Carlton Francis Willey was born June 6th, 1931 in Cherryfield, Maine. The six foot right-handed pitcher was originally signed by the Boston Braves as an amateur free agent in 1951.
After serving two years in the United States Army he was back in baseball by 1955. In 1957 at AA Wichita he led the American Association with 21 wins (21-6) winning the MVP award there. The Sporting News voted him the Top Prospect entering the 1958 season.
Willey debuted against the Chicago Cubs on April 30th 1958 in a one inning relief appearance. He made three relief appearances, and then in his first start, threw a 7-0 six hit shutout against the newly relocated San Francisco Giants. Willey was 2-3 in mid July & then went on a seven game win streak where he threw four complete games in the stretch. During the rest of the season he also shut out the Giants again, the Philadelphia Phillies on a six hitter & the Pittsburgh Pirates on a seven hitter.
He had the best season of his career as a rookie, leading the NL in shutouts (4) going 9-7 with a 2.70 ERA for the NL Champion Braves. He pitched one scoreless inning in the World Series that year as well.
He was voted top Rookie Pitcher by the Sporting News and was lined up to be the #3 man behind Warren Sphan & Johnny Sain in the Braves future rotation. Unfortunately he never matched the same level of effectiveness again.
He began 1959 going 3-1 but soon suffered a four game losing streak & eventually was pitching out of the bullpen. He went 5-9 with a 4.15 ERA on the season & ended up posting losing records the rest of his career. In 1961 he was back as a starter going 6-12, although he posted the best ERA since his rookie year at 3.83. By 1962 he was 2-5 in 30 appearances making just six starts as the Braves finished in fifth place. In five seasons with the Milwaukee Braves he went 19-33.
In 1963 he was purchased by the New York Mets and after two brief relief appearances was put right into the starting rotation at the end of April. In his first Mets start Willey pitched a 2-0 three hit shutout at Wrigley Field to beat the Chicago Cubs. He became the first Met right hander in team history to toss a shut out.
Willey then began May with two more complete game victories & found himself at 3-1, which was pretty good on that staff. On May 18th he shut out the Giants in San Francisco with a three hit five strike outs performance. In June he then tossed a two hiteer beating the Phillies 2-0 at the Polo Grounds getting his record back even at 6-6.
His most famous moment came at the Polo Grounds in July 1963, when he hit a grand slam home run off Ken Johnson of the Houston Colt 45's. His dad was at the game, and the kid who caught the ball actually tracked down Mr. Willey to give him the ball after the game. Carl cherished the moment & kept the base ball his whole life. It was one of six hits he had that year, and the only extra base hit of his Mets career. The Mets won that game beating Houston 14-5, Willey pitched five innings earning the victory.
He fell to 7-11 in August, & then shut out the Cubs again at Wrigley Field with a 5-0 six hit victory. Willey finished the year at 9-14 (second most wins on the staff) leading the club in ERA (3.10) & with four shut outs. In 28 games he allowed two runs or less in 14 of his starts, proving lack of run support was a big reason for his bad record. He struck out 101 batters in 183 innings pitched allowing 69 walks while throwing seven complete games.
In 1964 he was having a great Spring Training when big Gates Brown of the Detroit Tigers hit a line drive to his face, which fractured his jaw. He didn’t return to action until June, and then developed a sore arm. He only pitched in 14 games that season going 0-2, mostly in relief. He never recovered and 1965 would be his last season in the big leagues. He spent most of the year at AAA Buffalo going 2-9 & appeared in just 13 games with New York going 1-2 with a 4.18 ERA. His last career win came in his last game of the 1965 seasons , he pitched a complete game 4-1 victory at Philadelphia beating the Phillies.
In his eight year career Willey went 38-58 with 493 strike outs, 326 walks, 11 shut outs & 28 complete games over 875 innings. He posted a 3.76 ERA in 199 games pitched. As a Met he was 10-18 with a 3.76 ERA, batting .195 with one HR & five RBIs.
Retirement: After baseball Willey spent some time as a scout, then retired and continued to live in the state of Maine. He told old baseball stories with a group of old friends until the last healthy days of his life. He passed away on July 21, 2009 in his hometown of Cherryfield, Maine. Saturday July 25th 2009 was officially Carl Willey day in Maine.