Every year I do an In Memoriam Video that I unveil at the All Star Game. I like to show the top players, coaches and baseball figures we lost since the last All Star Game.
I can already list Don Baylor, Darren Daulton and Lee May on next year’s video and it isn’t even mid August.
The Big Bopper from Birmingham was part of a big baseball family. His brother Carlos May was a 2 time All Star who played for the Yankees in the 1976 World Series. His grandson Jacob May is a prospect in the White Sox organization.
But Lee May was the biggest star in that baseball family and we lost him on July 29th of 2017.
Lee attended Miles College in Fairfield Alabama when the Reds signed him as a pre draft free agent in 1961. He showed his power swing, especially with Macon in 1964.
By 1965, the 22 year old made his first appearance in the majors. After bouncing back and forth between San Diego and Buffalo of Triple A, he was in the majors for good with the 1967 Reds. He supplied much needed right handed power to fill the void left by the trade of Frank Robinson.
1969, May made his first All Star Game when he belted 38 homers, drove in 110 runs and had an OPS of .860.
The Reds were assembling a super team led by Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Bobby Tolan, Tommy Helms and Johnny Bench.
Their lineup looked like a perfect combination of power and speed and ready to take over a winnable National League West.
In 1970, Sparky Anderson took over as manager and the Big Red Machine was born. May clubbed 34 homers and complimented the 40 homers by Perez, 45 by Bench and 21 from Bernie Carbo. Even Pete Rose, not known as a slugger, launched 15 while batting .316.
The Reds ran up a total of 102 wins, clobbering the Dodgers for a 14 1/2 game lead in the NL West.
Lee May came up big in his first ever post season game. In the 10th inning against the Pirates, Cincinnati was up 1-0 over Dock Ellis. They needed an insurance run and May delivered with a 2 run 2 out double to make the score 3-0.
The Reds would win the game and sweep Pittsburgh for the pennant.
In the first game of the World Series, May would get a pair of hits, including a homer, driving in 2, but the Orioles took Games 1 and 2 by one run.
With Baltimore up 3-0 and gunning for a sweep in Game 4, May came up big again. With the game tied and 2 outs, he singled off of Jim Palmer in the third inning to give the Reds a 2-1 lead.
Baltimore would rally and in the 8th inning, the Orioles were 6 outs from the sweep. Lee May faced reliever Eddie Watt with 2 runners on and hit a deep homer to give the Reds a 6-5 lead.
Cincinnati would hold on to that lead and avoid the sweep. Neither Lee nor the Big Red Machine could stop the Orioles in Game 5 however and Baltimore won the title.
1971 was a disappointing year for the Reds as they could not defend their NL West title. It wasn’t Lee May’s fault. He had yet another All Star campaign, homering 39 times and posting a solid .864 OPS.
But a few things conspired against his stay in Cincinnati. Pete Rose’s versatility allowed him to move to third base and Tony Perez could switch to first. The team was too right handed heavy and they needed to balance the line up.
So after the 1971 season Lee May, along with Tommy Helms and Jim Stewart, were sent packing to the Astros. Joe Morgan, Cesar Geronimo, Jack Billingham, Ed Armbrister and Denis Menke came over to the Reds.
The Reds lineup now was firmed up and basically remained unchanged as the team won the 1972 pennant, 1973 division and 1975 and 1976 World Series titles without May.
May was crushed by the trade, feeling like he was kicked out of his home.
In the pitcher friendly Astrodome, he continued to put up All Star Numbers, representing Houston at the 1972 mid season classic.
After 3 years in Houston he was traded to Baltimore for the 1975 season. With the Orioles he had his some of his best seasons including 1976 when he led the American League with 109 RBI.
He played for the Orioles in 1979 World Series as a pinch hitter but was not much of a factor as the Birds fell to the Pirates in 7. Injuries took their toll in 1980 and 1981 and finally he retired with the Royals in 1982.
Over the years after his retirement, he coached for Baltimore, Kansas City and Tampa Bay. Eventually he retired from coaching and fell ill and passed away from pneumonia this year.
Always well respected wherever he played, he helped mold the Reds into one of the great teams of the 1970’s but just barely sampled the celebration of his good work.
In his 16 plus years in the majors, he hit 354 homers and twice finished in the top 10 of the MVP. A fine career by someone who by all accounts was a good man as well.
I wish Jacob May well so he can continue the family name in the majors.