Max Carey played 17 seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates and he ranks among the top ten hitters in numerous career offensive categories in franchise history. So it’s not difficult to pick a season to feature in a Pittsburgh Pirates Seasons article, especially when this is his first time appearing in this particular series. I probably should have had him here sooner, but I’m making up for that by writing this article to post on his birth date, 131 years ago today.
Carey had some impressive seasons with the Pirates, adding a lot of value on the bases and with his defense. The problem with his stats for this particular series is that he played his prime in the deadball era, so it’s not really exciting to feature a season like 1916, when he hit .264 and drove in 42 runs. If you put it in context though, it was an outstanding overall season, one in which he accumulated 5.1 WAR. Instead of picking a year when I have to explain why all of his stats were strong for the era, I picked one in which the stats speak for themselves.
During the 1922 season, Carey set career highs in hits, runs scored, homers, RBIs and walks. His batting average and OPS were the second best of his career. He also stole some bases, just like every other year in his career. So here’s the story of his 1922 seasons.
In 1921, Carey batted .309 with 34 doubles and 70 walks. Those were all career bests for him up until that point, though he would top two of those marks just one year later. He also scored 85 runs and stole 37 bases in 1921. It was a good season according to WAR (4.2), but it was only tied for the sixth best during his career. The 32-year-old Carey had bigger things in store for the next season.
The Pirates opened up the 1922 season on April 12th with Carey batting second and playing left field. He would play a total of three games in left field that season, the first three games of the year. By April 16th, manager George Gibson had him back in center field. Carey never moved from the #2 spot in the batting order all season. He was there in game one of the season on April 12th and he stayed there until the final game of the year, game two of a doubleheader on October 1st. In fact, he played all but five of the team’s 1,387.1 innings on defense during the season.
We are featuring this season despite the fact that he did very poorly over the first 17 games. Through play on May 2nd, Carey was hitting .194/.270/.239 in his first 80 plate appearances. Seeing those stats and knowing what you already know, you can imagine how the rest of the season went for Carey. The good times started on May 5th when he collected two hits. It was the beginning of a 21-game hit streak, one of the longest in team history up to that point. He hit .424/.505/.576 in 102 plate appearances during the streak. Carey collected a total of 36 hits, including nine multi-hit games. He also drew 12 walks and reached twice by getting plunked, making it 50 times he reached base in 21 games.
Carey’s hit streak was broken during a game in which he walked twice and scored two runs, so it’s not as if he had a bad day. The next day he started a mini-streak, hitting .414 in the next seven games. That game was broke by a game that included a walk, then he collected a hit in each of the next ten games. Finally on June 24th, he failed to reach base safely via hit, walk or hit-by-pitch. In true Carey fashion, he reached on a fielder’s choice and scored a run. From May 1st until June 23rd, he reached base safely in 42 straight games.
After putting up a .499 OPS in April, Carey had a 1.027 OPS in 25 games during May. He scored 28 runs that month. Despite the on base streak, June really wasn’t a great month. The .333 average looks great, but his walk rate wasn’t anything special and his only five extra-base hits were all doubles, giving him a .772 OPS for the month. That was better than league average at the time, but it pales in comparison to three other months during this season.
That June 24th game turned out to be pretty big for breaking an on base streak because Carey would reach safely in each of the next 27 games after June 24th. He reached base in 69 of 70 games during that stretch. One game in particular really stood out. On July 7th, Carey had one of the best games in Pirates history, and he did it in a loss. The Pirates played 18 innings that day against the New York Giants. Carey batted nine times in the 9-8 loss. Here are his results from that day:
1st time up: walk
2nd: RBI single, steal second, steals home
3rd: walk, run
4th: double, run
5th: single, run
7th: walk, steal
He went 6-for-6 with four runs scored, three walks and three stolen bases in one game. That followed a home run, triple and double in his final three at-bats during the July 6th game. On July 8th, he flew out to left field in his first at-bat, then reached base safely in each of his next five plate appearances. Reaching base in 17 of 18 plate appearances will do wonders for an OBP. Carey went from a .400 OBP to a .424 mark over those four games.
The month of July ended well for Carey, as he collected four multi-hit games over the final six contests. His final slash line for the month was .387/.486/.672 in 145 plate appearances. He stole 13 bases, drove in 25 runs and scored 26 times. The high slugging mark came from a power surge at the Polo Grounds over two straight days. It was something never approach by Carey again. He homered twice on July 29th and twice on July 30th, touching up four different pitchers. For good measure, he homered again on August 1st before the Pirates left New York. He homered ten times all year and nine of them came against the New York Giants. Pitcher Art Nehf allowed three of those homers in a row (homers #2 through #4 on the season), but they all came in different games, and all at Forbes Field. The July 29th/30th homers represented the only time during his 20-year career in the majors that he homered in back-to-back days, and somehow he managed to hit two each day.
August couldn’t live up to the high standards set in July, but it was still a pretty good month for Carey. He started it with a nine-game hit streak, and a 16-game on base streak before failing to reach base during the first game of a doubleheader on the 19th. However, game two that afternoon saw him collect three hits and a walk, so it wasn’t a bad day overall. He went into the month with a .346 batting average and ended with a .342 mark, topping out at .352 after a three-hit game on August 8th (one of two games all year in which he didn’t finish). His .910 OPS in 29 games was a distant third best for the year behind May and July.
The Pirates played 31 games over 31 days (Sept 1 – October 1) to finish the season and Carey had just two games all month in which he didn’t reach base safely. That makes it sound like another strong month, but he hit just .295, and he had a mediocre .703 OPS. That being said, he was still doing his job on getting on base and scoring runs. He had his second month with 28 runs scored and his fifth straight month with 22+ runs scored.
Carey finished the season with a .329/.408/.459 slash line. His 140 runs were a career best. His 70 RBIs and 80 walks both set personal bests, as did his 207 hits and ten homers. He stole 51 bases in 53 attempts for the second best success rate in a season in team history (minimum 20 attempts). Carey led the NL in steals for a seventh time in 1922. He would win three more NL stolen base crowns before he was done. His 732 plate appearances that year are the fifth highest total for a season in team history. His run total also ranks fifth for a season. He reached base 291 times that year, which was a team record at the time, but now ranks ninth best.