Grave Story: Roy Castleton (1885-1967)

Here lies Roy Castleton, the first native Utahan to ever play Major League Baseball. He was a brilliant pitcher, when he wasn’t fending off near-fatal illnesses. The lefty played for the New York Highlanders (Yankees) (1907) and Cincinnati Reds (1909-1910).

Castleton’s family were early Utah pioneers, according to his SABR biography. His parents had emigrated from England, but Roy (full name: Royal Eugene Castleton), born on July 26, 1885 in Salt Lake City, fell in love with the all-American game of baseball. He wasn’t the only one in his family to do so either. His brother Charles was a shortstop on a top-ranked amateur team in Utah, and Roy would become its pitcher.

Castleton made his pro debut in baseball for teams in Salt Lake City in 1904 and Ogden in 1905. No stats on these seasons are available on Baseball Reference, but he performed well enough to draw several offers from East Coast minor-league teams. He eventually settled on the Youngstown Ohio Works of the O&P League (Ohio-Pennsylvania League)

Castleton made an immediate impression in Youngstown, earning a 22-12 record. He was also praised for his hitting abilities, with a .267 batting average. Castleton was also something of a curiosity, being from Utah. The Salt Lake Tribune, quoting a Youngstown newspaper, said that the women who attended the ballgames were particularly interested in “Cass.”

Source: News-Journal, April 9, 1906

“Next to a ‘furren’ duke or other dignitary, a Mormon is considered one of the greatest novelties extant by the doting ladies. Everywhere Cass appears there are anxious inquiries: ‘Is that the man?’ ‘Is he really a Mormon” and “How many wives do you suppose he has?”

Castleton, for his part, swore that he’d never been married and that, while some of his more distant relatives were Mormon, his immediate family “maintains an attitude of independence.” He did occasionally hold up four fingers when asked about how many wives he had, though, just to mess with people.

Castleton was acquired by the Highlanders in September 1906 and reported to Spring Training the following season. He impressed manager Clark Griffith, who noted that Castleton had the best motion for a southpaw that he’d ever seen. He was so impressive that he ended up making the team out of Spring Training, though he wouldn’t stay for long.

The interest in his home state and his presumed religion followed him to the majors. Newspaper reports repeatedly referred him as a Mormon, and it was said that Griffith was encouraged to start him on a Ladies’ Day due to his good looks. He got into one game as a reliever, tossing a perfect ninth inning against Philadelphia on April 16, 1907.

At the end of April, Castleton was demoted to the minor leagues, but he didn’t take it personally. Griffith told him that he needed more seasoning, and Castleton himself reasoned that he’d learn more by pitching regularly in the minors than he would sitting on the bench in New York. “I am not a bit sorry, because I could see myself that I didn’t have enough experience to play with these fellows,” he told the Salt Lake Herald.

Castleton finished the season with the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association and was considered one of the top pitchers in the league. He won 17 games, and it was reported that about half of his starts were shutouts. On his 22nd birthday, he shut out the Shreveport Pirates 2-0 on 3 hits.

“Clark Griffith of the New York Yanks can shake hands with himself, for next year he will have one of the best young southpaws in the league,” crowed the Cleveland News.

Naturally, his personal life also became the subject of news reports, as he was reportedly “hypnotized” by the hazel eyes of Miss Sadie Overan, an Atlanta resident who attended many of his games. Nothing must have come of it, as he would go on to marry his wife Esther in 1918.

As the only Mormon in the majors, Castleton’s personal life was a constant source of speculation. Source: Evansville News, September 24, 1907

Castleton would start two more games for the Highlanders near the end of the season, winning one, losing one and pitching well in both games. He had a 2.81 ERA for New York over 16 innings.

The 1908 season was a bit of a lost year for Castleton. He refused to sign his contract with New York in January, holding out for more money or a release so he could sign elsewhere. He ended up getting a better salary, but he was sent back to Atlanta and the Crackers. He pitched in 16 games and won 10 of them, but his season ended abruptly in July when he was diagnosed with typhoid fever. He was sent back to Atlanta and spent seven weeks in a hospital, and while he did recover from the frequently fatal illness (this was 1908, after all), he was too weak to pitch any more that year.

The Atlanta climate didn’t do him any favors in 1909 either. Castleton was diagnosed with malaria in May. Yes, his career was starting to turn into a bad game of “Oregon Trail” by this point. Understandably, he was rather eager to get away from Atlanta as soon as possible.

“If I can get my release I am going to the Pacific Coast to fish, hunt and play ball with one of those two-games-a-week teams,” he said in The Montgomery Times. “If I am sent to any team in the big leagues it will be Cincinnati. I am willing to stay with Atlanta if I can get in shape and keep in shape, but I have had a lot of hard luck at it.”

By then, Clark Griffith had left New York and become the Reds manager, and he was only too happy to have his lefty pitcher back. He acquired Castleton and gave him a start on June 9 against the Boston Braves. He struck out 4 batters and allowed 2 runs in a 13-2 rout. At the bat, he picked up a couple of hits and walked once. Though he allowed 11 hits, he was praised by Griffith for his performance. The manager said that the youngster was still weak from his illnesses but would be used regularly.

That never happened. Castleton didn’t pitch for a month and got into just three games in relief in July, throwing a total of 5 more innings. In his 14 innings of work in 1909, he had a 1-1 record and 1.93 ERA, with 5 strikeouts. He was sent off by Griffith in August to recuperate and headed to a ranch in Idaho to rest up for the 1910 season.

“I am going to fish until I will not be able to look a trout in the face,” he told the Salt Lake Telegram.

Griffith, it must be said, treated Castleton as well as an ailing pitcher could be treated. That was the second paid vacation Castleton had that year; Griffith sent him to Waukesha, Wis., in late June to rest up after his start against the Braves.

Castleton was roughed up in his 1910 debut but bounced back to shut down Brooklyn and its ace Nap Rucker on May 15, winning 2-1. His remaining performances weren’t as successful, and Castleton was sent to Los Angeles of the PCL on June 4. In his three seasons of MLB experience, Castleton appeared in a total of 11 games, with 5 starts. He went 3-4 with a 2.68 ERA, striking out 13 batters in 43-2/3 innings.

Castleton always wanted to play in California, and he finally had his chance. He didn’t have much luck in 1910, with a 7-15 record, but his ERA was a sharp 2.51 and, most importantly, the West Coast weather did agree with him. He went back to the workhorse that he was before his illnesses, and he won 22 games for the Vernon Tigers in 1911 and 13 in 1912. He wrapped up his pro career in 1913 pitching back in Salt Lake City for the Skyscrapers of the Union Association. He did write his old Atlanta Crackers manager about employment in 1914, but only if the manager knew of an antidote for the fever.

He was supposed to have pitched for teams in Kansas and Toronto in 1914, but I can’t find any evidence of him actually playing. He was back in Utah in early May, where he failed a tryout with a team in Ogden. By 1920, he and his wife were living with his family in Salt Lake City, with Roy working as a bookkeeper for a stockbroker. They eventually moved out to Los Angeles, and he worked as a water heater inspector.

Roy Castleton died on June 25, 1967 at the age of 81 in Los Angeles. He went back home to Utah for burial and was laid to rest in Salt Lake City Cemetery. 

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