Thursday, January 08, 2009

#261 Duke Carmel

CARMEL by you.
Contrary to popular belief, Duke Carmel was not a delicious candy bar. Nor was he one of the Yankees' all-time greats. What was he? A prodigious minor-league slugger who never quite broke through at the next level.
A native son of New York City, Leon James "Duke" Carmel signed with the Cardinals as an eighteen-year-old in 1955. He spent five seasons in the minors before getting a look in St. Louis, with his best effort being a .324, 29-home run, 121-RBI season at Billings in 1957. He did very little in his cups of coffee in 1959 (.130 in 10 games) and 1960 (0-for-3 in 4 games), and spent the next two years at AAA while being swapped back and forth from the St. Louis organization to the Dodgers, back to St. Louis, to the Indians, and back again (whew!). He had a good power stroke, but seldom hit for average. In 1963, he finally spent a full season in the majors, but still played sparingly. He received 53 plate appearances in 57 games with the Cards, batting .227 with a .358 on-base percentage and one home run. A midseason trade to the Mets gave him a small cult following; he hit .235 with 3 homers and 18 RBI while teaming with Duke Snider to give New York a rare pair of Dukes.

That offseason, the Yankees acquired Carmel and stashed him at AAA Buffalo, where he proceeded to hit 35 longballs, knock in 99 runs, and post a .404 on-base percentage. He went to Spring Training with the Bombers in 1965 amid much fanfare; in Ball Four, Jim Bouton sardonically notes that he was supposed to be "the next Joe DiMaggio". According to Bouton, he struggled in camp and Whitey Ford consoled him by suggesting that he just couldn't hit in South Florida. When he continued to play poorly in Tampa, Whitey amended his remarks: "You're just not a Florida hitter." Of course, Duke then faltered in a few more games further north, prompting the great Yankee pitcher to say, "It looks like you just can't hit south of the Mason-Dixon Line." Nor could he hit in the Bronx. The team put the 28-year-old on the Opening Day roster, and he went hitless in eight at-bats, striking out five times. That was the last that Duke Carmel would see of the major leagues. He spent three more years riding the buses before retiring.

After baseball, Duke settled in Coram, New Jersey and became a salesman for a liquor distributor. He also spent several years coaching amateur summer league baseball.

Fun fact: Dateline: April 16, 1963. Duke's first career home run was a pinch-hit, game-tying solo shot leading off the bottom of the ninth inning against Roy Face. He sparked a game-winning rally by the Cardinals, as Curt Flood followed with a double and scored on an error by Pirates second baseman Julio Gotay.
CARMELB by you.


  1. You know it's bad when the back of the card mentions how surprising it is the team picked him up.

  2. Carmel was actually the first player to play for the Mets first and then the Yankees. In the early days of the Mets, it was usually the other way around...

  3. The Yankees did not acquire Duke from the Mets in the 1963-64 offseason—thus they did not "stash" him at Buffalo in 1964. Duke incurred Mets manager Casey Stengel’s wrath in spring training in 1964, and he was sent to the Mets’ Class AAA farm club in Buffalo, where he had a banner season. (Just how much the rift with Casey led to Duke’s reassignment to Buffalo was never clear.) In the major league draft at the ’64 winter meetings, the Yankees selected Carmel off the Buffalo roster. Then came the tough go-round with the Yankees in 1965.
    —Joe Hoppel (Duke’s batboy in the Pioneer League in 1957!)

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