Ray was the very first Mets pitching prospect. I interviewed him just today via phone (March 10, 2015). Interestingly, in college, it was thought Ray's future lay in pro basketball, not baseball (he went to Ohio State and was best friends with a then-unknown by the name of Bobby Knight). However, his blazing fastball, hard curve, and sinker thrown as a change of pace was too much for anyone to ignore. Signing with the Mets, he told me that he liked the way his teammates were, but had problems with the Mets coaching approach. "They would loan us to other teams," said Ray, who pitched half of 1962 with the Dodgers-affiliated Greenville Spinners. "I didn't mind that, but it was just so complex. With Houston and Los Angeles [the Angels], they put their prospects on co-op teams." Indeed, Ray got a lot of conflicting information. Beginning the season with the 1963 York White Roses, a Senators farm team in the Class AA Eastern League, Washington tried to draft Ray and use him as a relief pitcher. "If they had done that," says Ray, "they told me I was going straight to the Major Leagues. Not as a starter, but as a relief pitcher. I didn't like that idea then, but now? I'd have taken it."
The Dodgers coaches, Ray maintained, were very professional. He reserved special praise for Roy Hartsfield, the manager of the 1962 Greenville Spinners. The Senators coaches, he said, were extremely hands-off. The Mets coaches, he said, seemed to depend on who was there. "I'm not sure how [1963 Buffalo Bisons manager] Kerby Farrell thought of me," says Ray. "He'd always used to say what a great athlete I was, that I had the perfect body and build for a pitcher--but he never really seemed to like ME if you know what I mean. He wasn't disdainful, certainly, but he never complemented me. I was s specimen in the jargon of the day. But to him, that's really all I seemed to be: a specimen of something."
The turning point in Ray's career came in an 11-inning game against Syracuse, however. "I'd thrown a lot of pitches--I was pretty wild that day and had walked in a run earlier--and when we went into extra innings, Kerby did not take me out. I never asked him to--you just didn't do that back then--but he just left me in with two guys rested [in the bullpen]. I could see his rationale if I was pitching a shutout or had just really started bringing it, but I was exhausted. I don't know how we won."
The next day, Ray woke up with pain in his shoulder and his back. "I was never the same after that ballgame," says Ray. "I wasn't hurt right then. I had what you call a dead arm period, but I later learned that the way to cure that was to work a pitcher out of the bullpen or give him fewer innings. That was not what I got." Ray's shoulder problems in 1964 worsened and he split the season between AAA Buffalo and AA Williamsport.
"The best manager I ever had was Bunky Warren," says Ray of Williamsport's replacment manager, Mal "Bunky" Warren. "And that's because he knew what it was like. He won something like 19 games in the Orioles organization and they paid him no mind whatsoever. Bunky gave us second chances."
Unfortunately, Ray's shoulder problems had worsened to such a degree that he couldn't pitch after 1964. "I will say that I would have loved to see New York because there's no such thing as a Mets fan, I've been told. Just a Mets fanatic. With that fanbase, well..." he trails off, a smile nearly gleaming through the receiver of the phone. "It would have been nice. The problem I had was with how they developed pitchers. And don't take my word for it. Look them up: Zeke Alspach [real name Paul Alspach] who never pitched in the Major Leagues, Grover Powell, Dennis Musgraves, Dick Rusteck, Darrell Sutherland. We didn't have Rube Walker like Seaver, Koosman, Gentry, and Ryan all did. If we did, I can't help but wonder--not for myself, but for some of the other guys--what would have happened."
Does Ray have any regrets? "None," he says. "I loved being a part of the Mets organization. Fine young talent and some of the best fans in baseball. Would it have been nice if the Senators sent me straight to the Major Leagues as a relief pitcher? Sure, but that's not what happened."