In 1973, just one year before this card appeared, the Texas Rangers initiated the destruction of a young pitcher’s career in an effort to revive a languishing franchise. Team owner Bob Short devised an ill-conceived plan to rush phenom left-hander David Clyde from high school ball to the major leagues as a drawing card for the struggling Rangers franchise. Clyde’s debut season did much to help attendance at Arlington Stadium, but at considerable damage to Clyde’s career, which seemed so promising after throwing nine no-hitters in his senior season of high school.
At onetime a household name, Clyde has become a forgotten man in baseball annals. Here’s what happened. Drafted first in the country out of Texas’ Westchester High School in the spring of 1973, Clyde received a bonus of $125,000 and donned a Rangers’ major league uniform only a few days later. The immediate call-up to Texas was the brainchild of owner Bob Short, which conflicted directly against the advice of manager Whitey Herzog, who believed Clyde needed considerable schooling in the minor leagues.
Equipped with both Short’s blessings and a mechanically sound delivery that some scouts compared to that of Sandy Koufax, Clyde made his highly publicized major league debut against the Minnesota Twins on June 27, 1973. (Only 20 days earlier, Clyde had made his final appearance as a high school pitcher.) That night’s game at Arlington Stadium became such a focal point of local attention that the first pitch was delayed by 15 minutes, allowing more fans to free themselves from the massive logjam of traffic outside the stadium. Perhaps rattled by the late start and frazzled by his own nervousness, the 18-year-old Clyde walked the first two batters he faced—infielder Jerry Terrell and Hall of Famer Rod Carew—before settling down to strike out the side. Clyde went on to pitch a respectable five innings, walking a total of seven Twins, but struck out eight batters while allowing two earned runs and only one hit. Unfortunately, Clyde struggled to match his celebrated debut performance over the balance of the season, posting an ERA of 5.03 and winning only four of 12 decisions with the lowly Rangers in 1973. His pitching only worsened in 1974, leading him down a slippery slope to baseball obscurity.
Clyde’s problems only worsened when Whitey Herzog was fired and replaced by Billy Martin. Ever fiery and judgmental, Martin didn’t like the left-hander, in part because he didn’t like pitchers and didn’t like rookies, two mortal sins committed by Clyde. Martin also didn’t appreciate the fact that Clyde lost nine straight decisions after starting the 1974 season at 3-and-0. At one point, Martin didn’t pitch Clyde for 31 consecutive days.
The late Art Fowler, a crony of Martin at virtually every one of his managerial stops, became Clyde’s second pitching coach in Texas. Several years ago, Fowler appeared on ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” program to discuss Clyde’s saga. Fowler supported Martin’s general evaluation of Clyde, claiming that the youngster was vastly overrated, unable to throw his fastball much harder than in the mid-eighties. Fowler also trashed the quality of Clyde’s competition in high school, half-kiddingly suggesting that the left-hander had piled up an impressive set of statistics pitching against “girls.” Fowler’s recollections of Clyde, however, differ significantly from those of Tom Grieve, who was Clyde’s Texas teammate from 1973-75. According to Grieve, Fowler raved about Clyde’s talents at the time, saying that he had the potential to be a 25-game winner once he harnessed his control. Many of Clyde’s Ranger teammates also raved about both his fastball and curve, rating them both as well above major league average.
So who to believe, Fowler or Grieve? For what it’s worth, Fowler drew criticism throughout his career for his work as a pitching coach, reinforcing a belief that he held onto jobs in Minnesota, Detroit, Texas, New York, and Oakland only because of his friendship with Martin. Given Fowler’s track record as a Martin crony, it’s not surprising that he would come to Martin’s defense when passing a judgment on Clyde’s ability. It was that very allegiance to Martin that shed a light of suspicion on Fowler’s motives. Fowler himself claimed that he didn’t think much of Clyde in large part because Martin didn’t think much of him. And that’s not a very critical way of thinking, especially when it was your job to instruct pitchers and find ways to make them better.
By the way, here’s what Fowler had to say about Clyde after one of his starts in 1974. “When his fastball is moving like it was tonight,” Fowler told Randy Galloway of The Sporting News, “and with the velocity he had tonight, he didn’t need [his] curveball.” That doesn’t sound like the description of a pitcher lacking a good major league fastball.
While Clyde struggled with his pitching coach and manager, along with the on-the-field demands of pitching against big league hitters, he also gave in to the temptations of a fast-lane lifestyle practiced by several of the Rangers’ veteran players. The hard-living group, which included catcher Rich Billings, infielder Jim Fregosi, and pitcher Clyde “Skeeter” Wright (the father of former Yankee Jaret Wright), laid out the welcome mat for Clyde, including him in their post-game visits to local establishments. Clyde began drinking heavily, a vice that became obvious when he showed up late for a team flight while wearing the same clothes he had used the previous day. Unfortunately, none of the veteran Rangers stepped up to help the teenaged Clyde, whose drinking habits only exacerbated his problems on the mound.
And that only expedited the crashing of the career of a young pitcher who might have been.
Bruce Markusen writes Cooperstown Confidential for MLB.com.