Edwin David Mayer, a left-handed pitcher for the Chicago Cubs for parts of the 1957 and 1958 seasons, won two and lost two of the 22 games he pitched in the National League. At first glance he may seem like an unlikely hero. But despite wearing glasses, Eddie Mayer shared the baseball dream of thousands of other boys.
Born in San Francisco, California, on November 30, 1931, to Ned and Sylvia Mayer, the talented youth, an only child, grew up in a close-knit Jewish family. His mother, who was born in Pennsylvania, had moved to San Francisco, where she met her future husband, a native of Hong Kong. Ned Mayer was a good semipro third baseman but couldn't try pro ball, because he had to work to support his family during the Great Depression.
But thanks to his father's encouragement and love for the game, Eddie grew up playing baseball and basketball in San Francisco, a region with a sunny, temperate climate. Except when it rains, youths and adults can play baseball almost any day of the year. Hundreds of local boys had become big leaguers, including Vince, Joe, and Dom DiMaggio.
"When I was playing pro ball the first couple of years in the minors," Mayer recollected in 1999, "in the wintertime we'd come back and play here on the sandlots. I played with guys like Jim Gentile, Don Mossi, Jim Baxes, and Gus Triandos. We'd all come here and play in the wintertime, because you can play here all year round.
"I went to Lowell High School in San Francisco, and the high school ball was really, really good. Jerry Coleman, Mark Koenig, and several big leaguers played ball there. I was named All-City as a senior. In 1947, when I was fifteen years old, Babe Ruth, who was hired by the sponsor, Ford-Mercury, was going around to American Legion all-star games to present the MVP trophy to the winner. Babe Ruth personally gave me this beautiful big trophy as the game's most valuable player that year. I still have the trophy, and that's one of my wonderful memories about baseball."
After graduating from Lowell in 1950, Mayer attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he played varsity baseball for two seasons. Signing a professional contract in his junior year, Eddie played six years for three organizations before being called up by the Chicago Cubs in late 1957.
With the Cubs in 1958, Mayer pitched in relief, winning two games and saving another. Sent down after developing arm trouble, the 6'2", 185-pounder hurled two summers of Triple-A ball before retiring after the 1959 season.
Overall, the San Francisco southpaw compiled a 2-2 mark with a 4.31 ERA in 31 innings pitched during 22 big league games. Always a good hitter, he went 2-for-7 for a .286 lifetime mark. A starter in the minors, Mayer produced a 62-56 record with a 3.71 ERA in 194 games.
Intelligent, friendly, and likeable, Mayer produced his best game at Cal-Berkley on May 4, 1952, when he twirled a one-hitter against Santa Clara. The junior faced 28 batters, fanned seven, allowed one hit, and went 2-for-4 at the plate as Cal won, 1-0.
Eddie recalled, "I pitched a one-hitter there against Santa Clara. But I wasn't too happy in my junior year with my major. I went to the school counselor and said, 'I don't really enjoy my major, Business Administration.' So she gave me a battery of tests. It came out that I didn't want to do anything.
"So she said, 'Well, what do you want to do?'
"I said, 'I want to go play professional baseball. That's my dream.'
"She said, 'Go play.'
"My father contacted a scout for the Boston Red Sox. Charlie Wallgren, a really nice guy, signed me. The Red Sox sent me to San Jose in the California League, which was Class C. They wanted to see what my arm was like and all, so I was pitching and batting and practicing with the team."
Mayer took the train to southern Arizona, where he found the climate very hot. When he finally hurled his first pro game for Yuma in the Southwest International League on August 4, 1952, Mayer defeated Mexicali, 9-2. The lefty struck out nine, walked four, and gave up four hits, including two solo homers. It was a promising debut.
"In 1953 I had 17 wins and 8 losses for San Jose. The next year I went to spring training in Florida with the Red Sox farm kids. They sent me to Greensboro in the Class B Carolina League, and I had 17 wins and 8 losses there. So in my first two seasons, I had 34 wins and 16 losses. I was smokin'.
"Next year the Red Sox took me to spring training with Louisville, which was a Sox farm in the Triple-A American Association. They sent me to Montgomery, Alabama, in the Sally League, which was A-ball. I had 11 wins and 7 losses there.
"Over the winter, the St. Louis Cardinal organization got me. That spring they sent me to Rochester, their Triple-A team in the International League. Rochester later sent me to Omaha of the American Association, which was the other St. Louis Triple-A farm club.
"I did my best pitching at Omaha. The manager was Johnny Keane, who later managed the Cardinals and the Yankees. Johnny Keane was an excellent, excellent manager. He had a system where pitchers could get themselves in perfect shape. He had a list that showed the starter today and tomorrow, the long relievers today, and the short relievers today.
"Keane would go by that list. If you had days where you weren't going to pitch, you could run yourself ragged. I had a fine catcher there, a veteran guy, Nels Burbrink. He had played in the Coast League, and he was such a good catcher that he made me a better pitcher.
"My record at Omaha was 6-5, but I pitched real well. In those days, Triple-A ball was very close to the big leagues in terms of the quality of the players. There were only 16 teams then, so that means there were only 200 players in each big league.
"They liked how I pitched in Omaha, so they asked me if I wanted to pitch winter ball in Havana. I said, 'Sure,' because they paid a lot of money. I drove to Miami and put the car on the boat and went to Havana.
"We were treated like kings over there. I played with guys like Jim Bunning and Hank Aguirre. It was like a proving ground. They had Orestes 'Minnie' Minoso from the White Sox, who was a national hero down there. They had Pedro Ramos and Camilo Pascual and other good ballplayers, and I played well.
"I went to spring training with the Cardinals in 1957. They sent me to Omaha, and they traded me to the Chicago Cubs. I was the player to be named later in the Cardinals-Cubs trade. Jim King went to St. Louis, and Bobby Del Greco and I went to Chicago.
"The Cubs had a farm team in Fort Worth in the Double-A Texas League. Larry Sherry was pitching there. It was half Brooklyn Dodger farm guys and half Cub farm guys. I went down there and pitched, and I had 8 wins and 13 losses.
"Charlie Grimm and Fred Fitzsimmons, who worked for the Cubs, saw me pitch there. That's how I got to Chicago, at the end of the '57 season. But the toll of all that pitching had an effect on my arm. My arm was getting pooped out.
"That's the trouble. To work yourself up to the majors in those days, you had to climb the ladder, C-ball, B, A, Double-A, Triple-A. You didn't just go jumping around from league to league like they do now. It took me all the way from 1952 to the end of 1957 to get a shot at the big leagues.
"When I got there, Chicago said to me, 'Look, do you want to be a relief pitcher in the big leagues, or a starter in the minors?' Well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that I suddenly became a relief pitcher. What am I going to say, 'No, send me down'?
"When I put on that Cub uniform and walked on the diamond at Wrigley Field, that was the biggest thrill of my life. It was a beautiful park, wonderful fans, great city. We played day games.
"They often make fun of the Cubs. But from my point of view, it was great being a Cub."
Mayer recollected what happened in his first big league game on September 15, 1957. Starting against against the New York Giants, he yielded five runs in five innings, including a home run to Willie Mays.
"Mays hit a ball over my head into the center field bleachers," Mayer recalled. "But I also got my first major league hit, a single off Giants pitcher Mike McCormick.
"In 1958 I went to spring training with the Cubs, and they said, 'You've got to make the ball club.' I did. I pitched pretty good in spring training. The Cubs did really well at the start of the '58 season. We were right at the top of the National League for the first month. We opened at St. Louis and in the second game; I came in and got the save."
On April 17 at Busch Stadium, the Cubs beat the Cards, 4-3. Chicago right-hander Glen Hobbie pitched 5 2/3 innings. Dave Hillman was summoned from the bullpen to protect a 3-2 lead. Mayer came in with one out and a runner on first in the eighth.
The San Francisco native induced pinch-hitter Hal Smith to ground into a double play, ending the inning. In the ninth, the 26-year-old southpaw pitched out of another jam to save the victory.
What were his best pitches?
"I had a good sinking fastball. The ball would really move. My curve was O.K., and I threw a good changeup. I threw mostly three-quarter overhand, and my 'out' pitch was the sinking fastball. I also liked to hit, and I got a couple of hits with Chicago."
On Friday, April 18, Mayer made his third relief appearance of the week and picked up his first victory and Chicago's fourth in a row. Called from the pen in the eighth to stop a bases-loaded Cardinal rally, Eddie fanned Joe Cunningham for the second out, walked Don Blasingame to force in a run that gave St. Louis a 3-1 lead, and retired Alvin Dark on a fly ball to end the rally.
In the bottom of the eighth, Chicago's Walt "Moose" Moryn smashed a three-run home run, and Dale Long hit a two-run blast. In the ninth Mayer allowed an opposite field single to Stan Musial and a bunt single to Del Ennis. But the rookie got Ken Boyer to hit into a double play and retired Wally Moon on a groundout.
On Thursday, May 8, Mayer pitched well but was bailed out of a jam in the seventh inning by Don Elston. In the ninth, however, Elston and two relievers couldn't stop the Cincinnati Reds, who came from behind to win, 10-8. Although Eddie and the Cubs didn't get a win, he had pitched 11 1/3 scoreless innings in his last three outings.
At that point Chicago was second in the National League with a 13-8 mark, and Mayer ranked second in ERA with a 1.50 average for 17 innings. Hal Jeffcoat of the Reds topped the league with a 1.10 ERA, while Ray Semproch of the Philadelphia Phillies was third at 2.00.
On Friday, May 30, Mayer picked up his second and, as it developed, last win. The Cubs took both ends of a double-header from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mayer won game two, retiring two batters in the bottom of the ninth. The loser of that game was rookie Sandy Koufax, who also worked in relief.
"I call that game my fifteen minutes of fame," Eddie said, laughing, "because I beat Sandy Koufax."
Mayer's record was now 2-2, and he stood eleventh in the NL with a 3.00 ERA. But when final cuts for the 25-man roster were made in June, Eddie was farmed out to Portland in the Coast League. For the remainder of 1958 he toiled for Portland, going 2-6 with a 5.43 ERA.
The bottom line was that his once strong left arm was almost worn out: "I pitched to the June cut-down date. By then my arm was starting to be not so good. The Cubs noticed it. Fortunately, they sent me to Portland, and that was the end of my big league career.
"I kicked around for a year in Portland, played two games in Monterrey, Mexico, in the Mexican League in 1959, and I finished the '59 season with Denver of the American Association. After that, I stopped because I couldn't throw hard any more.
"I have no regrets. I pitched better than anybody thought I would. I had a really good time. I traveled all over and I got to see everything."
After leaving baseball in 1959, Mayer came home to San Francisco and worked in business for six years. Having completed his undergraduate degree, he began teaching in 1967. Eddie enjoyed teaching at middle schools in Pacifica for 25 years. Married to Carol Carlson on April 25, 1953, Eddie is the father of three children: Lynne (Mayer) Foster, born in 1953, Laura (Mayer) Gardner, born in 1956, and David Mayer, born in 1957. Carol passed away in 1982, but the former Cub enjoys his eight grandchildren and, as of 2006, three great-grandchildren.
Eddie is a "wordsmith." Going back to the long road trips of his baseball years, he would enliven the train rides by writing songs, poems, and puzzles. Some of his crossword puzzles have been published in Games Magazine. On the piano he's a boogie-woogie specialist. He still likes to travel, but now the former hurler mainly journeys to foreign countries.
A few years ago Mayer renewed his interest in baseball after SABR member John Infanger invited him to join the Society for American Baseball Research. Eddie also joined several "old-time" baseball organizations. He attends two or three reunions a year.
Mayer is proud that he was a Cub. His license plate displays the moniker, Old Cub. His Chicago favorites include Ernie Banks, Lee Walls, Walt Moryn, Dale Long, Tony Taylor, Bobby Adams, Moe Drabowsky, Dick Drott, and Bob Rush.
"I'm happy about my career," Mayer said, with a smile, "even though it got cut short. I was a skinny kid in junior high, and nobody thought I would ever play pro ball, let alone make the big leagues. Now I'm retired, and it's time for me to talk about baseball and touch all the bases."
Finally, Eddie received an honor that he cherishes. In October 2003 he was inducted into the Lowell High School Sports Hall of Fame. Considering that former Lowell athletes included the likes of Yankee infielders Mark Koenig and Jerry Coleman, Eddie called his induction "quite an honor."
Despite his love for teaching young people and his many other interests, Eddie Mayer treasures what he calls his fifteen minutes of fame during baseball's golden era.
In preparing this article, the author primarily used: Eddie Mayer scrapbook clippings and interviews with Mayer, April 1999 and June 2006; Baseball Encyclopedia, Macmillan Publishing, 1990 edition; Pat Doyle's Professional Baseball Player Database, version 5.0; letters from Eddie Mayer dated May 21, 1999, October 10, 2003, and December 28, 2003.