Carey Selph was an exceptional minor league ballplayer, He also was one of the guys who often falls in the cracks of our collective memory and history of the old minor league Houston Buffs. As both a player and then a playing manager, little infielder Selph just did his job with little flair, a long time ago, away from the brighter lights of the major leagues, and prior to the era of an all-consuming media presence that was thirsty for a 24/7 storyline.
The 5’9″ 3rd baseman/2nd baseman from Donaldson, Arkansas broke into professional baseball in 1926 at the age of 24, signing as a free agent with the Fort Smith Twins of the Class C Western Association. After spanking the pitchers of that league for a .368 BA in 141 games, Selph’s contract was sold to the St. Louis Cardinals, who immediately shipped him up to the Syracuse Chiefs of the International League, where Carey finished off the 1926 season by hitting .292 in 18 games.
Selph batted .309 in 129 games for the 1927 AA Syracuse club. The Cardinals were riding high in World Series talent in those days and Selph quickly became of those loaded guns in the minor league talent pipeline. Instead of bringing him up the following year, the Cards assigned Carey Selph to the roster of their 1928 Houston Buffs farm club in the Class A Texas League. Selph got there in time to help open the brand new Buff Stadium as the 2nd baseman and to work for a Houston pennant winner that also played in and won the city’s first Dixie Series championship. Carey Selph batted .312 with 6 HR in 153 games in 1928. This time, his performance was enough to get him a call to the roster of the 1929 MLB Cardinals.
Too bad. Playing behind Frankie Frisch at 2nd base in 1929, Carey Selph got into only 25 games and didn’t fare well at the plate as a seldom used big leaguer. He hit only .235 with no homers on the year and was sent back to Houston for the 1930 season.
Back at 2nd base as an everyday player, Carey Selph hit .342 with 6 HR for the 1930 Buffs. Back again as the keystone baseman for the 1931 Buffs of Dizzy Dean-Joe Medwick fame, Selph agin hit well, batting .322 with 3 HR for a club that won the Texas League pennant before surprising the world of Texas League fans by losing the Dixie Series to the Birmingham Barons.
Selph’s work at Houston got him drafted off the Cardinals’ minor league roster by the Chicago White Sox, providing the hustling Arkansan with a chance to play everyday in the big leagues for the first and only time. Playing mostly at 3rd base for the 1932 Pale Hose, Selph batted .283 with no homers and 51 RBI. All it got him was a deal that sent his contract back to the Cardinals, who promptly sent Selph back to Houston in 1933 as the playing manager of the Houston Buffs.
Selph did more than OK in his new 1933 role. He played regularly as the 2nd baseman, hitting .310 with 6 HR, while also managing the Buffs to a first place record of 94 wins against only 57 losses. Unfortunately, the ’33 Buffs hit a pothole in the first round of the Texas League playoffs, losing a 3-game sweep to the San Antonio Missions, the eventual Texas League pennant winners.
Carey came back as a playing manager for the 1934 Buffs. Again playing regularly, Selph batted .323 with 2 homers, but the club slipped into a malaise of mediocrity, fishing in 6th place with a 76-78 won-loss record.
For reasons that are neither clear to me nor immediately available for explanation, 1934 was the end of the road for the baseball playing career of Carey Selph, but he continued to live in Houston until his death in January 1976 and was quite active in the various activities of the former big leaguers who claim our city as their adopted home.
Carey Selph’s minor career batting average, from age 24 in 1926 through age 32 in 1934 was .327 with 49 career homers. His productivity was not totally forgotten. In 2007, the Texas League elected Carey Selph into the Texas League Hall of Fame.
Congratulations, Carey Selph! Thank goodness a man’s record over time often grows loud enough to almost speak for itself – as long as a few good historians are also out there paying attention to who may have fallen through the cracks of proper recognition on the wall of the ages. The Texas League obviously had some people looking out for the memory of Carey Selph. Thank you too for making sure that Carey Selph got his just due as one of the great Houston Buffs in Texas League history.
I can attest to the fact that Carey was a wonderful man and a good baseball player. After his playing career was over he owned The Ozark Boys Camp in Arkansas with another ex ball player Pat Ankeman. I was fortunate to spend many summers at this camp both as a camper and a counselor. These guys were good baseball people and also deeply religious individuals who did things right with daily devotionals and the like. I will never forget the experience.
STHS Class of 56
Can’t tell you how glad I am to hear from you. Since I don’t recall seeing you at any of the reunions over the years, all I can say is that fifty-five years is a long dry spell in contact between two old high school buddies. – Welcome back, my friend!
I think Selph suffered a career-ending injury; possibly a knee injury. I can’t remember a reference for you, unfortunately. I did a lot of research on the ’31 Buffs years ago and that is what is in my memory. It left me feeling that Selph would’ve gone back up to the big leagues if not for the injury. Of course it is also possible that the old memory has become a bit muddled. So I’d call it a possibility that I am inclined to consider a probability.
Now that you mention it, that career-ending injury explanation rings true with me as the greater probability with Carey Selph. Age 32 is early for any ballplayer to retire, but especially so in the Depression Era.
Hope you are doing well; I am back in the swing of things after a minor, unexpected interruption. Gosh am I tired of hearing doctors begin sentences with words such as, “Well, that’s just part of the aging process” or something similar:-)
Anyway, in reviewing some vertical files at the Ideson Library yesterday, I came across the name Carey Selph, and made a note to inquire if anyone might know if he was any relation to that great old fiddle player Pappy Selph.
Also, the previous post from Peter Denman raises the question, does he have any of the research results from his earlier efforts?