Carl Willey had been the best pitcher on the 1963 New York Mets, and was expected to be a key part of the team for the next few seasons. Instead, his career essentially came to a halt on this day in 1964.
Once a top prospect with the Braves, Carl Willey never quite lived up to that promise. He led the National League with four shutouts as a rookie, but never again had a winning record. Finally, after five years in Milwaukee, he was sold to the New York Mets before the 1963 season, as they were desperate for anything resembling competent players for their team.
Willey quickly became the Mets top pitcher. He posted a 9-14 record with a 3.10 ERA and a 1.191 WHiP, throwing seven complete games and four shutouts. Willey led the Mets in ERA and WHiP as he established himself as the team ace. Although he was 32 years old, he looked like the pitcher that the Mets needed.
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That ended on this day in 1964. Willey had a strong Spring Training, and seemed ready to improve upon his performance from the previous year. However, in a Spring Training loss to the Tigers, Willey was hit in the jaw by a Gates Brown line drive, resulting in a complex compound fracture in his jaw.
After spending the next two months on the disabled list, Willey returned on June 6. He started off in a relief role, and on June 19, made his first start of the year. However, after three starts, he developed a sore arm, and was sent back into the bullpen. After a two inning performance in August, Willey was shut down for the rest of the year.
The same situation came about during the following year. He pitched in 13 games, making three starts, but with mediocre results. Willey’s 4.18 ERA was not terrible, but he had a 1.607 WHiP as he lost his command. That would be Willey’s final year in the Majors.
After his career ended, Willey remained around the game. He spent some time as a scout with the Phillies before returning to his home in Maine. While he was able to remain a part of the game he loved, that line drive to the jaw marked the beginning of the end for his Major League career.