One step forward, one step back…but never quitting. This is an apt description of the career—and life—of Ray “Slim” Caldwell. Very few ballplayers have ever been blessed with the natural talent exhibited by this 6’2”, 190 pound, right-handed hurler. His outspoken devotees included such fine baseball personalities as Grantland Rice, Fred Lieb, Calvin Griffith (who once offered to trade Walter Johnson for Ray,) Branch Rickey, and perhaps especially, Philadelphia Athletics’ manager Connie Mack.
The grace and determination Caldwell exhibited on the mound, however, was completely lacking in his personal life. While he had a vivacious and popular personality, he was never able to master—or at times even bend—his affection for alcohol and chasing the ladies. The result, as far as his major league career went, was a rather modest 134-120 record over twelve seasons. Hardly the sort of numbers that would tempt a sane team owner to trade a Walter Johnson for Caldwell.
By 1921, at age 33, Caldwell’s big league career was finished. It was not, however, the end of his story. A genuine love of the game (along, perhaps, with trouble establishing an alternative career) led Ray on a meandering, 12-year path through minor league towns both large and very small. He did not retire as an active professional player until age 45. By that time he had won another 146 games against 125 losses, giving him a lifetime total of 280 victories. Life had moved along, as well. By the end of his professional career the onetime fresh playboy with the rocket arm was a grandfather navigating through his fourth marriage. Even after his minor league career was over, Ray continued playing semi-professionally into his fifties.
After baseball, Caldwell had a string of modest jobs. For several years he ran or bar tendered in drinking establishments. By the 1960’s he was working in Las Vegas as a casino greeter. By the end, however, Ray had found his redemption. His fourth marriage, to wife Estelle, seems to have been a happy one. He was well regarded as a step-father, grandfather, and neighbor. Ray Caldwell died in 1967 at age 79.
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