"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Card Corner: Horace Clarke


For too long now, we in the media have referred to the Yankees of 1965 to 1974 as representatives of the “Horace Clarke Era.” The team’s starting second baseman for much of that period, Clarke has come to symbolize the mediocrity of those Yankee clubs. Seen here in his final Topps card (vintage 1974), Clarke was viewed as an inadequate player, symptomatic of a team that was inadequately built to win any pennants or division titles during that ten-year span.

The criticism of Clarke has run on several different levels. Too much of a free swinger, he didn’t draw enough walks. He didn’t have great range at second base, especially toward his backhand side. He also didn’t turn the double play well.

To some extent, the criticisms are all true. He never coaxed more than 64 walks in a season and usually finished below the 50-mark. Defensively, he paled in comparison to two other Yankees, predecessor Bobby Richardson and successor Willie Randolph. On double plays, Clarke bailed out early and often. Instead of pivoting at the bag, he sometimes jumped out of the way of runners while holding onto the baseball.

Those critiques provide only a partial view. The switch-hitting Clarke stole bases, bunted adeptly, and usually hit for a respectable average (at least for that era), which would have played acceptably as the eight-hole or ninth-place hitter. The Yankees made the mistake of using Clarke as a leadoff man because he looked and ran like a tablesetter. That was their mistake, not his. In the field, Clarke had his shortcomings, but for a guy who supposedly lacked range, he did lead the American League in assists six times. Part of that might have been attributable to having a sinkerballer like Mel Stottlemyre on the staff, but it’s also an indication that Clarke had pretty good range to his left.

Was Clarke a top-notch player? Of course not. But I would say that he was better than mediocre. (The Yankees of that era, like Clarke, were also better than advertised. Just look at the records of the 1970 and 1974 teams.) I think the Yankees could have won a division with a second baseman like Clarke, if only they had been better at other positions, like third base (prior to Graig Nettles’ arrival) or right field. If you want to find the real reasons why the Yankees so often struggled during those years, you need to look no further than the revolving doors at those slots. The Yankees had substantially weaker players at third base (Cox, Kenney, Sanchez) and right field (Kosco, Swoboda, Callison). It’s just that none of the third basemen or right fielders lasted long enough to become targets of the critics.

Putting aside the issue of talent evaluation for a moment, Clarke was an intriguing player to follow, especially for a young fan like me. Clarke came attached with a cool nickname. He was called “Hoss,” raising memories of Dan Blocker’s iconic character from Bonanza. (Bill White, in particular, loved that nickname. “Hosssss Clarke,” he liked to say with flourish.) Clarke also had an intriguing background. He was one of the few players I can remember who hailed from the Virgin Islands. So that made him a little bit different from your run-of-the-mill player. Then there was Clarke’s appearance. He wore very large glasses, the kind that became so horribly fashionable in the early 1970s, really round and overly noticeable. On the field, Clarke not only wore a helmet at the plate; he sported one while patrolling second base. I haven’t been able to figure out exactly why he did that. It may have had something to do with his fear of being upended on double-play takeout slides. Several years ago, Darren “Repoz” Viola of Baseball Think Factory asked former Yankee broadcaster Bob Gamere why Clarke wore the helmet at second base; Gamere explained that it may have stemmed from a 1969 incident in which Clarke was hit in the head with a ball, but he wasn’t completely certain. Whatever the reason, the helmet made Clarke a distinctive landmark on the middle infield.

For all of those reasons, and for being a quiet guy who rarely complained, Hoss Clarke was a likeable guy. He was also a decent ballplayer. So let’s stop vilifying the man who was once booed during pre-game introductions on Opening Day at the old Yankee Stadium. Let’s stop raking the man that one New York writer repeatedly referred to as “Horrible Horace.” I’d prefer to call him “Helpful Horace.” Let’s go with that instead.

Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for MLBlogs at MLB.com.


1 jkay   ~  Apr 23, 2009 3:07 pm

From Neil Best/Newsday...


Roy White's new book, "Then Roy Said to Mickey . . . " (written with Darrell Berger) focuses in part on the Yankees' 1965-75 drought, which he experienced firsthand.

Does he think the Yankees players from 1965-75 tend to be dismissed unfairly?

"We had some very good players," he said. "Bobby Murcer came up then. Thurman Munson actually joined us in those years. We had Bill Robinson.

"Mel Stottlemyre was a tremendous pitcher who is very underrated. You talk about guys breaking bats; Mel used to break two or three every game he pitched with the sinker he threw.

"And Horace Clarke was a good ballplayer. He has the stigma of being associated with bad teams but he was a good baseball player. One year him and Stick [Michael] led the majors in double plays. That's no easy feat."

2 OldYanksFan   ~  Apr 23, 2009 3:14 pm

Well put Bruce. I remember Hoss well. He came up with another 2nd baseman, a kid named Roy White. In those days, it was all about BA and HRs. I don't think I ever once heard someone comment that a player didn't walk enough. I mean, a walk was better then a K, but nothing to write home about.

In those days, few teams got any offense from SS or 2nd base. There were worse players. And while Hoss's career OPS+ was 83, we had a SS, that while he had very good hands, posted a career OPS+ of 67, and only broke the .600 OPS barrier twice in his career. What was his name again?

And correct... RF and 3rd base were black holes for years.

1991 wasn't a very good year for Yankee 3rd basemen either. "Eight third basemen combined to hit .225 with 38 runs batted in and 37 errors for the Yankees last season."

Hoss was a likable oddball.
And his defennse at 2nd was better then Roy's!

3 Chyll Will   ~  Apr 23, 2009 3:19 pm

I always knew there was something sardonic in the references to Horace Clarke (our own HCE touched on the same thing a couple times), but I never really knew why. I was born during the latter years of his Yankee career, so I wouldn't know. But even so, I can't think of any other player on the Yanks in particular that has endured such an extended posterization as he has; one who was not considered even a big star or HoFer-type anyway. Bobby Meacham, but he was never the face of an era, especially with Donnie/Winfield around. Stump Merrill, but he was the manager, and a good one in the minors. Who am I missing?

4 Rich   ~  Apr 23, 2009 3:25 pm

Horace Clarke's career OPS+ was 83. He wasn't that good.

Which reminds me:

I can recall listening to a sports radio talk show as a kid. Lee MacPhail was being interviewed.

A caller said (paraphrasing): "Lee, right now, your starting infield for next season will be Danny Cater at 1B, Horace Clarke at 2B, Gene Michael at SS, and Jerry Kenny at 3B."

MacPhail said: "Yes, I think that's right."

The caller replied: "That stinks."

The caller, although impolitic, was spot on. But having lived through that period of Yankee history, I have never taken subsequent Yankee championships for granted because I can remember what it was like when the team was awful.

5 OldYanksFan   ~  Apr 23, 2009 3:46 pm

[4] OPS+ is NOT position adjusted. As I said, the 2nd basemen and SSs were typically your weakest hitters. Many batted .250 or worse. I wouldn't be surprised if the average OPS+ for these positions was 90ish. Hoss was worst then average but not terrible.

And Danny Cater was a decent player. In 1968, Yaz won the batting title with a .301 BA. and Cater was 2nd, with a .290 BA. He was not a cleanup batter, although he batted cleanup for us. However, when we had a 2,3,4,5 of Munson, Murcer, Cater and White, we actually has a decent team.

In 1969, we won 80 games. We got Cater in 1970, and won 93 games.

6 Diane Firstman   ~  Apr 23, 2009 3:59 pm

In 1968, Clarke SLUGGED .254, with 9 XBH in 607 PAs.
That boggles the mind, even knowing it was the "Year of the Pitcher"

(edit: the leaguewide slugging pct. in 1968 was .339, and the league batting avg. was .230)

7 Diane Firstman   ~  Apr 23, 2009 4:05 pm

Horace Clarke compared to other 2Bs from 1965 to 1974:

8 Chyll Will   ~  Apr 23, 2009 4:47 pm

[7] He was no Joe Morgan or Rod Carew, but at least he wasn't Sandy Alomar! >;)

9 MichiganYankee   ~  Apr 23, 2009 5:02 pm

Another thing distinctive and quirky about Clarke was his ridiculously-wide-open stance.

In my first visit to the Stadium, Clarke hit a game-tying homer in the 8th against the White Sox' Tommy John. So I had a soft spot for Hoss for the remainder of his career.

10 Rich   ~  Apr 23, 2009 5:02 pm

[5] Even granting your point arguendo, Clarke would still be below league average, as [7] demonstrates.

Batting average is a very limited stat. For example, Cater's career ISO D is .040. So if he didn't get a hit, he didn't get on base.

His career OPS+ is 101.His career SLG is .377. That's not the type of hitter that good teams have at 1B.

In contrast, in 1968, Yazstremski's OPS+ was 170, and his ISO D was .125.

Again, AVG doesn't reveal sufficient information about a player to be very useful.

Granted, 1970 was a decent season, but from 1965-1975, it was the only time they won over 90 games. That's what I grew up watching.

11 MichiganYankee   ~  Apr 23, 2009 5:08 pm

The 93 wins in 1970 were a tease, especially since the Orioles were still 13 games ahead. 1974 (89 wins, 2 GB) was a lot of fun though.

12 Horace Clarke Era   ~  Apr 23, 2009 6:17 pm

"Was Clarke a top-notch player? Of course not. But I would say that he was better than mediocre."

Best I'm gonna get from you, Bruce? Sigh. Guess I'll have to live with it. Make it a t-shirt: "Better Than Mediocre".


(But yes, indeed, the name I chose here does reflect the way in which Hoss became the poster-boy for a mediocre series of Yankee teams, a sequence that didn't end till George S showed up as owner. The key, really, is that on a GOOD team, some decent-but-limited talents could have been sheltered - think Bucky Dent - but on those Yankees, such talents as Ol' Hoss were overexposed.)

13 PJ   ~  Apr 23, 2009 6:40 pm

I respect Hoss too much to label those teams after him. He played hard all the time and worked very hard to get the results he did. Robbie would be very exceptional with Horace's work ethic and 100% hustle.

I refer to that time as "The CBS Debacle"...

14 lordbyron   ~  Apr 23, 2009 7:19 pm

Bruce, great post. I grew up in Auburn, NY and we had cable TV in 1967, so I was able to watch the Yanks (among others) almost every night and I remember the Hoss like it was yesterday. We can debate his stats all day long, but he was a good 2nd baseman in his day and an enjoyable character that made watching those terrible Yankee teams bearable! Thanks for the memories.

by the way, i spent a lot of time time watching the Auburn yankees in those days and it was fun seeing Phil Linz, Joe Pepitone, Rollie Sheldon and the likes play ball.

15 Bruce Markusen   ~  Apr 23, 2009 10:41 pm

Horace, I love that slogan for a t-shirt. "Better than mediocre." Something we should all strive for.

16 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Apr 23, 2009 11:57 pm

Thanks, Bruce. That was good reading.

[6] WOW!!! .230! Two-fucking-thirty!

Was that the year Yaz won with .305?

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