Walter Mails was described as one of the most pompous, overbearing, arrogant, detested and egotistical players who ever put on a uniform. But, to fans, he was a great showman.
In baseball’s free-spirited years between 1910 and 1920, the former Christian Brothers High School standout would run around minor-league ballparks with a megaphone announcing lineups and giving play-by-play. He once even asked an umpire to throw him out of a game so he could meet his date on time. The umpire refused.
But, Mails was no clown. He was such a good pitcher that minor-league players asked major-league teams to sign him.
Mails threw hard, but like most left-handers, he was wild. When he did get the ball over the plate, he was nearly unhittable. Because of his proclivity for throwing near batter’s heads, he acquired the nickname “Duster.” Mails would later enhance his moniker to the “The Great Imperial Duster.”
Mails reached the majors with the Brooklyn Robins in 1915 when he was only 20. But after a short stay, he went back to the minors. Robins’ manager Wilbert Robinson called Mails, “the brashest rookie I’ve ever met.”
Mails’ hour of glory came in 1920. With five weeks left in the American League pennant race, Cleveland needed to bolster its pitching staff and purchased Mails (18-17, 3.23 ERA) from the Sacramento Senators for $35,000 and two players.
When Mails boarded a train at Sacramento’s Southern Pacific Station headed for Cleveland, he had something to say to his friends.
According to author Williams J. Duffy Jr., Mails said: “Fellows, I am going back there and win the pennant for Cleveland. And, I hope that Brooklyn wins it in the National League, and when we get together in the World Series I am going to make Wilbert Robinson weep.”
During September, Mails went 7-0 with a 1.85 ERA, pitching six complete games, including two shutouts.
As Mails had hoped, the Indians played Brooklyn in the seven-game World Series, beating the Robins five times. He was sensational, pitching well in relief in a 2-1 loss in Game 3 and then hurling a 1-0, three-hit shutout in Game 6.
His success continued in 1921, going 14-8 with a 3.94 ERA for the Indians.
Before the 1922 season everything changed. While playing in a California winter league with Ty Cobb, it was discovered Mails couldn’t take a ribbing.
Cobb quickly spread the word. In the book “The Cleveland Indians,” author Frankln Lewis wrote that “Mails’ rabbit ears were tuned in to every bench jockey in the American League. Led by Cobb, these experts in ridicule drove the Duster out of the big time.”
Mails fell to 4-7 with a 5.28. The next season, he was back in the Pacific Coast League with the Oakland Oaks. He was up briefly with the Cardinals in 1925 and 1926, his last two big league appearances.
In seven major-league seasons, he was 32–25with a 4.10 ERA. He pitched for three pennant-winning teams, the 1916 Robins, the 1920 Indians and the 1926 Cardinals. He did not appear in the World Series for the Robins or Cardinals.
In an 18-year minor-league career – including the 1919 and 1920 seasons with Sacramento – he was 226-210 with a 3.50 ERA.
After his playing career ended in 1936, Mails was hired by the San Francisco Seals to do publicity and promotional work.
One of Mails’ promotional ideas was featured during the 1939 World’s Fair where a Seals’ catcher would catch baseballs thrown from the 450-foot tall Tower of the Sun.
The event was a success, but Mails wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to take the promotion to the next level. His next stunt was the “Great Balloon Drop” in which the Seals’ catchers would attempt to catch balls thrown from a blimp circling 1,000 feet above the baseball diamond on Treasure Island.
Mails enlisted in the Marines during World War II. Afterward, he served as a manager and business manager in the Far West League. He later rejoined the Seals in 1954 as publicity director.
When the Giants moved from New York to San Francisco, Mails joined the staff to do public relations and promotion work, eventually becoming director of the club’s speakers’ bureau, a position he held until his retirement in 1972.
Mails died July 5, 1974.
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Mark McDermott is a freelance writer specializing in Sacramento- area baseball. Contact him at email@example.com.