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Sports Then and Now

Lee May: Forgotten Slugger

Posted on June 06, 2011 by Dean Hybl

Lee May

The June Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month is one of the forgotten sluggers of baseball history.

For more than a decade, Lee May was one of the most feared sluggers in baseball.  He blasted 20 or more home runs and drove in 80 or more runs for 11 straight seasons while playing for the Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles.

After brief trips to the majors in 1965 and 1966, May became a regular for the Reds in 1967, but split time between the outfield and first base.

He moved to first base full-time in 1969 and responded with the best season of his career as he hit 38 home runs and drove home 110 runs as Cincinnati started to develop the lineup that would become the “Big Red Machine.”

In 1970 May hit 34 home runs with 94 RBI as the Reds reached the World Series for the first time in nine years. During the 1970 World Series against his future team the Baltimore Orioles, the 6-foot-3 inch slugger was basically the offense for the Reds. He hit .389 with two home runs while driving home eight of Cincinnati’s 20 runs during the five-game series.

After slugging a career-high 39 home runs in 1971, May was part of the trade that sent Joe Morgan from Houston to Cincinnati. In three seasons with the Astros, May averaged 27 home runs and 95 RBI despite playing in a park that was not friendly to home run hitters.

Following the 1974 season he was traded to the Orioles for infielder Enos Cabell. Replacing popular, but aging, slugger Boog Powell at first base for the Orioles, May ranked among the top sluggers in baseball for his first four seasons in Baltimore.

After blasting 20 home runs and driving home 99 runs in 1975, May had his best season with the Birds in 1976 when he led the league with 109 RBI while hitting 25 home runs.

In his first four seasons with the Orioles, May averaged 24 home runs and 97 RBI. He played first base for the first three years, but the emergence of Eddie Murray necessitated the move to designated hitter in 1978.

May slowed slightly in 1979 with 19 home runs and 69 RBI as the Orioles won the AL East and reached the World Series.

He left Baltimore after the 1980 season and finished his career with two seasons in Kansas City.

For his career, May hit 354 home runs with 1,244 RBI. He is one of only 11 players to have a 100 RBI season with three different teams.

His younger brother Carlos was also a major leaguer, playing 10 seasons for the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees and California Angels. His son, Lee May Jr., was a first round draft pick of the New York Mets, but never reached higher than Triple-A.

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