The 82nd Greatest Royal of All-Time is Darrell May
Darell May giving up a home run
In September of 2001, Royals General Manager Allard Baird went on a scouting trip to Japan. After many shots of sake, a few too many bottles of Sapporo and an all-night karoake session, he walked away with his prize - a contract with left-handed pitcher Darrell May.
It didn't exactly happen like that, but the Royals did sign Darrell May in December of 2001 following Allard's September trip to Japan. Darrell had been a journeyman left-hander in the States for six seasons before he found modest success in Japan.
Originally a 46th round draft pick by the Braves out of Sacramento City College, Darrell enjoyed quite a bit of success in the minor leagues. By age 23 he was already in AAA posting a respectable 3.71 ERA for the Braves top affiliate and was rewarded with his first taste of Major League action. Despite his performance, the Braves placed him on waivers where he was claimed by the Pirates. He posted a solid season for the Pirates top affiliate, but once again was placed on waivers where he was claimed by the Angels. Darrell spent more time in the big leagues with the Angels, going 51 innings and posting a below average, but certainly not terrible ERA of 5.23. The next March the Angels told May he would not be making the club and offered to sell him to the Hanshin Tigers of the Japan League. Darrell was heading east - Far East.
Darrell pitched two seasons with the last place Hanshin Tigers before moving on to the contending Yomiuri Giants for two seasons. His time in Japan was capped by his 2001 performance where he was 12-7 with a 2.95 ERA for the first place Giants and finished third in MVP balloting. In his four seasons in Japan, May finished 32-31 with a 3.67 ERA and almost a strikeout per inning.
This performance got the attention of a few major league clubs, and in December he signed with the Royals for $375,000.
Baird gets his share of criticism, and deserves it, but signing Darrell May deserves only praise. It's a gutsy kind of move, the kind of move the Royals of a generation ago used to make. Baird looked for talent in an unexpected place, and found it.
-Rany Jazayerli, Baseball Prospectus, December 18, 2001
Darrell struggled his first season stateside, posting a 5.35 ERA in 131 innings as he shuttled in between the rotation and bullpen. His strikeout numbers were pretty good, posting 95 strikeouts, but he was very hittable and opponents slugged .519 against him. Despite his struggles, May was brought back for 2003 and given a shot a the rotation.
Darrell really struggled in his first three starts in 2003, posting a 6.39 ERA, but his performance was overshadowed by an electrifying start by the ballclub. The Royals began the year with an improbable nine game win streak, and three weeks into the season stood at 16-3. Darrell's performance stabilized over his next three outings, but manager Tony Pena decided to pull May from the rotation in mid-May in favor of Kyle Snyder.
"I think it's bull," said May. "There's really nothing else to say about it. Show me consistency, and I show them consistency. It's just not good enough."
After just two bullpen sessions, May returned to the rotation and went on a roll, giving up four runs or less in his next thirteen starts, with two complete games mixed in. In late June and early July, he won five consecutive starts. In July and August combined, Darrell finished 7-2 with a 3.01 ERA in twelve starts. He finished the year 10-8 with a 3.77 ERA and led the team in wins, ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts, complete games and games started. For his efforts, he was named Royals Pitcher of the Year.
There was much reason for optimism in 2004. Despite collapsing down the stretch in 2003, the Royals were contenders for much of the season, and had added some pitching in Brian Anderson and some bats in Juan Gonzalez and Benito Santiago. The Royals looked to May to anchor the rotation and Allard Baird rewarded Darrell with a two year $5 million contract.
"I'm pleased we were able to get it done on a two-year deal," general manager Allard Baird said. "Obviously, a left-hander that gives you those type of innings is hard to come by nowadays and we're excited."
Darrell struggled in his first six starts, posting a 6.40 ERA and dropping four of five decisions. He won three straight starts in mid-June and tossed a complete game shutout against Baltimore in early July. On August 11, Darrell went eight innings giving up just two runs in Chicago to improve to 9-12 with a decent 4.91 ERA.
Then the bottom fell out. May lost his last seven decisions and posted a 7.95 ERA over those starts. He finished the year with a league high nineteen losses, tied with Paul Splittorff in 1974 for most losses in a season in Royals history.
With $3.225 million left on May's contract, the Royals looked to move the left-hander that winter. They were able to trade him for another team's salary problem when they shipped May to San Diego with P Ryan Bukvich for OF Terrence Long and P Dennis Tankersley. The change of scenery didn't help either May nor Long and both were let go by the end of the year.
Darrell May has since bounced around from the Padres to the Yankees to the Reds minor league system. I cannot find any record of him pitching this year in the minor leagues. At age 35, his baseball career might be over. But we'll always have 2003.