This article was written by Bill Nowlin
Outfielder Carl Reynolds showed flashes of real stardom, and indeed enjoyed a 13-year career in the majors with a .302 batting average. The moment that earned him the most attention, however, was having his jaw broken by a punch thrown by Yankees catcher (and future Hall of Famer) Bill Dickey, though even that incident has largely faded from baseball history.
Reynolds was born into a farming family in LaRue, Texas, on February 1, 1903, the third child born to Robert and Ann (Nettles) Reynolds. LaRue is a small, unincorporated community in East Texas, in Henderson County. Reynolds attended the local schools there, batting a reported .500 in high school.1 He went on to Lon Morris College, a junior college. He was named the outstanding student there, and continued his education, earning a B.A. from Southwestern University at Georgetown, Texas. He was captain of the football team, was All-Conference, MVP on the basketball team, and excelled at track and baseball. He won eight letters in two years.
On the diamond, Reynolds played shortstop, with occasional work at third base and on the pitching mound. He was discovered by accident by White Sox scouts Roy and Bessie Largent, who had come to Waxahachie in June 1926 to scout a pitcher for Trinity University. It was Reynolds who caught their eyes and Largent signed him up.2 “There were reports,” Roy Largent said later, “that we paid Reynolds a $5,000 bonus. That wasn’t true. He didn’t cost us a nickel.”3
Reynolds himself took a position as football and basketball coach for Lon Morris but resigned in early March 1927 to join the White Sox for spring training.4
Reynolds worked out for about a week with the White Sox and was assigned to play for the Palestine Pals, in the Lone Star League. It was Class-D baseball. Palestine finished first in league standings, and Reynolds — who mostly played outfield for them — led the league in base hits (180 in the 124 games he played), and in batting average, with .376. He also stole a league-leading 32 bases. The White Sox finished in fifth place that year, 12 games behind fourth-place Detroit. They decided to give Reynolds a look in the majors and called him up in September. His major-league debut came on September 1, and was somewhat different: He was hit by a pitch.
Reynolds collected his first hit, a double, on September 2, and his first RBI on September 3, with a sacrifice. He hit his first homer on September 8, an inside-the-park, two-run drive to deep center. Reynolds was large (6 feet tall, listed at 194 pounds) but was fast afoot and had run a 10-second 100-yard dash in college. He appeared in 14 games, playing left field exclusively, with a .214 average and seven runs batted in. It was 10 years before he returned to the minors.
Reynolds had a good 1928 with the White Sox, though the team got off to a very slow start and manager Ray Schalk was replaced by Lena Blackburne nearly halfway through the season. They finished fifth. Reynolds was active in 84 games, finishing with a .323 batting average. He stole 15 bases and scored 51 runs; he drove in 36.
A story that ran as a “special” in several newspapers in November 1928 reported that Reynolds lived on Rattlesnake Ranch, where he and his father had 3,000 sheep (and “sundry thousands of rattlers.”) The ranch was 62 miles from Del Rio and Reynolds told of having gone hunting into Mexico three years earlier. “Some Mexican rurales [volunteer militiamen] decided we were bandits or something or else. Anyway, they took a few shots at us and we recrossed the Rio Grande in nothing flat.”5
Reynolds was a regular in 1929 and 1930, enjoying by far his best season in the latter year. Umpire George Moriarty wrote a column in early 1929 in which he said of Reynolds, “Here is an outfielder in the making who knows a lot about fly-catching, and he steps to the plate with that I’m-here-to-knock-it-down-your-throat look at the pitchers.”6 That, Reynolds began to do, hitting 11 homers, nine more than in 1928. He almost doubled his RBI total to 67, and he scored 81 runs. There had been high hopes that the White Sox would finish in the first division, but in fact they fell to seventh place in both 1929 and 1930. Part of the problem in 1929 was that Reynolds’ 67 RBIs were tops on the team. No pitcher won more than 14 games and only the 1-0 Dutch Henry had a winning record.
In November 1929, Reynolds married Ruth Dayvault.
The Washington Senators tried hard to trade for Reynolds into early June 1930, but they didn’t offer enough and so the White Sox had his services for the season. It was indeed his best year; he knocked in 104 runs for new skipper Donie Bush. He homered 22 times, and he scored 103 runs. In the second game of a July 2 doubleheader, he tied a major-league record, homering three times in consecutive at-bats against the Yankees; in fact, Babe Ruth injured himself trying to catch the second of the three and banging into the outfield wall. With 202 base hits in all, Reynolds hit for a .359 average, good for fourth place in the league. Several newspapers expressed similar sentiments to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which called Reynolds “one of the foremost outfielders of the league.”7
There was one remarkable play on defense, on September 16. One of the Philadelphia Athletics popped up a ball to short center field and Chicago second baseman Bill Cissell ranged back to get it, but it glanced off his glove and Reynolds, playing center field, grabbed it before it hit the ground.8 Reynolds played all three outfield positions throughout his career, 577 in right field, 314 in center, and 249 in left. He held a .970 fielding percentage, with center field his best position in that regard.
Unsurprisingly, Reynolds wanted a bigger raise for 1931, and held out for better pay. Most expected him to improve on 1930, seeing in him an outfielder who was still developing. He came to terms on March 11. Instead of progressing, however, he had an off-year in 1931, ascribed to leg injuries, including a bad charley horse in early June and a fractured ankle on September 5. He appeared in only 118 games and hitting .290 with 77 RBIs.
On December 4, the Senators got their man, but he was never again the same Carl Reynolds they’d been wanting. For three Decembers in a row, Reynolds was traded to a new team. The 1931 trade send him and John Kerr to Washington for Bump Hadley, Jackie Hayes, and Sad Sam Jones. Washington owner Clark Griffith thought he’d scored a bargain, banking on Reynolds to rebound to his 1930 production if he could only learn to slide better. Unknowingly foreshadowing the incident with Bill Dickey, Griffith said in January that Reynolds “is quite a clumsy slider. … Carl only played in 118 games last season and the 36 games he missed were the result of injuries while sliding into the plate.”9 Reynolds’ speed was a problem; he had to slide when stealing a base, of course, but when it came to crossing the plate, he didn’t slow up in time to slide, instead barreling into the catcher. Griffith vowed that Reynolds would be taught the art.
It was in Washington that Reynolds suffered another fracture — this time, the fracture of his jaw dealt by Bill Dickey. It happened on the Fourth of July, in the seventh inning of the first game of a doubleheader against the visiting Yankees. Reynolds was batting just over .300 at the time. It may have been a simple misunderstanding, without malice aforethought. Reynolds scored standing up, crashing into Dickey. The Senators bench wasn’t sure Reynolds had touched the plate so yelled at him to return and do so. Dickey thought he was coming back for more, and threw a pre-emptive punch, breaking Reynolds’ jaw. AL President Will Harridge fined Dickey $1,000 and suspended him for 30 days. The penalty was upheld on appeal by Commissioner Kenesaw M. Landis. More than 20 years later, Harridge called it the most difficult decision he’d had to make on the job.10
The incident might have proved fatal to Reynolds, a couple of weeks later, save for quick action by his wife. His upper and lower teeth were wired together to facilitate healing. Riding in a taxicab on July 19, he became ill after an evening at the theater and began to choke on his own vomit. Ruth Reynolds got the cab to stop under a streetlight, and with a pair of manicure scissors cut the wires so he could breathe again.11
The next time the Yankees came to Washington, in August, uniformed police were stationed on the field.12 Washington’s owner, Clark Griffith, revealed at the same time that he had intervened during the July 4 game to get Dickey into a taxicab and away from the park, since some of the players and a United States senator from North Dakota were moving to have the Yankees catcher arrested for assault. New York manager Joe McCarthy said that Reynolds had provoked the incident, banging into the third baseman and dislodging the ball from his grip there, and then — when realizing Dickey had received the ball in time to tag him out at the plate, “went into Dickey like a load of bricks.”13
Reynolds returned to play on August 13, and more or less picked up where he had left off, finishing the season at .305, with 9 home runs and 63 RBIs. The Senators finished in third place, but decided to bring back Goose Goslin, and so Reynolds was traded again, this time to the St. Louis Browns on December 14, 1932. Lloyd Brown, Reynolds, and Sam West went to St. Louis (along with $20,000) for Goslin, Fred Schulte, and Lefty Stewart.
The Browns finished last in 1933, with manager Bill Killefer giving way to Rogers Hornsby, who didn’t really have any better success. The team drew only 88,113 to its home games. If they were hoping Reynolds would revert to his 1930 stats, their hopes were in vain. He hit .286, drove in 71 runs, and scored 81. And on the very anniversary of his trade to the Browns, he was traded from the Browns — to the Boston Red Sox, for Ivy Andrews, Smead Jolley, and cash. One could well wonder what the Red Sox were thinking.
Jolley being involved in the trade was of some interest; he had been Reynolds’ White Sox teammate in 1930 when Reynolds had 104 RBIs. Jolley had 114 that year. He’d had similar stats to Reynolds in 1933, but the Browns didn’t actually keep him. They traded him on to the Pacific Coast League.
Reynolds did play in the majors in 1934, for Boston, and he actually did have a pretty good year — though appearing in only 113 games, he kept his average over .400 for a full month early in the season, and wound up hitting for a .303 average and driving in 86 runs. The Red Sox kept him on for 1935. He appeared in many fewer games than the season before, 78 in all, only 13 of them coming after July 31. He hit .270, with 35 RBIs.
In December the Red Sox traded Reynolds and Roy Johnson to Washington, for a second stint with the Senators — both players for Heinie Manush. The Senators more or less got what they might have predicted, though Reynolds did improve on his 1935 season. He hit six points higher — .276 — and he drove in six more runs: 41.
In late January 1937, Reynolds passed through waivers and the Senators traded him, Red Kress, and “considerable” money to the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association, all for … nothing. Actually, their Chattanooga club received Jimmy Wasdell, and all it took was a call anytime Washington wanted Wasdell.14
It was Double-A baseball, but Reynolds had a very good year, batting .355 and hitting 17 homers. As soon as the season was over, the Chicago Cubs bought his contract and brought him to the big leagues — for seven games, with three hits in 11 at-bats. But the Cubs kept him for 1938 and he had a fine season, batting .302 with 67 RBIs in 125 games.
It was in 1938 that Reynolds played in the World Series, against the New York Yankees. He played outfield in the first three games, with one base on balls but no base hits in 13 plate appearances. In Game Four, the last game of the Series (the Yankees swept), he pinch-hit for Dizzy Dean in the ninth inning and flied out to center field.
Reynolds was the fourth outfielder for the Cubs in 1939, appearing in 88 games, batting .246 and driving in 44 runs. Two days before Christmas, the Cubs released him.
Reynolds signed on as a player/coach with the Pacific Coast League California Angels, for a final 41 games as a player, batting .250.
He coached and scouted for the Angels in 1941, but then left the game.
After baseball, Reynolds retired to Wharton, Texas, where he had purchased a farm back in 1934. “Baseball’s loss proved to be Wharton’s gain,” wrote J.B. Hillman. “Reynolds served on the boards of the bank, hospital, and junior college. He gave away most of the equipment acquired during his playing days to local teams who lacked funds to buy it.”15
In 1971 Reynolds was enshrined in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in its first year of existence. In 1990 he was inducted into the Southwestern University Hall of Honor.
Carl Reynolds suffered from myelofibrosis and myeloid metaplasia for the last three years of his life, and acute blastic crisis the last six weeks. He died on May 29, 1978, at Methodist Hospital in Houston, and was buried at Wharton City Cemetery, Wharton, Texas.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Reynolds’ player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, Rod Nelson of SABR’s Scouts Committee, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Texas Sports Hall of Fame website, at tshof.org/inductees/?name=reynolds&year=&sport=&college=&submit=Submit. Accessed July 21, 2015.
2 J.B. Hillman, “Carl Reynolds,” Sports Collectors Digest, November 28, 1997: 154.
3 “Obituaries,” The Sporting News, June 17, 1978. The two Largents worked together as a team, though Bessie didn’t always get the credit. Roy was completely deaf, and so her contributions were essential. Her own obituary in the October 8, 1958, Sporting News tells of their teamwork, as does Jim Sandoval’s article “Bessie and Roy Largent, Baseball’s Only Husband and Wife Scouting Team,” in Can He Play? A Look at Baseball Scouts and Their Profession, Jim Sandoval and Bill Nowlin, eds., (Phoenix: SABR, 2011), 22-24. Sandoval writes that Roy alone spoke with Reynolds the first time at Waxahachie, “but Reynolds did not sign a contract. Roy brought Bessie with him the next time and Reynolds signed.”
4 “Reynolds Resigns,” Dallas Morning News, March 3, 1927: Part 2, 19. See also John Kieran, “Carl Reynolds on the Stand,” New York Times, May 21, 1932: 13.
5 “Reynolds of Rattlesnake Ranch Called Fastest Thing on Spikes,” Hartford Courant, November 25, 1928: C5.
6 George Moriarty, “Chicago’s Sox Give Promise of Real Team,” Atlanta Constitution, January 27, 1929: A3.
7 Gordon Cobbledick, “Infield Forms Big Problem of White Sox,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 17, 1931: 24.
8 “Carl Reynolds Turned Juggler, but Finally Came Up With Putout,” Dallas Morning News, December 28, 1930: 2.
9 Frank H. Young, “Art of Sliding To Be Taught Outfielder,” Washington Post, January 10, 1932: 20.
10 New York World-Telegram and Sun, May 19, 1956.
11 “Wife’s Quick Thinking Saves Carl Reynolds, Stricken in Taxicab,” Washington Post, July 21, 1932: 9.
12 (Dan) Daniel, “Yanks Guarded in Capital,” New York World-Telegram, August 13, 1932.
13 (Dan) Daniel, “McCarthy Defends Dickey; Says Blow Was Provoked,” New York World-Telegram, July 7, 1932. McCarthy said he in no way was “preaching for an epidemic of broken jaws” and was sorry that Reynolds had been hurt so badly. Earlier in the week, Dickey had been knocked cold in a play at the plate by Red Sox outfielder Roy Johnson. All agreed that it was quite unexpected because both Dickey and Reynolds were considered true gentlemen.
14 Shirley Povich, “Reynolds and Kress Sent to Minors,” Washington Post, January 30, 1937: 19.
15 J.B. Hillman: 155.