Carey was the best-fielding centerfielder of his era. For 9 of his 17 seasons with Pittsburgh, he topped the league in putouts and total chances, and his career totals are exceeded only by Mays and Speaker for putouts, and by Speaker, Mays, and Cobb for total chances. Four years he led in outfield assists, and his lifetime total of 339 is the modern NL record. Most impressive were the range and speed which took him to the most fielding chances per game seven times, and the best NL career total for double plays (86), again topped only by Speaker and Cobb.
He also used his speed on the bases, leading the NL in steals ten times, six times topping 50. In 1922, he stole 51 bases in 53 attempts. His 738 SB put him among the all-time leaders. A switch-hitting leadoff man, Carey scored 42% of the time he reached base by a hit or walk. Playing in cavernous Forbes Field, he had a total of 159 triples. His average rose after the shift to the lively ball, from .273 between 1910 and 1919 to .304 between 1920 and 1926.
Carey had turned to baseball when he no longer had the money to continue as a Lutheran divinity student. He joined the Pirates in 1910, played alongside player-manager Fred Clarke for a season, and took over left field when Clarke quit. In 1916, he moved back to centerfield.
Carey played vigorously and with flair. He was team captain in 1926 when Clarke returned to the Pirate bench to advise Manager Bill McKechnie. Carey, in a slump, heard that hard-nosed old Fred had urged McKechnie to bench him, saying that the batboy couldn’t do worse at the plate. Ruffled, Carey called a team meeting to protest Clarke’s harsh judgment. The challenge backfired. There was more support for Clarke’s position than Carey expected. In retaliation, the front office released two Carey supporters outright and sold Carey himself to Brooklyn for $4,000.
He played through 1929, scouted for the Pirates in 1930, and managed the Dodgers to third- and sixth-place finishes in 1932 and 1933. He scouted and managed in the minors off and on through 1956, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1961.