Clay Carroll immortalized in hometown of Clanton

Published 1:03 pm Friday, February 17, 2023

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By Carey Reeder | Staff Writer

Most young baseball players dream of things like playing in a Major League Baseball All-Star or winning a World Series. A lot of the young baseball players across Chilton County may have those same ambitions one day.

Former Clanton resident Clay Carroll lived those dreams, and he was forever immortalized in his hometown on Feb. 16. Clay Carroll Parkway, formerly Park Drive, was established on Feb. 16. The stretch of road from the hill leading into Clanton City Park, around Jack Hayes Field and leading to Third Avenue will forever be associated with one of the best relievers in the majors in the 1970s.

“I tell people, ‘I was in the big leagues for 20 years,’ and I was in All-Star Games, I have won World Series games, I have set records,” Carroll said. “Coming back here is the best honor I could ever have … It is something to have something like that done for you, and a lot of people do not get that chance.”

A public reception was held at Clanton City Hall following the street naming ceremony where local friends and fans of Carroll’s got to see him again and get things autographed.

“To me, if you do something like that for someone, it states that they have made it,” Clanton Mayor Jeff Mims said when planning the event. “It is about the pinnacle you can get having a street named after you … For him to have lived in this town, it is special, and it is an honor to be able to do it for him.”

Carroll, a graduate of CCHS, said is very proud with what Clanton has become in his time away from the city.

“Clanton is home, and I worked in a cotton mill here and just being a country boy I guess,” Carroll said. “I made it, but I never forgot the people I was brought up with in Clanton.”

Carroll was signed by the Milwaukee Braves as a free agent in 1961, and made his MLB debut on Sept. 2, 1964. Carroll’s career took a jump in 1968 when the right-hander was traded to the Cincinnati Reds. During his eight years with the Reds, Carroll was an All-Star in 1971 and 1972 and led the MLB in saves with 35 in 1972 — a National League record at the time. Carroll finished tied for fifth in Cy Young Award voting as a reliever that same season.

Carroll said some of the names he was able to play with, and against, during his career was something he cherished.

“Being one of the best relievers in the 1970s was a big factor, but playing with a lot of stars who people have heard like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and all of those guys,” Carroll said. “It was an honor, but I did not let it go to my head. I just kept playing.”

Carroll pitched in three World Series for the Reds in 1970, 1972 and 1975, but his best showing was in the 1970 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. With the Reds down 3-0 in the series and 5-3 in game four of the series, Carroll took the mound in the sixth inning and hurled 3.2 innings of one-hit baseball striking out four Orioles including the game sealer. Carroll threw nine shutout innings and struck out 11 batters in the 1970 World Series overall.

“To pitch against a guy like Brooks Robinson, he was one of the best third basemen I ever played against.” Carroll said.

When asked who the toughest hitter he ever faced, Carroll explained it was not the power hitters he had trouble with. It was the hitters who punch the ball and try to get on base, something only a 20-year MLB veteran could figure out.

“All they did was try to attack the ball and get on, and they are hard to pitch to,” Carroll said. “Those guys who try to hit it out of the park, you can pitch to them.”

Carroll and the Reds lost both World Series in 1970 and 1972, but finally overcame the hurdle in the 1975 World Series winning in seven games over the Boston Red Sox. Carroll earned a save in game three of the 1972 World Series. He was also the winning pitcher in the seventh and deciding game of the 1975 World Series, giving the Reds their first championship in 35 years.

Carroll’s last game came on Oct. 1, 1978, and his name is all over the records book for the Cincinnati Reds including ranking third in franchise history for pitching appearances.  Carroll’s final career stat line saw him compile a 2.94 ERA in 731 games with 143 saves. He pitched 1,353.1 innings and struck out 681 batters.

Carroll was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1992 to honor his stellar career.

After his playing career, Carroll took up golf, but has had to tone it down in recent years due to the 20-year career weighing on the now 81-year-old hurler.

Carroll said it was great to see all the old faces and friends during the events on Feb. 16.

“I cannot believe how big the turnout was today, it was something,” Carroll said. “Talking about the old days, and thank you to Jeff Mims for putting this together. It really is something.”

The Clanton City Council announced at its meeting on Feb. 13 that Feb. 16 would be Clay Carroll Day in the city of Clanton.