Worst First-round Picks – #10
A reminder, here’s our methodology.
Worst First-round Picks — #10
1973 – David Clyde
I’m a big fan of getting the hard stuff out of the way first.
I clean before I watch TV. I do my work before I blog. I hate biceps curls and cardio, so I do those to start the workout.
Is it the smartest thing, functionally? Nope.
But if I have to do it first, and I still want a workout, at least I know I won’t skip it.
I’m trying to game the system that is my willpower and discipline. Basically, I know this: if I have the worst stuff still hanging out there, I may never get going—because there’s always something ominous on the horizon. But if, after 10 minutes, I can say, “No matter what happens, at least I don’t have to do X,” then I’m good.
Writing about David Clyde is a blogging version of curls and cardio. He is the most complicated of all Rangers draft picks. Why?
Because I could see ranking him in ANY spot on this list—in both the top AND bottom 10.
Yes, really. We’ll get to why.
I think “David Clyde” has become such a buzzword for rushed development that, in thin-slicing the man, we’ve cut away all the meat. And with the David Clyde story, as they say: there’s a lot of myth, but there’s a whole lot of “mister”, too.
How good might he have been? Well, Jackie Moore spent 50 years in baseball. So did Whitey Herzog. The latter is in the Baseball Hall of Fame and managed Clyde in his début season. The former was Herzog’s first-base coach in ‘73 and is the epitome of “baseball lifer” who is not given to hyperbole.
Per Brad Townsend, here’s each on Clyde—in impact and potential:
“In my mind, he went a long way toward saving the franchise,” Moore said. “I hope there are baseball gods. I hope they understand the situation he went through here.”
“A travesty,” said Herzog. “As an 18-year-old kid, he might have been as good or better than anybody I’d ever seen.”
The first Phenom
It’s important to separate who David Clyde was in 1973 to who he is, cautionary tale and all, today.
Quite simply, David Clyde was the most renowned schoolboy hurler since, as best I can tell, at least Bob Feller 37 years earlier—and Feller may not have even hit Clyde levels of hype. After all, nobody knew what Feller would do when throwing against someone other than hayseed farmboys on a home-hosted diamond of his father’s making.
On the other hand, Clyde was, as much as any high schooler can be, a known entity.
Though a native of Kansas City, and having grown up for a while in New Jersey, Clyde was identified with Texas. He was, from his freshman year on, a Houston-area phenomenon whose competition, unlike Feller’s, was well understood—and as well-regarded as any in the nation.
Clyde moved to Houston in 1969, at 14. He enrolled a year later at Westchester, a high school in suburban Houston. In his junior year, 1972, Clyde led them to the state tournament semifinal. In 1973, they made the final.
Per a 1986 Pittsburgh newspaper story, looking back not long after his career ended, his was the kind of high school career only Walter Mitty could have dreamed up.
As a kicker on the football team, he hit a 49-yarder in a game—and just missed a 59-yarder.
He was a perfectionist—a straight A student who did math problems in INK until he got them all correct.
He had the requisite pretty high-school sweetheart.
At the core of Clyde’s legend were his high school numbers. Even with the relative wonder of some high-school pitchers stats down through the years, David stood out. As a senior in 1973, he threw five of his 10 career high-school no-hitters. He went 18-0 and had a 0.18 ERA (3 earned runs on the year), with 328 strikeouts—in just 148 innings. That’s an average of 16 per 7-inning high school game (or 20 per 9).
He threw consecutive no-hitters in the state playoffs, and didn’t give up an earned run in his final 55.1 innings; over his last 39 innings, he allowed just two hits. Two. He won 45 of his last 46 high school games; no less a source than Sports Illustrated said, he set a “Texas high school record for drooling scouts—one game, one season, one career.”
As of this writing, he still owns the national high school records for career shutouts (29) and strikeouts (842).
He was profiled not only by SI, but also by Newsweek (a considerable feat, given that this was the peak of Watergate). The Newsweek article was called simply, “The Phenom”.
The Phillies’ super-scout, Hugh Alexander, had tracked prospects since the 1930s and who signed, among others, Allie “Super Chief” Reynolds of the Yankees’ 1940s and early ‘50s glory years, and, for LA, the likes of Don Sutton, among many others. He called Clyde the best high school pitching prospect he’d ever seen.
Reynolds held down the staff of the greatest dynasty in history, remember. Sutton is in the Hall of Fame.
Neither could hold a candle to Clyde.
Now, as we saw this year, with two-way sensation Hunter Greene, a player can be the no-doubt top-ceiling talent in the draft and still not be a sure-fire first pick. This was different. Clyde was different.
He was a lean, lithe 6’2”, 190 pounds that spring of his eighteenth year. The Rangers, who had the first pick thanks to their first-year-in-Texas vice-grip hold on the AL cellar (54-100 in the lockout-shortened season), were sure they wanted Clyde.
And, to be safe, the Rangers had seen him, firsthand. Herzog sent his trusted first-base coach, Moore, (a former big league hurler and HS signee himself), to Houston to scout Clyde.
“Not only did he have a fastball, but he had a curveball that was unhittable,” Moore says. “It was ‘batter up, batter down.’ I had nothing but praise for him when I got back.”
As everyone expected, Clyde was the first player selected in the 1973 draft by the Rangers. He received a $125,000 signing bonus (equal to about 675,000 today), and college tuition to the school of his choice; at the time, it was the highest bonus ever given to a draft pick.
He was signed, significantly, to a Major League contract.
When asked, after signing his contract, what his career goal was, Clyde kept things simple: he wanted to “become the greatest pitcher ever.”
Few who’d seen him doubted he had a chance.
He was called, by many, “the next Koufax”, after the Dodgers great. Ironically, Sandy, too, started his career prematurely at 18. That was by rule. When Koufax signed, in 1955, anyone receiving a bonus over $10,000 had to stay on the big league roster for two seasons.
Koufax never doubted the lack of minor league seasoning hurt his career. And his welcome-to-the-show moment in Brooklyn was nothing compared to Clyde.
The début that saved a franchise
It’s important to remember how different DFW then was compared to DFW now.
The metroplex population was roughly 2,190,000 for the five counties comprising DFW; by comparison, in 2020, we’re projected to be at 6,590,000.
The company that would spawn the suburban sprawl north, to Plano—Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems—was barely 10 years old and still hadn’t cracked $100 million in revenue. It wouldn’t move to its landmark Legacy campus for another 12 years.
The outpost chosen to host the Rangers’ franchise—as much for the availability of a ready facility (Turnpike Stadium) as for its midpoint status between Dallas and Forth Worth—was Arlington. This was, in no small part, thanks to the herculean efforts of Tom Vandergriff.
Still, Arlington and DFW had little experience in professional sports. The Dallas Cowboys had yet to emerge as “America’s Team”, although Tex and Tom had them well on their way (having won their first Super Bowl the January before the Rangers arrived). Beyond the Cowboys, there were no professional sports in Dallas. The Dallas Mavericks were almost a decade away, the Dallas Stars a decade beyond them; Reunion Arena was still five years from breaking ground, as was its landmark Tower.
Into this landscape of football and oil fields came the Rangers in 1972. They were a welcome addition, to be sure—the Metroplex had a minor league baseball tradition, unbroken in one form or another, from 1880s into the 1960s thanks largely to the Texas league. Still, the 1972 Rangers had done little to win fans over. Their first two games turned out to be aberrations, rather than portents of future success.
On April 15, 1972, the Rangers played their first game in Anaheim against the California Angels. It was remarkable for its competitiveness, given all that would come: Andy Messersmith of the Angels twirled a complete-game, two-hit shutout, and the Rangers fell, 1–0. Toby Harrah and Hal King had Texas’ only hits, both singles. Still, King, catching Dick Bosman, made two errors. His second led to the Angels’ winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning off Bosman, who threw a complete game as well, in the loss. Nine days later, the Rangers opened on the road. Far from a sellout, Arlington Stadium (capacity just over 35,000) saw just over 20,000 fans spin the turnstiles. Despite this, the team put on the kind of show that would dominate their history over the franchise’s first two decades: they grabbed a lead, almost gave it up, and held on.
This time, Bosman won; the Rangers built a 6–1 lead behind homers from Frank Howard and Dave Nelson, and three hits each from Lenny Randle (4 RBI) and Harrah (3 runs). With their ever-present shaky bullpen, the Rangers gave back the six-spot, but managed to hang on for a 7-6 win.
That would be the highlight of the season. They managed a winning record against only one opponent: a 7-5 spot versus the equally moribund Milwaukee Brewers. Against the class of the league that year (Oakland, Chicago, and Detroit) they were a combined 10-35 (.220 win percentage). Their lone All Star, Harrah, was only on the team because every team had to be represented. He slashed just .259/.316/.321, with all of 18 extra-base hits (including just one home run) in 374 official at-bats. He was also far from a Gold Glover, fielding just .960 (versus a league-average .967) and putting up a range factor of 4.47 per game (compared to 4.97 for the league). His WAR in that All-Star season? A near-career low 1.6.
The arms weren’t much better. Bosman and Rich Hand anchored the rotation, each putting up around 170 innings, each posting losing records, and both putting up ERAs above 3.30. And those were the bright spots. As a team, the Rangers had a league-worst team ERA of 3.53, a league-worst 11 complete games, and a league-worst 628 runs allowed.
The offense made up for it by also scoring 461 runs, which, amazingly, was only second-worst in the AL. But the team did manage to pull up the rear in almost every major offensive category: hits, doubles, triples, homers, caught stealing, batting average, on base percentage, and slugging.
On top of the cumulative bad play, Ted Williams did enough finally to wear out his welcome, being fired after the close of the season.
And then, in 1973, they got worse. The Rangers that season, the first under eventual Hall of Fame manager Herzog, finished 57-105. Their major acquisitions in the offseason—over-the-hill DH Rico Carty and Oakland castoff Mike Epstein—did little to crank up more than the scales in the clubhouse; each stood 6’3” and weighed around 230 apiece, with more of Epstein’s being of the muscular variety. By that time, Carty was called “Beeg Boy” (a self-proclaimed nickname) as much for his butt as his bat.
By June, the Rangers had fallen into the doghouse and out of contention. They entered the June 5th amateur draft with a 16-31 overall record. At home, they were averaging around 9,000 fans per home game.
With that, Rangers owner Bob Short had an epiphany. If David Clyde was good enough to get out high school hitters, he was good enough to play with the Rangers straight out of school.
In theory, there might have been some baseball logic to it. There were doublessly scouting reports that said, “This boy can play in the big leagues right now”. There always are. Scouts rarely mean it as a directive. It’s an indication of talent, not mental readiness. Rare is the 18-year-old boy who, fresh off a high-school diamond, can come in and dominate.
The aforementioned Feller had done it, but where Clyde was able to act confident despite self-assurance challenges, Feller truly believed no one could hit him. Also, baseball in the late 1930s was light-years from the early 1970s, in terms of coverage, pressure, salary, and extra-curricular distractions. It’s nothing like what would meet a kid today, but, at the same time, there were no performance coaches, no team psychologists, and—because there had been no David Clyde—no test case for this. David was the test case.
We’ve covered David’s historic start on June 27, 1973 before, with Joe Stroop providing an “I lived through it” perspective. Here’s the short version:
Twenty days after pitching his last high school game, and without a day of pro baseball under his belt, Clyde won his début before over 35,000 fans in Arlington Stadium, the first sellout in stadium history. Facing a powerful Twins team featuring the likes of Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew, among others, Clyde walked the first two batters he faced, then fanned the side. Overall, he pitched five innings solid inning, giving up only one hit (a home run to Mike Adams) while striking out eight batters in a 4–3 victory.
With that game, and Clyde’s starts in 1973, he saved the Rangers franchise. Consider, only three years before, the Seattle Pilots, after one horrible season, had moved to Milwaukee. In the decade earlier, the Milwaukee Braves had moved to Atlanta, and the Kansas City Athletics had shifted to Oakland. Relocation, especially for a team without history or heavy fan support, was far from unprecedented. Also, Bob Short had shown fully his willingness to chase the dollars in the “locale de jure” with his move from Washington.
The phenom falls to earth
Sorting the myth from the mister is, with Clyde, not as necessary as most. We know what he became, so looking at what he was, and what might have been—well, it involves paying homage to the myth as much as the fact.
The myth is what brought those fans to Arlington.
The reality is the David Clyde that started just 40 career games in a Ranger uniform, putting up a 7-18 record with a 4.60 ERA and just 4 complete games. Across 217 Ranger innings, from 1973 to 1975, he struck out just 128 while walking 107, and gave up an opponents slash line of
He hurt his arm a few times in Texas; the last time, in 1975, had him down to the minors and/or out of baseball activity until 1978, when he re-emerged in the majors with Cleveland. He did no better there, as the life was gone from his magic left arm, and across two partial seasons in 1978 and 1979, he went just 11-15 with a 4.66 ERA in 33 starts and 199 innings. He still had no whip left to strike out hitters, posting a pedestrian 100-to-73 strikeout to walk ratio. Throughout his time, hitters lit him up, to the tune of a .285/.358/.416 slash line.
So how was this just #10 in the failure category? And how can I suggest it could even rank among the top 10 successes? Well, it’s because, if this draft pick was about anything, know this: it was mostly about myth—and the way myth can drive a turnstile. For that, Bob Short got what he wanted from David Clyde. He was enough to help the Rangers survive 1973.
By 1974, Whitey Herzog was out, and the always quotable, always colorful, and always volatile Billy Martin had taken the helm.
Under Martin and kids like Mike Hargrove, Jim Sundberg, and Jeff Burroughs, with Fergie Jenkins anchoring the staff, the Rangers put together one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in major league history. Coming off that 57-win ’73 season, the 1974 youth movement improved to 84-76 and stayed with Oakland well into September, finally fading and finishing 2nd in the AL West behind the eventual three-time champion A’s.
Most critically, Arlington Stadium attendance went up from 686,000 in 1973 (around 30% of which came during a Clyde start, if my math is right), to almost 1,194,000. That’s a near 75% bump up, and was enough to anchor the franchise in the metroplex and begin to give the team an identity as a young, scrappy group. That identity carried them through the late 70s, and one more contending season (1977) before the doldrums of the early- to mid-80s.
By then, the Dallas economic and sports scene had flipped. With real estate and banking taking the place of oil wells, Dallas was booming as an economic center with money to spend, even for a drive to Arlington to watch a mediocre baseball team.
That set the stage for Nolan Ryan’s franchise revitalization and a remaking of the team’s identity in the newly-configured Arlington Stadium, then the new Ballpark in Arlington, as an offense-first show of force, day in and day out.
But it all started with a kid with unlimited potential, pushed too far, too fast, to save a franchise. His failure to make good puts him on this list, but his ability to drive fans through the gates makes him one of the most polarizing—and undoubtedly impactful—draftees in franchise history.
And David Clyde has one thing on Koufax: for all he did in L.A., and all his promise early, Sandy couldn’t keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn.
So only the Rangers’ #32 saved the baseball fortunes of a franchise and a region, one hissing fastball or hellacious curve at a time.
Other 1973 draft notes
The most notable thing about the 1973 draft, beyond the David Clyde phenomenon, was picks three and four in Round 1. Those would be Robin Yount and Dave Winfield, to Milwaukee and San Diego, respectively. It’s the first (and so far, only) time in baseball history that two Hall of Famers were drafted back to back, in any round of any draft, let alone Round 1 of the main June draft.
Four dominating players of the late 1970s and 1980s were selected in the June regular phase. Besides Yount and Winfield, outfielder Fred Lynn (Boston) and infielder Eddie Murray (Baltimore) were second and third-round selections, respectively. In all, those four would make 32 combined All-Star teams.
Winfield lettered in basketball, football, and baseball at the University of Minnesota campus; coming off an amazing College World Series performance, Winfield moved directly into the Padres’ outfield (he, along with Clyde and the Twins’ first-round pick from Arizona State, Eddie Bane, would go directly to the major leagues).
That’s the first and only time one draft saw so much talent progress so far, so fast. It would serve as a cautionary tale never to be repeated, for a reason.
Unlike Bane and Clyde, each of whom became cautionary tales about accelerated development, Winfield starred for San Diego before moving to the Yankees to replace Reggie Jackson in 1981, for what would be a tumultuous decade of stardom.
Lynn would become the first player to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season, in the Red Sox pennant-winning season of 1975. With a combination of power, athleticism, and defensive excellence, he became a staple on This Week in Baseball as well as the All-Star game (he was a 9-time all-star, every season from 1975 to 1983).
On the way to becoming “Mr. Brewer”, Yount would carve out a Hall of Fame career from age 18 on. Across 20 seasons, he’d win MVP at two positions (1982, SS; and 1989, CF), and collect more than 3,000 hits, all as a Brewer. He led the team to their one and only World Series in 1982 largely on the back of an epic season-ending series against Baltimore to clinch the AL East.
Finally, a model of consistency, Eddie Murray would make 8 All-Star teams across the 1970s and ‘80s, and would team with Cal Ripken to lead Baltimore to a World Series title in 1983. Eddie was the third player in history to reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits, joining Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, in 1997. In the early 2000s, Bill James’ Historical Baseball Abstract ranked him as the fifth-best first baseman of all time.