It's understandable if you have never heard of Charlie Maxwell. A terrific player for the Detroit Tigers in the 1950s and '60s, Maxwell's peak was fairly short. This was largely due to circumstance, though. Maxwell had the misfortune of being stuck behind some of the greatest players of his day, and all-time. With the Boston Red Sox, Maxwell rode the bench as veterans Ted Williams and Dom DiMaggio put up MVP-caliber numbers. At the end of his career, Maxwell was supplanted by Tigers legends Al Kaline and Rocky Colavito. Even during his prime, Maxwell had to fend off Harvey Kuenn and Larry Doby for playing time.
He did, though. Maxwell was a rarity as a ballplayer: a power-hitter who rarely struck out. He fanned just 432 times in 3150 plate appearances in a Tigers uniform, and walked 394 times. He hit 133 home runs and drove in 435 RBI. His 19.2 fWAR rank 28th among position players in Tigers history, wedged between modern fan favorites Curtis Granderson and Carlos Guillen.
Charles Richard Maxwell was born on April 8th, 1927 in Lawton, Michigan. A basketball and baseball star in high school, Charlie went on to pitch for Western Michigan University -- a baseball powerhouse at the time -- in 1945. He was drafted into the army at the tail end of World War II and served for two years. Following his military service, Maxwell signed with the Boston Red Sox. He spent three years in the minors, where he hit .321 with 41 home runs in just under 900 at-bats at Class B Roanoke.
Maxwell made his MLB debut in 1950, but did not impress. He only played in three games towards the end of the season and did not record a hit in nine plate appearances. However, he hit .320 with 25 home runs for the Birmingham Barons that year, earning him more playing time with the Red Sox in 1951. It did not go well, as Maxwell hit just .188/.270/.313 in 89 plate appearances.
With Ted Williams and Dom DiMaggio manning two of Boston's three outfield spots, there were not many spare at-bats to go around, and Maxwell was the low man on the totem pole. Maxwell had just 233 plate appearances for the Red Sox from 1950 to 1954 (he did not even appear for the Red Sox in 1953), and hit a disappointing .203/.289/.285 in the sparse playing time. He showed promise in the minor leagues with an .893 OPS in over 1400 plate appearances from 1951 to 1953.
Maxwell finally got his break in 1955. The Red Sox sold him to the Baltimore Orioles before the season, who waived him after just four games. Maxwell's hometown Tigers came calling, purchasing his contract in early May. He continued to split plate appearances, but the 28-year-old lefty hit .266/.325/.541 in 122 plate appearances. He finally got a full-time starting job in 1956 and put together an All-Star season opposite right fielder Al Kaline, hitting .326/.414/.534 with 28 home runs and 87 RBI in 592 plate appearances.
He finished a distant 23rd in the MVP voting (Kaline was third) in 1956, but Charlie quickly became a fan favorite. He earned the nickname "Paw Paw" after he and his wife, Ann, built a home in Paw Paw, Michigan. Maxwell's size also probably played a role in his popularity. While Kaline was well-built at six-foot-one and 175 pounds, Maxwell, was generously listed at five feet, 11 inches tall. Maxwell had surprising power for his size, though. He led the Tigers in home runs on three separate occasions, and his 24 home runs in 1960 were second to Rocky Colavito's 35 dingers.
Maxwell made a second All-Star team in 1957, hitting .276/.377/.482 with 24 home runs and 82 RBI. He did not start in either of his career All-Star appearances, and singled in his only plate appearance. His numbers dipped in 1958, but he bounced back with a career-high 31 home runs and 95 RBI in 1959. Maxwell hit four home runs in four consecutive plate appearances during a doubleheader on May 3rd, a pair of wins over the New York Yankees. Maxwell also walked and hit an RBI single. He drove in eight of the 12 runs the Tigers scored that day. Maxwell's 31 home runs were a Tigers record for a left-handed hitter at the time, though it would be broken by Norm Cash two years later.
The 1960 season would be Maxwell's last as a full-time player. He hit .237/.325/.440 with 24 home runs and 81 RBI in 549 plate appearances. His usual contact skills and plate discipline remained, but the aging Maxwell seemed to have lost a step. The Tigers traded for center fielder Billy Bruton prior to the 1961 season, leaving Maxwell to serve in a bench role. As he did in a similar role with the Red Sox earlier in his career, Maxwell struggled. He hit just .229 with a .738 OPS in 153 plate appearances. The team didn't lose a step and won 101 games, a franchise record at the time.
Maxwell turned 35 as the 1962 season opened, and his days with the Tigers were all but over. Al Kaline and Rocky Colavito were mainstays in the Tigers' outfield at that point, and Bruton hit well enough to support his superior defense in center field. Maxwell only saw 77 plate appearances before he was traded to the Chicago White Sox in late July, but he roared back with nine home runs and an .889 OPS for the Sox down the stretch.
It didn't last, though. Maxwell hit .231 with a .731 OPS in 165 plate appearances the next season, and appeared to grow tired of the long travel involved in the MLB season. This was the reason he cited for his decision to retire shortly after the 1964 season began. He enjoyed a quiet retirement with his family in Paw Paw (naturally) and was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.