June 27: A Night To Remember
The Rangers’ early years were full of weirdness. You could spend an entire SDI Night listening to players from those teams telling stories that would make you laugh out loud, except you wouldn’t believe most of them.
One story you definitely should believe, though, is the one about David Eugene Clyde.
Full disclosure: The David Clyde saga is already familiar to a lot of Rangers fans and I can’t add anything to the historical record. I just thought I’d share my view of the things I saw Clyde do for the Rangers, and the things the Rangers did to him.
Let’s start, though, with the fundamentals. The 1973 Rangers were almost broke. Owner Bob Short had begged the American League to let him move his Washington Senators to Arlington because poor attendance in D.C. had the club running at a deficit.
But the move to Texas didn’t fix that. First, they were competing for fans with the Dallas Cowboys of Roger Staubach, Calvin Hill and Harvey Martin. Second – or actually, maybe first – the team was horrible.
In 1972, they had lost 100 games. They had never drawn as many as 25,000 fans after opening day, and attendance was the primary source of revenue in those days before regional TV contracts.
So when the June 1973 amateur draft rolled around, with the Rangers holding the first overall pick, two separate agendas were in play. GM Joe Burke and manager Whitey Herzog were looking for a player to build a franchise around. Owner Short was looking for someone to fill the seats.
With Houston Westchester High School left-handed power pitcher David Clyde, they actually got both – or would have, if they’d handled it right. Clyde was the best high-school pitcher most people had ever seen. He had two plus pitches – his buzzing fastball and a hammer curve. One scout said he was “the next Koufax.”
His senior year, Clyde went 18-0 with a 0.18 ERA – 148 IP, three earned runs. He agreed to terms the day he graduated from high school and, 19 days later, made his first start for the Rangers. Herzog wanted to send him to the minors, of course, but Short needed him on the mound in Arlington Stadium. He promised it was only for two games.
June 27, 1973. It was a circus. Short had pulled out all the stops. The pre-game celebration featured Clyde’s entire family and girlfriend Cheryl Crawford, three hula-dancers, a papier-mâché giraffe on wheels, a character in some kind of weird half-bird, half-fish costume and two live lion cubs.
The game was even more fun. It was a complete sellout, with traffic so backed up they had to delay the first pitch for 15 minutes. Clyde later recalled, “That was the longest 15 minutes of my life.”
When he strolled to the mound, there were more fans than he or the old ballpark had ever seen. Some reporters calculated the increased attendance and concession sales generated enough cash to pay for Clyde’s entire first year salary and signing bonus.
Clyde threw his warmup tosses to catcher Ken “Piggy” Suarez (he got his nickname from winning a hog-calling contest when he was a kid – he showed it off at spring training and I had to admit he was pretty good). Understandably nervous, Clyde walked the first two hitters, then calmed down and struck out the side. He allowed one hit through five innings and the Rangers won, 4-3.
The fans went wild! Veteran baseball writer Randy Galloway called it “the most dramatic first inning – heck, the most dramatic game I’ve seen,” and for once, he wasn’t exaggerating. After the game, pitcher Bill Gogolewski sprinted up the tunnel to the clubhouse, screaming, “The Rangers win the pennant! The Rangers win the pennant.”
In the crowded post-game locker room, Brad Sham asked Herzog how they could make sure Clyde wasn’t “another Lew Krausse,” meaning a highly-hyped high-school pitcher who flamed out. (Krausse’s SABR bio is here.) Herzog repeated the pledge that Clyde would go to the minors after one more start.
The next night, paid attendance was 3,992. When Clyde’s second start rolled around, the fans again packed the stadium to the rafters. Short, over Herzog’s strong protests, decreed Clyde would stay with the big club for the rest of the season.
He finished the year 4-8 in 18 starts, with a 5.01 ERA, 7 K/9 but a K/BB ratio of only 1.37. The power was there, the command not so much. He was overthrowing his curve and batters were sitting on his fastball.
In September, Short fired Herzog to scoop up Billy Martin – he said, “I’d fire my grandmother to hire Billy Martin!” – then sold the team to Brad Corbett the following May.
Both moves would impact Clyde’s 1974 season. Like Herzog, Martin wanted to send Clyde to the minors but Corbett needed revenue as much as Short had, and decided Clyde would stay up. The fiery Martin, convinced he knew more about player development than some pipe salesman, responded by refusing to play the youngster. Clyde never went to the mound for the first month of the season.
“I got caught in a power play,” he said. “I went 30 days without picking up a baseball.”
He did eventually start 21 games in 1974, went 3-9 but, sadly, was no longer the main story because there was plenty of other news to divert the fickle fans. Martin led the Rangers to an 84-76 record, good for second place in the division. Jeff Burroughs won the AL MVP. Newly acquired from the Cubs, pitcher Ferguson Jenkins led the majors in wins, complete games and BB/9. The team was finally relevant, which is a story for another day.
Clyde would pitch one more game for the Rangers, in 1975. He spent the next two seasons in the minors, then got traded to Cleveland. He later said that was the first time he worked with a staff that knew how to develop a power pitcher, but by then his shoulder was bothering him.
The Indians traded him back to Texas in 1980 but his shoulder needed surgery, the Rangers claimed he was “damaged goods” and cut him. He tried a comeback with the Astros in 1981 but it didn’t pan out, so he left baseball and went to work with his father-in-law in Tomball.
Every ten years, in late June, some sportswriter will call Clyde to interview him about his moment in the sun, that extravaganza of 1973. Here’s a piece The New York Times did on the 30th anniversary, in 2003, and here’s one Brad Townsend wrote for The Dallas Morning News ten years later.
They all have the same basic information, including the fact that Clyde, remarkably, does not seem terribly bitter about the way things went. He told Townsend, “My career didn’t go the way I wanted it to. But of all the things that went on, the one positive that came out of my career is that to this very day, every now and then, when a very special talent comes along, I hear them say, ‘We are not going to do to this young man what was done to David Clyde.’”
However, some who were players on that team still resent what happened. Tom Grieve told Townsend, “It was the dumbest thing you could ever do to a high school pitcher. In my opinion, it ruined his career. Bob Short did it because he needed the money. So David served a purpose for Bob Short, at the expense of what I firmly believe would have been a nice 12- to 15-year big league career.”