Minor League Baseball is known for its rich history, dating back more than 100 years. While much has been written about the best teams and top players who have graced the Minors, there remain many stories either untold or largely forgotten. Each week, MiLB.com will attempt to fill that gap and explore these historical oddities in our "Cracked Bats" feature. Know of any stories to be considered for this feature in the future? Send an email and let us know.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect surrounding what Charles "Whammy" Douglas did during the 1954 Georgia-Florida League season is the fact that he doesn't really consider it all that impressive.
Pitching for the Brunswick Pirates, Douglas set the league record with 27 victories while leading his team to a first-place finish and a berth in the circuit's championship series. What that little line in the record book doesn't tell you is that he did so with only one eye.
Douglas, whose other claim to fame was his nickname, lost his right eye as an 11-year-old yet prospered as a pitcher, often dominating older players at higher levels until he signed a professional contract with the Pirates in 1953. Douglas eventually pitched in the Major Leagues, going 3-3 in 11 games for Pittsburgh in 1957. But in a cruel twist of fate, it was his elbow and his shoulder, not his eye, that kept him from having greater success on the mound.
For one season, though, Douglas was one of the best pitchers in all of organized baseball, finishing behind only Stockton's Bob Thorpe, who collected 28 California League victories. Douglas finished the season with a 27-6 mark and a 2.06 ERA. He led the league with 273 strikeouts, the fourth-highest total in the Class D circuit's history. On a historical note, Thorpe also met with misfortune, dying after he was electrocuted in 1960.
"Yes, it probably was extraordinary," Douglas said matter-of-factly. "I was just fortunate to win a lot of games and get a lot of strikeouts. I was throwing the ball pretty well. I could bring it pretty good, around 95-96 [mph]. I had a good curveball and a fair changeup, too."
And all the talent in the world, despite a handicap that would have prevented many others from having the success that Douglas did. Cracked Bats has touched upon Bobby Slaybaugh and Ron Sims in the past, other players who have attempted to carve out a career while playing with one eye. But their stories are different than that of Douglas, simply because they suffered their injuries on the field.
Douglas lost his eye during a fight as a child, but it never slowed him down. He ultimately became one of only a handful of one-eyed players ever to reach the Major Leagues. Depending upon which history book you believe, there are only eight players who have ever played big-league ball with one eye.
"I was 11 years old when I got my eye split open," said Douglas, who grew up in North Carolina. "There were five or six of us and we got into a little tussle. I got hit in the eye with a stick and it split open. I was in sixth grade and it happened in November. That was the end of baseball for a while."
Douglas was back on the field the following summer, however, pitching for his local American Legion team, dominating against much older competition. There was one game in particular that he pitched against a semipro team that earned him his nickname. He threw so well that the opposing manager offered him a spot, and from there on in he pitched semipro ball.
"I was striking everyone out, so they just started calling me 'Whammy'," he said. "They couldn't hit the ball and it just stuck with me. I don't know how, but it did. Some people still call me that now."
Douglas pitched well enough through high school to draw attention from Major League scouts. The Pirates and Red Sox were his most aggressive suitors. Pittsburgh eventually offered him the better deal and he took it, turning professional in 1953. He was a combined 9-7 with a 3.53 ERA while appearing in 22 games (18 starts) that summer in the Tar Heel and Carolina Leagues, setting the stage for his magnificent 1954 season.
While the Pirates signed him, then general manager Branch Rickey, the legendary front-office executive, had some doubts about just how effective Douglas could be.
"Rickey thought the eye would affect me," Douglas said. "He told me I would never be able to field my position. I proved him wrong, though, and he eventually apologized. I think I led every league I ever played in with pickoffs at second base. People would say, 'You can't see second base, what's going on?' Rickey apologized down the road, though. He was an alright guy."
The 1954 season opened with the 19-year-old Douglas on the mound. He had been home in North Carolina for a week following the end of Spring Training, which was held in Brunswick. The time home took a bit of the edge off Douglas' game and he wound up losing. It was one of the few disappointing moments of his season.
"I wasn't real sharp that game, but after that I was fine," he said. "We had a real good club, and we all got along very well. We were all pretty good friends. Frank Oceak was my manager that year. I give him and his wife a lot of credit. They taught me a lot of stuff. I learned the most from him and my old Legion coach, Doc Mathis."
Douglas was 14-2 after 18 starts and would lead the Pirates through a successful second half. They finished in first place, 7 1/2 games ahead of Fitzgerald. Brunswick easily handled Waycross in the opening round of he playoffs, but was trailing in the championship series, 3-2, when the series was canceled because of poor weather.
Still, it was a magical season for Douglas, who appeared to have a very bright future.
"He was very good," Brunswick catcher Joe Canuso said. "He called every pitch on his own. I'd put a sign down and he'd just stare at me until I changed it. He wouldn't shake it off. He threw a very light ball, too. He was probably one of the better ones I ever caught. His control was terrific, and his pitches had a little zip. And he was one of the finest guys I knew."
Douglas, however, would suffer through elbow problems for most of the 1955 season. He was 6-7 in 23 games at three different levels. He rebounded to go 10-6 in 1956 while pitching for Mexico City of the Mexican League and New Orleans of the Southern Association. Douglas would also win 26 games during the 1957-58 seasons at Columbus of the International League, earning his only chance at the Major Leagues during that time.
Rickey, however, was on his way out in Pittsburgh by that time, and the Pirates had changed managers, bringing in Danny Murtaugh. So instead of breaking camp with the parent club in '58, Douglas found himself back in Columbus. He was traded to the Reds prior to the 1959 season, but by then his shoulder began to give out.
Douglas would appear in 15 games over the next three seasons, but sat out 1962-64 with a torn rotator cuff. He returned to pitch in 1965 and appeared in 14 games for Burlington of the Carolina League before calling it a career.
"My shoulder went bad after I went to Cincinnati," he said. "They sent me to Johns Hopkins and all those places, but they didn't have the surgery they do now. I did play again, though."
Douglas, who was playing for Havana of the International League and fled Cuba when Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, has no regrets. He beams about what he did in 1954, and is equally proud of having pitched for the Pirates three years later.
But amazed, no. He was just pitching, doing what he loved to do. That he did so with a handicap never factored into how he views his life or his career.