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.



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Patrick Dubuque is a wastrel and a general layabout. Many of the sites he has written for are now dead. Follow him on Twitter @euqubud.


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jcxy
Guest
jcxy

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

Jefftown37
Guest
Jefftown37

Let’s let both be blueberry capitals of the world. Maine’s blueberry fame derives from its wild blueberries, whereas, from my cursory internet scan (always reliable), Hammonton appears to be in a region of mostly cultivated blueberries.

Machias, ME, slightly further downeast, is home to the Wild Blueberry Festival.

I passed through Cherryfield this summer. Alas no Carlton Willey banner or sign could be seen.

jcxy
Guest
jcxy

Yes, both can be capitals, but let’s not make a value judgment about wild vs cultivated. Cultivated blueberries aren’t an ersatz version of wild ones.

steve
Guest
steve

I don’t think he’s making the argument that wild blueberries are superior to cultivated berries, but rather that an area with wild, or “natural,” berry fields has a more legitimate claim as a “blueberry capital” than one whose fields were manufactured by some random dudes.

davisnc
Guest
Member
davisnc

We can quibble over Blueberry Capitals, but this much is not in dispute: there are no grizzly bears in Maine.

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