May, Jake

Jake May

One of Wendell’s best known celebrities is Jake May.  The following is part of a newspaper article written by Don Fuller for the Gold Leaf Farmer newspaper on May 28, 1998.  Mr. Fuller article reads…

“Born in 1895 near Youngsville, Frank Spruill “Jake” May moved to Wendell in 1907 and played with its town-sponsored club in 1912 along with Grover Rhodes, Mallie Todd, Coach/catcher Lawrence “Rube” Poole (the owner and editor of The Gold LeafFarmer), John Buffaloe, Sam Jones, Luther Mattox, Paul Whitley, Zeb Richardson, Hannis Harper, Hank Hinton, and (batboy Ward) Henry.

In 1917, May signed a contract to finally play for pay as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.  He was worth every nickel—and then some.  May once pitched a no-hitter during an off season stint in Cuba.   During World War I, he enlisted in the army and worked the bases with a traveling troupe that entertained countrywide troops.  Back in real business by 1922, he had set a Pacific Coast League record that still stands today by amassing a 35-9 record on the mound in the summer season.

Dubbed the ‘Wee Carolinian’ by the sportswriters of the age, publicity nearly brought an epic promotion.  The New York Yankees offered the Vernon Tigers (of Los Angeles) $75,000 for the southpaw’s services.  But the owner declined the deal at the last minute.

May wound up with the Cincinnati Reds organization from 1924-1930 before being traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1931.  Call it his big break.

With his patented ‘jug-handle curveball’ clearing May’s way, the Cubs claimed the National League pennant and advanced to face the Yankees in the World Series.

May made two relief appearances in front of the nation’s eyes and left one big impression by besting Babe Ruth on consecutive at-bats.  Both times, Ruth went down looking.

The umpire in the clash, G.L Magerkurth, later wrote May a letter offering his side of the story.  ‘I remember the whole thing as vividly as yesterday’ came the words in a 1960 correspondence.  ‘You had a great day for you struck out Babe Ruth two times in a row with your jug-handle curve after working the count down to 3-2, and I called him out twice.  He turned and yelled at me, ‘Where the (BLEEP) was that last one?’  I jumped at him at yelled ‘Right through the (BLEEP) middle.’  Babe looked at me and said, ‘Ain’t it the truth.’

Ruth and the Yankees would enjoy the last laugh.  The slugger was dusted by two straight pitches against Cub hurler Charlie Root.  He stood up, shook his fist at the hill and swore he was going yard.  He did, winning the game.  New York eventually conquered the series via a 4-0 sweep.

But May, well he savored his last hurrah.  He retired immediately after the event, grabbing his $593.16 share of the Chicago bonus and retuning to Wendell.  Here, he spent the rest of his life (which ended in 1970) farming tobacco and hunting.”

His only daughter, June May Fowler, said that he was a wonderful father who “spoiled me rotten.”  The house where May lived still stands at 216 South Main Street.  The road going out to Wendell Country Club is Jake May Drive—a lasting tribute to Wendell’s famous baseball star.

Jake May was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.

by Ray Hinnant – June 8, 2010