Fans who insist that the Detroit Tigers make hot prospect Nick Castellanos a second baseman should pay attention to the story of Eddie Mayo. He might be their best argument for the switch as they bring their case to Tiger brass.
In 1944, the Tigers moved Mayo – a lifelong third baseman – to second base and the following season he was named Most Valuable Player by the “Bible of Baseball”, The Sporting News.
That 1945 season the Tigers won their second World Series title, behind the arm of Hal Newhouser and the heroic return of Hank Greenberg, two players destined for Cooperstown. But the guts of that club was Mayo – Steady Eddie – at the keystone position.
By the time he was 30, Mayo had done very little to indicate that he was a good major league ballplayer. He’d had three short trials with the New York Giants and Boston Bees in the mid-1930s, but had failed to impress so he spent the next four years in the minor leagues. By then he was 33, but with many major leaguers away serving in World War II, Mayo caught on with the Philadelphia A’s (keeping his string intact of playing for now defunct teams) in 1943. he hit .219 as their everyday third baseman with exactly 11 extra-base hits – not exactly Ruthian numbers, or even Brandon Inge numbers.
But the Tigers were in dire need of a veteran infielder the next season and they signed Mayo to play second base. Game for the challenge, Mayo jumped right in. Once known as “Hotshot” because he was a coveted prospect as a teenager, Mayo was now a grizzled veteran with few options, never sure if the game he was in would be his final one. In 1944 he hit .249 (by far his best performance in the majors) and performed solidly at second.
In ’45 he played the best baseball of his life. It was lightning in a bottle. He hit .389 in April, and after scuffling in May, he was steady through the summer before batting .348 in August as the team roared into the pennant chase. At his new position, Mayo covered ground well and used his third baseman’s arm to his advantage. He committed 15 errors but was credited by his pitching staff with saving lots of runs.
Mayo collected seven hits and had two RBI in the seven game World Series victory over the Chicago Cubs. In the off-season he was awarded MVP by The Sporting News and finished second in league MVP voting to teammate Newhouser. He had batted .285 with 24 doubles, 10 homers, 54 RBI, and a .347 on-base percentage. His leadership in the field and the clubhouse was a large reason he was rewarded with laurels.
The ’45 season was by far the pinnacle of Mayo’s playing career. He played three more seasons for Detroit, with mixed results. He retired following the ’48 campaign and went on to manage in the minor leagues and serve as a coach for the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies. He later managed the Toledo Mud Hens briefly.
Mayo was an enthusiastic supporter of the game of baseball, and when he died at the age of 96 in 2006 he had been the oldest living ex-Tiger.
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