A little less than two years younger than his brother Roy, Cleo Carlyle’s time in the major leagues was a little more compressed – one season, 95 games, all for the 1927 Boston Red Sox.
He didn’t like his first name – Hiram – so he went by his middle name, Cleo. He was born in Fairburn, Georgia, on September 7, 1902. Roy was born in December 1900. Cleo stood six feet tall and weighed 179; Roy was three inches taller and had 25 pounds on his younger brother. Both boys batted left, but threw right-handed. Both played outfield, and both made the majors, Cleo coming to the Red Sox the year his older brother left the big leagues, with Roy on his way to Newark by way of the New York Yankees.
Their father, Will, ran a grocery store that had the only icebox in that part of Fairburn. When they weren’t working in the family store, the Carlyle brothers were out playing ball. Will and Rhoda (Bennett) Carlyle had three sons who played professionally. Roy and Cleo reached the majors; Eldon played briefly with the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association. Fairburn and neighboring Norcross were small communities – Norcross was about 800 people at the time, but it produced four major-league ballplayers, all around the same time—the two Carlyles and the Wingo brothers, Ab and Ivey. Another Norcross alum, from an earlier era, was pitcher Nap Rucker.
The Carlyle boys attended elementary school in Fairburn and high school in Fairburn and Norcross. Cleo spent two years attending Georgia Military College and Oglethorpe University. But where Roy served in the Marines during the Great War, Cleo – being younger – was spared serving, since the war was done by the time he was of age.
Roy had the greater success in baseball, batting .312 to Cleo’s .234. Cleo had a lifetime (the one season) on-base percentage of .324 and a slugging percentage of .345. He hit one career home run, and drove in 28. Roy’s OBP was .348 and his slugging percentage .450. In his two seasons, he hit seven homers in 1925 and two in 1926. Roy’s downfall was his .910 fielding percentage; Cleo’s was an acceptable, if not stellar, .965 (five errors in 142 chances). Both brothers played several years in the minor leagues after their time in the big leagues was done.
Cleo started his career with the Charlotte Hornets in 1924 and had an excellent year at the plate, batting .355 in 127 games, with 14 homers. He signed with the Detroit Tigers organization and was moved from Class B to Double A, where he put in two years with Toronto. Ty Cobb was said to have considered him one of the best prospects he’d seen in years.1 He went to spring training with Detroit in 1925 and 1926, but was placed with the Toronto Maple Leafs both years. In 1925, he hit .329 in 130 games, with 17 home runs and 78 RBIs. In his second year with the Maple Leafs, he enjoyed rather similar results – .303 with 14 homers and 74 RBIs, in eight fewer games. Toronto fell four games short of winning the International League pennant in 1925—the flag went to Baltimore—but in 1926, they won it all, eight games ahead of the Orioles, and went to the Little World Series against the American Association champion, Louisville. The Boston Globe reported that Cleo “played a big part in the triumphs.”2
In September 1926, his contract was reported sold to the Boston Braves. But it was really the Red Sox who secured him.3 The Tigers relinquished his contract to Toronto, which promptly sold it to the Red Sox.
He showed well in spring training, in particular the March 23 game in New Orleans where he homered in the fifth to give the Sox the lead and doubled in the ninth to provide some insurance.4 But he twisted his knee in one of the later games, on April 6, and was held back just a bit.
The 1927 season marked the return of Bill Carrigan as manager. He had led the team to World Series wins in 1915 and 1916, but then retired. He was lured back, in hopes he could help bring the Bosox out of last place. Carrigan liked Carlyle enough that he released Fred Bratschi and added Carlyle to the team as a fourth outfielder.
Carlyle’s major-league debut came on May 16, in Chicago. The White Sox pounded Boston starter Hal Wiltse for five runs in the second inning, and literally knocked him out of the game by a hard-hit line drive off the bat of Bibb Falk. Carlyle pinch hit in the top of the ninth, with one out and Buddy Myer on first base. He doubled hard down the right-field line, sending Myer to third base, before being replaced by a pinch runner. Boston lost the game, 5-2.
He singled in a pinch-hitting role on the 18th, and singled in his only at-bat (producing his first RBI) on the 19th. After three games, he was batting 1.000. By the end of May, after several more one at-bat games, he was hitting .333. Beginning on June 2, he won a regular starting spot in the outfield, shifting around from time to time to play all three outfield slots. His most spectacular play may have come during the June 21 doubleheader at Fenway Park against the Yankees, when he reached up with his bare hand and caught Joe Dugan’s hard drive just before the embankment in left field.
Only illness in August held him back from being in more games. Mostly, he’d been hitting between .240 and .260, but he was scuffling and it was thought perhaps he had appendicitis. He was sent back to Boston for a checkup. He missed a couple of weeks, resuming his starting role on September 13 and then playing out most of the rest of the season. Though he hadn’t been operated on during the season, he was clearly subpar and indeed underwent an appendectomy in early October.
When the Red Sox purchased Ken Williams’s contract from the Browns in December, Carlyle was superfluous and he was sent to the Pacific Coast League’s Hollywood Stars on option.5 He was late getting going in 1928, however, when other problems arose. He had what was sometimes described as “stomach trouble” all year long; there may well have been other complications. The Los Angeles Times mentioned hostile kidneys that put him in the hospital for a couple of weeks.”6 He hit .289 for the Stars in the first of seven consecutive years with the team. For the five seasons 1929 through 1933, the lowest he hit for average was .320, with 1929 his standout season.
For Hollywood in 1929, Carlyle played in 195 games (the Coast League having a much longer season than the major leagues) and in 666 at-bats, recorded a .347 average, with 20 homers and 136 RBIs, both of the latter standing as career bests. Brother Roy, who was playing for the Oakland Oaks, just edged out Cleo, batting .348 to Cleo’s .347. Roy his two more homers, but Cleo knocked in 28 more runs than Roy.
It was also the year he married Sue Stietenboth. They remained married until Cleo’s death in 1967.
In 1930, the Stars won the pennant for the second year in a row; Carlyle contributed with a .326 mark and 97 RBIs. It was the only year they came in first. In 1929, the team had come in third, but beat the Mission Reds in the playoffs.
Another superb year was 1932, with a .346 average, 16 homers, and 106 RBIs. Five of those home runs came in a cluster, all within two days. He hit three of them on the Fourth of July, helping beat Sacramento in both games of a holiday doubleheader.
He held out in 1934 and that may not have sat well with longtime manager Ossie Vitt, and with ownership. Carlyle hadn’t been happy since Bill Lane, the team’s president, had fined him for not showing up for the final doubleheader of the 1933 season. Carlyle said he was sick, but Lane wouldn’t budge.7 The Stars lost both games, thereby dropping to third place and Lane didn’t believe Carlyle had truly been ill.8
He signed in mid-March and played in 122 games, but with just a .272 average when he was traded in early August, part of a four-way trade that saw him end up back in the International League, with the Newark Bears. He got into 35 games for Newark but only hit .254. The 1934 Newark Bears won the I.L. pennant, the fourth in Carlyle’s minor-league career.
Per the conditions of the August trade, Newark had Carlyle on trial, and the Bears turned him back to the Stars at the end of the season. Carlyle was in the P.C.L. once more, and Hollywood promptly sold him to the Los Angeles Angels. Carlyle said, “And don’t think I won’t bear down when the Angels play Hollywood.”9 Beginning in 1935, he played for Angels for three years, going .297, with an even 100 RBIs in 1935, then hitting .339 (82 RBIs) and .291 (63 RBIs) in 1936 and 1937. In December 1937, he was one of the three players the Angels traded to New Orleans.
Cleo Carlyle had two more years in baseball. He spent 1938 with New Orleans, hitting .291, and adding 61 RBIs. He began 1939 with Tulsa (.236 in 52 games), before he was released in June and wound up back in the P.C.L., this time with San Diego, where Bill Lane had moved the Stars, and where Carlyle batted .271 in 77 games.
After baseball, for 28 years Carlyle worked as a stockroom clerk for the Douglas Aircraft Company of Santa Monica. His wife, Sue, worked as a saleslady of silver goods.
Carlyle died not long after turning 65, at Hollywood West Hospital in Los Angeles, on November 12, 1967, of a myocardial infarction borne of acute congestive heart failure.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Carlyle’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Bill Lee’s The Baseball Necrology, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Boston Globe, April 5, 1925.
2 Boston Globe, December 27, 1926.
3 The September 8, 1926 New York Times simply reported the wrong team, but that day’s Boston Globe and Boston Herald got it right.
4 Hartford Courant, March 24, 1927.
5 Boston Globe, December 16, 1927.
6 Los Angeles Times, April 15, 1928.
7 Augusta Chronicle, August 7, 1934.
8 Los Angeles Times, October 24, 1934.