A 22-year baseball career afforded Ed Carnett many opportunities.
An eloquent and cheerful man — and in good shape for a someone nearing the century mark — Carnett has many stories to tell. He is thankful his career had so many stops, because he got to see much of the country.
The third-oldest former Major League Baseball player, Carnett and his wife of 71 years, Marylee, have a room full of scrapbooks and old newspaper stories to prove it.
Wearing a red Seattle Rainiers cap at his home on Thursday, he spoke glowingly of the quality of players he met, he coached and opposed.
Hall of Famer Bob Feller has Carnett to thank for his slider.
Warren Spahn, a fellow Hall of Famer and a Cy Young winner, too, can credit Carnett for his pick-off move.
Mike Sandlock, a man born on October 17, 1915, is the senior member of the fraternity. Ray Hathaway was born on October 16, 1916, and Carnett’s date of birth is eight days later.
Carnett will be 98 years old this year, and it’s hard for him to keep in touch with his peers. He receives a lot of fan mail, though.
“I just love the fans,” he said. “I just love ‘em. You wouldn’t believe the letters I get from kids anywhere from 8 to 9 years old up through college. ‘You were my favorite ball player.’
“Sometimes I call ‘em.”
He would autograph pictures and return them for fans to put into their respective scrapbooks, he said.
Carnett follows the Ringling baseball program, and he spoke highly of rising sophomore Ricky Lewis.
“He’s a helluva pitcher,” Carnett said. “And he’s growing. He’s a good football player, but he’s small. But that kid can run, and he’s a good hitter.
“That kid is a damn good ball player.”
Carnett, a Springfield, Mo., native, pitched against a future St. Louis Cardinals great during his senior season at Ponca City High School. In 1934, in a state tournament game in Bartlesville, Carnett opposed McAlester’s Pepper Martin, a Hall of Famer and two-time World Series champion.
Carnett had a 2-1 lead with one out remaining. Runners stood on the corners, and the lead runner found himself in a rundown. He escaped, as a throwing error by Carnett’s catcher allowed the tying and winning runs to score.
“I sat down and cried,” Carnett said.
“I could throw. I had good control. If you came up to get a base on balls on me, I’d strike you out. Hell, I wasn’t going to walk anybody. You’re going to hit your way on.”
Carnett had a scholarship offer to play at the University of Oklahoma, but opted to sign with the Chicago Cubs. He began his professional career with the Ponca City Angels, playing two games with the team that season in the Western Association.
In 1935, he spent spring training on Catalina Island, Calif. That season, pitching for Ponca City, he went 19-11 with a 3.20 ERA.
Two seasons later, again pitching in Ponca City, he lost his first 10 decisions — then reeled off 16 consecutive wins.
From Los Angeles to Binghamton, N.Y., Carnett spent eight seasons in the minors before he received his first promotion to The Show, with the Boston Braves in 1941.
During those years, he saw some talented teams.
He said the best team he saw was the Kansas City Monarchs — when Satchel Paige, James “Cool Papa” Bell and Andrew “Lefty” Cooper played. All three are enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. The Monarchs were a charter member of the Negro National League, but the Great Depression caused the league to collapse. So founder J.K. Wilkinson transformed the team into an independent, exhibition club.
In 1937, the Monarchs were resurrected, this time joining the Negro American League. Five years later, they won the Negro World Series championship.
“That was a helluva ball club,” Carnett said.
In 1942, Carnett spent time in the Eastern League, in Binghamton. He hit .170 with a home run and three RBI.
Shortly thereafter, he joined the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League, where he played through the end of the 1943 campaign.
In 1944, he rejoined The Show. With the Chicago White Sox, he had arguably the best season of his career. In 126 games, he posted a .276 batting average along with a .322 on-base percentage and a .357 slugging percentage in 457 at-bats. He drove in 60 runs and scored 51.
He also made a pair of relief appearances, posting a 9.00 ERA.
“I never did get to pitch up in the big leagues because they didn’t think I was good enough,” Carnett said. “I was a good hitter, so I wound up hitting.”
Chicago sold him to Cleveland, he said. The White Sox also traded for Oris Hockett, his roommate in Milwaukee in 1939.
In 1945 with the Indians, he hit .219 in 30 games, driving in seven runs.
That was the same year he joined the Navy.
He spent a year in the service. When he returned to the White Sox, the club released him.
“It was interesting,” Carnett said.
He returned to Seattle, and also spent time in Vancouver, a franchise in the Western International League.
“I’ve been all over, boy,” he said. “I’ve been everywhere”
Carnett and his wife, Marylee — his spouse of 71 years — moved their children as he moved.
“She had to move with me every summer,” he joked.
Carnett noticed one trend in particular upon his return from the service.
“The radical change is a lot of the good college players played on the semi-pro (circuit) because they made more money,” Carnett said. “It wasn’t until later they (MLB teams) started to sign those guys, and that was when they started making money.”
Money is something that has grown exponentially since Carnett’s playing days.
He follows contemporary professional baseball, and has noticed the rash of injuries that have beleaguered the Texas Rangers — a team that set an MLB record by using 30 pitchers before the All-Star break.
“That’s very unusual,” Carnett said.
He notices how games take longer, too.
“I used to pitch a game in an hour and 45 minutes,” Carnett said. “There’s not that many guys that pitch many complete ball games.”
He admitted that pitchers’ salaries play a role.
Carnett marveled at how pitchers in 2014 could be worth the $23 million salary that the New York Yankees pay CC Sabathia this year.
The most Carnett made in a season was $17,000. He could buy a brand new car for $250.
“There ain’t no ball player worth what these guys are getting now,” Carnett said. “It’s fine. I’m happy for ’em, and they’re good ball players. The game didn’t change.”
The respect is mutual.
On May 26, 2012, he visited Seattle’s SAFECO Field for the first time, as the Mariners hosted “Lefty’s” Return to the Mound.
A day earlier, The Ardmoreite ran a story, and Carnett said it was the first time in 66 years that he stepped on a baseball field in Washington state.
“It’s such an honor to go up there,” he said. “Their fans are so great, and I’m so fortunate to get to go back there.”
Ringling honored him, too.
On May 26, 2014, Carnett was the guest speaker at the town’s annual Memorial Day service.
“I was thrilled to death,” Marylee Carnett said. “I thought that’s one of the nicest things that could happen.”
Ed Carnett said he had good talks with some of the kids.
“I really appreciated it,” he said. “They had a good crowd, too. I was kind of surprised.”
His playing career ended in 1955, but he spent five or six years as a manager in Ponca City.
“I had 20, 21 years,” Carnett said. “That’s a helluva long time to stay in baseball.
“I knew a lot of damn good ball players.”