OPINION: THE IDLE AMERICAN – Third baseman on the mound

Published 8:50 am Saturday, November 27, 2021

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Don Newbury

A dozen years before “Sir” was added to his name, Winston Churchill motivated Britons with his unforgettable “never give in” speech.

It lifted spirits for freedom as World War II raged, and frequently is quoted even now, 70 years later.

His message was to “never give in, never give in, never, never, never–in nothing great or small, large or petty–give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”

Two dozen years after Churchill’s speech, on a beautiful spring day in April, 1965, Sul Ross State University third baseman Billy Carthel saved the day for his team against the mighty Division I Wildcats of the University of Arizona in Tucson.

In comparison to the import of World War II, his pitching prowess is reasonably viewed as small, but Carthel wouldn’t give in, either. His move to the pitching mound from his usual third base assignment seemed unlikely. A baseball lifer, he had already blasted a pair of doubles, giving the Lobos leads of up to eight runs before the home team started its ninth inning rally. Late Coach Ray Van Cleef had used his entire pitching roster as the game slipped away.

With his team leading 11-10 and the Wildcats loading the bases with no one out, he yelled, “Has anyone here ever pitched, even in Little League?” Carthel, saying he had done so almost a decade earlier, was handed the ball. He retired the next three batters, striking out two and getting the third on an infield pop-up.

I was present as Sul Ross sports information director and remember the unlikely heroics of this college freshman as one of life’s most memorable “never give in” sports moments.

His lifelong humility adds to the sweetness of the feat. He has an “awe shucks” view of his accomplishments, and there were many. One of note occurred when he played for the Memphis Blues in an exhibition game with the New York Mets. He played a different position every inning!

He’s retired now with wife, Pat, on their ranch near Silverton in northwest Texas. He was a guide for hundreds of hunters (wild hogs, turkeys, aoudad sheep and mule deer) for 20+ years. At age 76, he’s slowed by several illnesses, including COPD that sometimes makes communication difficult. Still, his personality sparkles. He remembers the big game in Tucson against a team that later had a win streak of 17 games, finishing the season in the NCAA’s top 25 teams. He’s fuzzy on the pitching part, however. Thankfully, Tom Cunningham, a teammate, remembers it keenly. He says Carthel’s ninth inning heroics dominated conversations at the team’s reunion more than 25 years ago.

I remember phoning Plainview’s Daily Herald and Radio Station KVOP concerning what the community’s favorite son had accomplished that day in Tucson.

Carthel spent most of his adult life playing and coaching in professional baseball, including stints with the Montreal Expos and New York Mets.

He seemed destined for the majors, but a collision with Carlton Fisk at home plate in a minor league game caused serious injuries that took away that dream.

He’s a realist, knowing that many others are sidetracked on their trails to the “bigs.”

The Carthels are happy living on their northwest Texas ranch. Friends say it doesn’t take much to excite the couple. They’re tickled pink that they have a Dollar General store nearby now, so they don’t have to drive a dozen miles for milk or bread. They are heirs of many memories, not only of baseball, but also game hunts and ranch life that Billy loves so much. There also are crates of clippings, and they cherish phone calls from grandsons Billy, a freshman baseballer at Oklahoma Wesleyan University in Bartlesville, and Jeffrey, a high school junior player in Tulsa, OK. Their dad, Thad Carthel, has coached them in summer leagues over the years.

There is much love in this family, whose conversations always include baseball, “back when” with granddad, and the grandsons’ here and now.


Dr. Newbury was a long-time university president who continues to write and speak. Contact him at: 817-447-3872. Email: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Facebook: Don Newbury. Twitter: @donnewbury.