#CardCorner: 1967 Topps Lee Maye
Hall of Fame staffers are also baseball fans and love to share their stories. Here is a fan's perspective from Cooperstown.
With simplicity comes beauty. That line of rationale could be used with the 1967 Topps set. The design is about as simple as one can get on a baseball card. The only graphics that Topps used on the front of each card are the blocked lettering for the player’s name, the thin black lettering for the team’s name - and that’s about it. Other than a small white border that is common to most sets, the rest of the card is devoted to the photograph itself. In terms of appealing to collectors, especially young children, making the photo space as large as possible is always a good path to take. That’s what Topps succeeded in doing with its 1967 set, and that, along with the generally crisp photography, is why this set remains a good one in the eyes of this collector.
Lee Maye’s 1967 card indicates that he is now playing for the Cleveland Indians, even though his uniform colors dictate otherwise. In actuality, the red striping of the Milwaukee Braves, Maye’s former team, is clearly in evidence on this photograph. (Also notice the zipper near the collar, a feature that has become obsolete on major league uniforms.) Maye hadn’t played for the Braves since the spring of 1965, nearly two years earlier. By taking a photograph of Maye without a cap, as Topps often did with players in the 1960s and 70s, the company protected itself against the possibility of the player being traded. Maye was dealt twice in the interim, first by the Braves and then by the Houston Astros, who sent the outfielder to the Indians for catcher Doc Edwards, veteran outfielder Jim Landis, and left-hander Jim Weaver. So while the photograph is an old one, it does at least create the generic illusion of not being outdated.
As a younger fan, I might have been confused by Maye’s card for a different reason. That’s because I sometimes mistook Maye for a player with a similar name: Lee May, the power-hitting first baseman of the Cincinnati Reds and Astros who became known as “The Big Bopper.” Clearly, they were two very different people - and players. Maye, with an ‘e’ at the end of his last name, batted left and was a line-drive hitter with occasional power. May, without the ‘e,’ was a right-handed slugger through and through, and a player who gained far more fame during his career because of his prodigious power hitting for the early editions of the “Big Red Machine.”
By 1961, Maye moved into the Braves’ starting lineup as a platoon right fielder. Maye played well, hitting a respectable .271 with 14 home runs and 10 stolen bases. But one wonders how much more he might have hit if not for a back injury that affected his swing.
The back injury, coupled with a respiratory illness, did more damage in 1962, lowering his average to .244 and diminishing his playing time and his power. Ever resilient, Maye bounced back in 1963, hitting .271 with 11 home runs and 14 stolen bases, before the recurring back injury forced him into the hospital.
Then came the career season of 1964. Feeling healthy, Maye batted a career-high .304, hit 10 home runs and led the National League with 44 doubles. Despite his sometimes spotty play in the outfield, the Braves made him their starting center fielder, stationed in between Rico Carty in left and Hank Aaron in right field. Able to avoid injuries, Maye played in a career-best 153 games.
Maye’s 1964 breakout gave every indication of stardom, but injuries and a wholly unexpected development derailed his career in 1965. Early in the season, Maye injured his right knee and ankle, forcing him to miss three weeks of action. Only one game after his return, the Braves shocked Maye by announcing a trade; the move sent Maye out of town as part of an effort to improve the Braves’ pitching. Maye went to Houston for knuckleballer Ken Johnson and reserve outfielder Jim Beauchamp.
The trade might have been the worst development of Maye’s professional career; he felt betrayed, having to depart an organization he had known for more than a decade. Leaving a good team like the Braves, Maye joined a last-place Astros team that was still only three years removed from expansion. Maye also had to endure hitting in the Astrodome, an extreme pitchers park that minimized the offensive numbers of many Houston hitters over the years.
Maye put up good numbers over the balance of the 1969 season, hitting .290 with an .811 OPS. But that turned out to be a temporary bounce. A mediocre performance in 1970 resulted in the Senators placing him on late-season waivers. The Chicago White Sox picked him up, only to watch him struggle. In July of 1971, the Sox released Maye, ending his major league career. He latched on to the minor league Hawaii Islanders and played well there, but never received the call back to the major leagues.
Maye desperately wanted to stay in the game as a coach or a manager, but he could not find a single team willing to give him an opportunity. Some speculated that it was because of Maye’s outspoken nature and his occasional skirmishes with teammates. He wondered whether race was a factor in the repeated rejections he received, a legitimate question given that major league baseball would not feature a black manager until 1975. The subject was a continuing source of frustration for Maye, who had earlier been critical of the lack of endorsement opportunities that came the way of African-American players.
With baseball out of the picture, Maye concentrated on his musical career. He became the lead singer of a group called The Country Boys and City Girls and also recorded songs as a solo performer. Needing a regular paycheck to supplement his sporadic musical income, he took a job with Amtrak as a baggage handler and food server, work that he did for 12 years before retiring.