The Hero of Cherryfield, Maine

Yesterday, as I was waiting for my daughter to start crying again, I read a few pages from a little gem of a book. Its title: The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book, published in 1973. After an autobiographical introduction, the text is a proto-NotGraphs series of vignettes about various players, stars and nobodies, accompanied by full-color copies of their 1950s Topps cards. It provides a little flavor to all those names that appear in spreadsheets from time to time.

Carlton WilleyCarlton Willey is one such man. A highly-touted prospect, he emerged from Truman’s War to lead the NL in shutouts in his rookie season. That was the extent of his black ink.

Carlton Willey was born in Cherryfield, Maine, the self-described Blueberry Capital of the World. One of the authors of the book, describing his annual trips through the town on vacation to Canada, describes it as “inhabited exclusively by lobster fishermen and grizzly bears.” But the image that sticks out is of a banner strung across the only street in town, written in faded red ink on white muslin. The words: “WELCOME TO CHERRYFIELD, MAINE, HOME OF MAJOR LEAGUE PITCHER CARLTON WILLEY.”

Carlton Willey never made good on the promise of his career. He failed to harness his control, got bounced from the rotation to the bullpen for a few years, and then was banished to the lowly Mets. After one good season, he was struck in the face by a line drive that effectively finished him as a player. He wound up with a total of 3.2 WAR. No evidence remains of the banner, which probably rotted away.

Even so, the book concludes: “I cannot help thinking that nothing he could do, no matter how dismal or mediocre, could ever prove disappointing, in any way, shape or form, to the people of Cherryfield, Maine.”

The author was right. Willey spent a few years living the hard life of the scout, and then returned to his little fishing village, where he spent the rest of his life. He became a probation officer, managed a blueberry-freezing plant, and started a house-painting business. He signed autographs and told stories to his pals about playing with Hank Aaron and Warren Spahn. He died on July 21, 2009.

On July 25, the state of Maine celebrated Carlton Willey Day.




Print This Post

Patrick Dubuque writes for NotGraphs and The Hardball Times, and he serves as Bill Spaceman Lee Visiting Professor for Baseball Exploration at Pitchers & Poets, which is now housed at The Classical. Follow him on Twitter @euqubud.

12 Responses to “The Hero of Cherryfield, Maine”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. jcxy says:

    Hammonton, NJ is the blueberry capital of the world. It’s in Boardwalk Empire, so we know it’s true.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Dauber says:

    Quaffing a Moxie in memoriam.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. There are no grizzly bears in Maine, just black bears. The best pitcher who ever came out of Maine was probably Billy Swift of S. Portland, where I used to live.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Kris says:

      As an avid huntsman, I’ve traveled to Maine numerous times. Despite the previous comments, there are no black bears in Maine. Only grizzlies. Well, grizzlies and like seven brown bears.

      Source: Grindr

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Judy says:

    I was born in Cherryfield and spent my early childhood there. My grandparents worked in the blueberry factory. I can attest to the superiority of the wild and delicious blueberries that come from this town.
    Also, Carlton Willey was part of our family.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Duffin says:

    I also grew up in Cherryfield–Carlton and his wife Nancy and daughter Jill lived just up the street (corner of School St. and Paddy Lane). I worked for Carlton on the blueberry fields outside of town–and he was a generous, kind soul.

    Couple of other things: No, Cherryfield is not home to a bunch of lobstermen; the town is 5 miles from the water, and only inhabitants of towns with shoreline are allowed to fish or dig for clams and worms (the latter is used for lobster bait). There is also more than one street in town. Population has remained steady around 1,000 for some time.

    And as another poster noted, there are no grizzlies in Maine. Black bears, sure.

    -Andrew

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. HANK SCHERER says:

    I PLAYED BALL WITH CARLTON IN 1954 . WE PLAYED FOR THE 12TH INF. WARRIORS. GELNHAUSEN GERMANY. HE WAS OUR NUMBER 1 PITCHER, CHARLEY WRINN NUMBER 2 AND I WAS NUMBER 3 WE WON OUR CONFERENCE AND PLAYED AGAINST NORM SHERRY AS YOU KNOW PLAYED FOR THE DODGERS. CARLTON WAS ONE OF THE NICEST GUYS YOU COULD HAVE AS A TEAMMATE. REST IN PEACE CAL.

    HANK SCHERER
    HEMET, CA.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current day month ye@r *