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,
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 Indian and Brave 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.