Obituary: Tom Carroll (1936-2021)

RIP to Tom Carroll, a .300 hitter in the major leagues — even though that .300 batting average came in just 30 at-bats. He died on September 22, five days after his 85th birthday. Carroll played for the New York Yankees (1955-56) and Kansas City Athletics (1957).

Thomas Edward Carroll was born in Jamaica, N.Y., on September 17, 1936, and he grew up in the Cambria Heights neighborhood. He played infield for Bishop Loughlin High School in Brooklyn. In 1953, he was named the shortstop on the All-Scholastic Baseball Team by The Tablet, a Brooklyn newspaper. He was also named to the second team of the Dodger Rookie team, selected from among the five boroughs, Long Island and New Jersey by Brooklyn Dodgers scouts. He began his high school career as a basketball player, too, but by the time he had reached his senior year, the Loughlin officials had advised him to stick to baseball.

Carroll attended Notre Dame University and batted .550 as a freshman. He then traveled to Halifax for a summer of semi-pro ball and kept up his hot hitting. It only heightened the interest in him among pro ballclubs, and the bidding escalated quickly for his services.

It would be expected that a high school standout in Brooklyn would sign with the Dodgers. Carroll was a Yankees fan, however. His uncle, Michael Dorsey, a police sergeant, told the press about the first time Tom Carroll Sr. took his son to Yankee Stadium. After the game, the elder Carroll said that he should have bought a program or some kind of souvenir for his son. Then young Carroll reached into his pocket, said, “I’ve got a souvenir,” and showed a handful of grass he had plucked from the outfield as they were leaving the park.

In the end, it was the New York Yankees who came through with a $35,000 offer. Scout Paul Krichell, who signed Carroll, had no doubt he was worth that kind of money. “Sign him if you have to hock the franchise,” he told general manager George Weiss. Krichell knew a little about shortstops — he signed Phil Rizzuto once upon a time, and in landing Carroll, he was sure he had found Rizzuto’s successor, too. In what must have been an awkward moment for the youngster, the Yankees announced his signing and the re-signing of the man he was supposed to replace, Rizzuto, at the same press conference. They both had signed for $35,000, with Rizzuto’s salary representing a 12.5% pay cut from the previous year.

Tom Carroll and Phil Rizzuto talk at the press conference announcing their signings. Source: The Tribune (Scranton, Pa.), January 29, 1955.

“I know it isn’t an original remark, but isn’t it great to be young and to be a Yankee?” Carroll said.

That kind of a signing bonus made Carroll a “bonus baby,” meaning that the Yankees were required to keep him on the major-league roster for two years. The Yankees’ track record with bonus babies had been a mixed bag. Some Yankees veterans griped that the team finished in second place in 1954 because they had to keep bonus baby first baseman Frank Leja on the roster instead of another pitcher.

The ’55 Yankees team had two bonus babies — Leja and Carroll — but it didn’t hurt their success at all. The team went 96-58 to capture the American League pennant. Carroll’s chances to play were few and far between — he made a few appearances as a pinch-runner and shortstop here and there, but he never had a chance to bat until the very last day of the season — September 25, when the pennant race was over. The Yankees closed out their season with a doubleheader in Boston against the Red Sox. They had a 3-1 lead in the fifth inning when Jerry Coleman led off the frame with a double. Carroll was sent in as a pinch-runner and scored on a single by Lou Berberet. He remained in the game as shortstop and had his first major-league at-bat in the seventh inning. He singled off Frank Baumann and scored on a Marv Throneberry double. He struck out in his other plate appearance. He started the second game and was 1-for-4 in an 8-1 loss. Carroll appeared in 14 games that season and was 2-for-6 with 3 runs scored and a pair of strikeouts.

The Yankees lost to the Brooklyn Dodgers in seven games in the 1955 World Series. Carroll appeared in two games, as a pinch-runner for Eddie Robinson in Game Four and Game Five. In doing so, he set a record as the youngest Yankee to ever appear in a World Series. He was a couple of weeks past his 19th birthday when he got into Game Four. Freddie Lindstrom is the record holder — he was 18 years, 10 months and 13 days old when he played in the 1924 World Series.

Carroll saw a little more action in 1956, as the Yankees again won the AL pennant. He made it into 36 games — 22 as a pinch-runner — and had 6 hits in 17 at-bats for a .353 batting average. He drew his only walk in the majors and stole his only base that season. The Yankees won the World Series, but Carroll did not play in the seven-game series against the Dodgers.

Carroll’s two seasons as a bonus baby were a mixed blessing for the teenager. On one hand, he had reached the pinnacle of his profession, had played well in limited action and was a World Series champion. On the other hand, he had missed out on two valuable years of learning the ropes in the low levels of the minors. Manager Casey Stengel showed the positive and negative side during spring training in 1956. He was holding court with the media when he pointed out Carroll at batting practice. “Watch this feller,” Stengel said. “He has good hands and wrists. Hits better than you’d think.” When Carroll was done batting, Stengel yelled, “Hey Carroll, who’s in the outfield?” The youngster didn’t know. “He forgot to look over the outfield to see who was there, whether they would throw and where they were playing. They got to get in the habit of that,” the manager explained.

Carroll had gotten as far as he had with raw talent, but that talent needed polish to last in the major leagues. The Yankees, unsurprisingly, demoted Carroll to Richmond of the International League as soon as he could be removed from the active roster. That first season in the minors was a struggle for the 20-year-old, as he batted just .213, albeit with 13 home runs.

Source: Sunday News (Lancaster, Pa.), April 3, 1955.

Gradually, Carroll began to adjust to the minor leagues. In 1958, he divided his season between the Yankees affiliates in Denver and New Orleans, and he batted a combined .283. On April 12, 1959, the Yankees traded him and outfielder Russ Snyder to the Kansas City Athletics for infielder Mike Baxes and outfielder Bob Martyn. Shortly after joining the A’s, Carroll was the starting shortstop against the White Sox on April 16. He went 1-for-5 and had an RBI single against Early Wynn to add to an eventual 6-0 win. That would be Carroll’s only hit as an Athletic. Kansas City used Carroll much like the Yankees did — as a pinch-runner or late-inning replacement at shortstop or third base, and hardly ever as a hitter. He had the one hit in 7 at-bats in 14 games before being returned to the minor leagues. He hit well while playing for Charleston but was hit in the mouth by a Steve Ridzik fastball in a July 4 game and had to be carried off the field on a stretcher, and with two fewer teeth than he had at the start of the at-bat. He played for a couple of minor-league teams in Texas in 1960, hitting around .250, and retired from the game at the age of 23.

In parts of 3 seasons in the majors, Carroll appeared in a total of 64 games, getting 9 hits in 30 at-bats for a .300/.323/.300 slash line. He had 1 RBI, 1 walk and 1 stolen base in those games. He also had a .962 fielding percentage in 42 innings at shortstop and an .813 percentage in 38 innings at third base.

After he originally signed with the Yankees, there was an outcry from Notre Dame officials about how the Yankees were “tampering” with Carroll. Carroll, for his part, said he was happy to complete his education at Notre Dame by attending one semester at a time, and that’s exactly what he did. He went to school in his offseasons and graduated from the school in 1961. He traded in the MLB for the CIA, working for the Central Intelligence Agency from 1961 until 1988, according to his obituary, rising to the Senior Intelligence Service. He then worked as a corporate consultant on Latin America until his retirement until 2006.

Carroll was married to his wife, Joan, for 61 years and is survived by her and four children.

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