Editor's Note: Refer also to our web page on Congressman JD Hayworth. Ray Hayworth is JD's grandfather.
Click here to read the obituary of Ray Hayworth. Use your "back arrow" to return to this page. Ron Haworth, editor.
Ray Hayworth, The Oldest Tiger
He played for and against Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Walter Johnson
Bygone baseball by C. Philip Francis
I can’t remember that particular Detroit Tigers game, but I had to be about eight years of age in the mid-1930’s when I purchased a 22-inch wooden Louisville Slugger bat inscribed with the name of Tiger catcher Ray Hayworth. Most of one’s childhood toys are broken, lost, or somehow discarded, and while memories may remain – the playthings have long disappeared.
Some 15 years ago after retirement I began a baseball library for my Chatter from the Dugout columns, and along the way occasionally added items of baseball memorabilia. Unbelievably one of my first pieces of baseball bits for my personal museum was that 65-year-old 22-inch wooden bat with the name of the barely visible name of Ray Hayworth. But where was it all those years; apparently in the daughter’s toy box and later among our granddaughter’s accumulation of playthings. .
I had long forgotten that bat, but delighted to have it back. Then not long after that I saw an ad for a special Ray Hayworth autographed baseball for $28 postpaid. It wasn’t long before that 22-inch wooden bat was able to join the recently acquired new Ray Hayworth autographed baseball to make a new baseball marriage. Although the name of Ray Hayworth may not be well known to fans he was the oldest Detroit Tiger ballplayer until his death on September 25, 2002 at the age of 98.
Raymond Hall Hayworth was born January 29, 1904 in High Point, North Carolina, and went on to spend fifteen years in the major leagues primarily as a backup catcher. He left prep school to sign with the Detroit Tigers in 1925, went to spring training with the Tigers in 1926, and opened the season with Triple-A Toronto. After several games the Detroit backstop, Johnny Bassler, broke his leg so Ray was called up appearing in 12 games hitting .273. Bassler was the regular Tiger catcher throughout much of the 1920’s, and one of the few who preferred to play in the Pacific Coast League rather than the big leagues. He was a fine catcher, a .300 hitter, and usually near to the top in MVP voting.
Ty Cobb was the manager of the sixth place Tigers in 1926, hit .339 in 79 games, and his last year with the Detroit club. In one of Ray’s first games in the majors he went to bat against Walter Johnson who was near the end of his long career. Later in the game Cobb sent himself in to pitch-hit for the young receiver, and doubled to win the game. Surprisingly Ray began his major league career with and against three baseball legends who were among the first five members to be selected to the Hall of Fame in 1936 – Cobb, Johnson, and Babe Ruth. Hayworth soon was sent down, and did not return until three years later.
He continued to share the catching duties until 1933 when he became the starting catcher. The following season, however, he became the substitute for newly obtained player-manager Mickey Cochrane after Detroit paid $100,000 and one player to the Philadelphia A’s. The new skipper platooned right-handed Hayworth against lefties who said, “I always said that I’d rather be a backup on a championship team than starting with a last-place club.” The team morale was high, and in 1935 Ray had his highest batting average with .309 in 51 games.
Under Cochrane’s leadership the Tigers won pennants in his first two years, and Detroit’s first ever World Series in 1935 over the Chicago Cubs. In the 1934 Series against the St. Louis Cardinals Ray was in one game with no at-bats, and did not did appear in the 1935 Series as “Black Mike” Cochrane caught the full six games.
In 1938 the Tigers sent Ray to the Brooklyn Dodgers, and he then had brief stops with the New York Giants and St. Louis Browns before returning to Brooklyn where he played his final game in 1945. He then started new careers as minor league manager, scout, and major league executive. Ray had begun his professional baseball life in 1923, and did not leave the game until 1973 – fifty years later.
Hayworth was always considered a good defensive catcher, but just an ordinary hitter. In his 15 major league playing years Ray averaged about 45 games a year, hit a total of five home runs, and retired with a batting average of .265. Covering
executive. Ray had begun his professional baseball life in 1923, and did not leave the game until 1973 – fifty years later.
Hayworth was always considered a good defensive catcher, but just an ordinary hitter. In his 15 major league playing years Ray averaged about 45 games a year, hit a total of five home runs, and retired with a batting average of .265. Covering most of the 1931 and 1932 seasons Ray set a record when he had 439 chances without an error.
The North Carolina native had been the oldest living Detroit Tiger ballplayer, and also the last man to appear with Ty Cobb on the playing field. While Cobb was hated by many, Hayworth says of his first big league skipper, “…he was still a great manager and a real gentleman…but once he got onto that ballfield, watch out! He played like a man possessed.” Ray said of The Bambino, “I was behind the plate many times when the Babe was batting, and I can still hear that ‘whoosh’ from his long powerful swing.”
There have been about 350 brother combinations in the past 100-plus years, and one was Ray and brother Red who is eleven years younger. Red, also a catcher, had two years in the majors, 1944 and 1945, both with the St. Louis Browns, and has one unusual distinction. Red shared the squatters’ rights behind the plate with catcher rookie Frank Mancuso in ’44 when the Browns won their only pennant, yet it was Red who started each of the six World Series games. The first freshman catcher to do so was Bill DeLancey of the Cardinals in 1934 when they downed the Tigers in seven games.
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