter Mails has as much natural ability as Rube Waddell and no southpaw ever had more stuff than George Edward.

“Mails has a dazzling fastball. I umpired back of Waddell when he was at his best. If anything, Mails’ fastball had something on Rube’s.”

Mails

Evans concluded that Waddell “seemed to have uncanny control” of his pitches, which Mails lacked.

He argued that given Mails’ personality quirks, he would be “rival Babe Ruth” as a newspaper copy generator if he could recreate his short period of major league dominance in 1920:

“Joining Cleveland late in the season, when the Indians were on the ropes because of lack of pitching, Mails proved the man of the hour.

“Taking part in nine games he turned in seven victories and didn’t suffer a single defeat.”

The Indians won the pennant by two games over the White Sox.

“Late in the season when Cleveland met Chicago in the final and all series between the two clubs, Mails remarked to me before the first game:

“Those birds are made to order for me; If (Tris) Speaker starts me against them I won’t be satisfied with anything but a shutout.”

Mails shut the White Sox out and beat Urban Faber 2 to 0; the September 24 victory increased the Indians lead over the Sox to 1.5 games.

“In one inning, after walking three men a la Waddell, he continued Rube’s trick by striking the next three out.”

Evans’ recall was slightly off.

In the fifth inning, Mails retired Swede Risberg, then walked Ray Schalk, Faber, and Amos Strunk. 

Mails then struck out Buck Weaver and Eddie Collins, The Chicago Tribune said, with a full count, Collins:

“(H)it three fouls in succession, swung at a bad ball and struck out.”

Mails’ dream season continued through the World Series, he relieved Ray Caldwell in the first inning of game three, pitching 6 2/3 scoreless innings in a 2 to 1 loss to the Brooklyn Robins.

Evans said Mails told him:

“If Speaker had only started me that one run we made would have been enough to win. He says he is going to give me a chance against (Sherry) Smith the next time he starts. Those birds will be lucky any time they score on me.”

He shut out the Robins and Smith 1 to 0.

Mails posted a 1.85 regular season ERA in 1920 which ballooned to 3.94 in 1921 and 5.28 in 1922, before he was sold to Oakland.

Mails’ final big-league stint ended like his first two, flashes of brilliance punctuating an overall lack of control and discipline.

He returned to the minor leagues for another decade. 

Early in his career, Mails tried to explain his control issues to The Spokane Spokesman Review:

“In my younger days, my folks used to live just a short distance from the San Quentin penitentiary. It was always a hobby with me to throw stones at the guards on the ramparts to kid them. One day I thought I could get control by aiming at them, but the darn fools always used to be on the move and even today when I am out on the mound pitching, the home plate seems to act like those guards, always on the move. So, you can see I have an excuse coming.”

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