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The David Clyde Story

ERIC: David Clyde was born in Kansas City, Kansas on April 22, 1955. When he was a boy, his family moved to Houston, Texas. While a student at Houston’s Westchester High School, the left-handed Clyde pitched five no-hitters, including two perfect games. He posted an 18-0 record as a senior, and gave up only three earned runs in 148 innings pitched. Not surprisingly, he was the first draft choice on the 1973 amateur draft, and received a $125,000 signing bonus from the Texas Rangers, which was the largest signing bonus in history as of that time.

The Rangers were just atrocious in those years. In only their second season after leaving Washington, D. C., the 1973 edition of the Rangers nearly qualified for inclusion in the book version of You Stink! with a 57-105 record. The 1972 edition had the second-lowest attendance in the American League, and the 1973 version was not looking like it would be much better. This terrible team needed something to put fans in the seats, and the team’s owner, Bob Short, was desperate to come up with a gimmick that would do so. He landed on David Clyde as that gimmick. Short knew that the young lefty, a Texas native, would sell tickets. Banking on that, part of Clyde’s contract stipulated that he would make two major league starts before being sent to the minor leagues.

”Short went for the fast buck,” said Whitey Herzog, the Rangers’ manager in June 1973. ”Short sure wasn’t going to send him down without getting some people in the ballpark to see him. The kid should’ve gone to the minors after two starts.”

On June 27, 1973, the day Clyde made his big league debut, a huge crowd packed old Arlington Stadium to see Clyde pitch against the Minnesota Twins. The beginning of the game had to be delayed in order to accommodate the arrival of the 35,698 fans who packed the stadium, the largest crowd that season.

After walking the first two batters, Clyde struck out the side, pitched five innings and was credited with the 4-3 victory. After Clyde pitched seven strong innings in a 5-4 win over the Tigers, Short decided that Clyde would remain with the Rangers for the rest of the season, instead of reporting to the minor leagues. Attendance for his 12 home starts averaged about 20,000, helping the team’s bottom line, but Clyde struggled. His overall record was 4-8 with a 5.01 ERA.

”I’d have to say that David Clyde was one of the best young left-handed pitchers I’ve ever seen,” Herzog said. ”He was really mishandled. He was wild and the other hitters started sitting on his fastball. He never had the advantage of going to the minors and pitching against kids his own age. And he was really a good kid himself. It was a tragedy.”

Herzog was fired in early September and was replaced by Billy Martin. Clyde got off to a 3-0 start at the beginning of the 1974 season, but Martin evidently did not like the young southpaw and inexplicably elected not to pitch him for a month.

”Billy never said anything to me and I wasn’t the type of person that questioned things then,” Clyde said. ”Looking back, I got caught in a power struggle between Billy and the front office. If I were going through that now, I’d kick the door in and demand an explanation. It made me a very outspoken person.”

Clyde finished the 1974 season with a 3-9 record and a 4.38 E.R.A. In July 1974, Martin was fired and was replaced by former Phillies manager Frank Lucchesi. When Martin was fired, Clyde was 0-1 before finally being sent to the minors for the first time. The next spring, 1976, Clyde began having serious arm problems. He was traded to the Cleveland Indians in 1978, posting an 8-11 record. In 1979, he was 3-4 before suffering major rotator cuff damage.

Signed by his hometown Astros in 1981, Clyde was pitching in the fall instructional league when he decided to walk away from baseball. ”I thought: ‘What am I doing here? This is not what I wanted to do,’ ” he recalled. ”I made a decision to get on with my real life.” He ended his career with an 18-33 record, with a dismal 4.63 ERA and a WHIP of 1.530.

A phenom at 19, he was through at 26. Somehow, Clyde manages not to be bitter about it. The following passages come from an interview given by David Clyde, where he discussed his short but unlucky career in the major leagues. When asked about his experiences of being used up too quickly by pitching too many innings in the big leagues too soon, he said:

But it’s gonna happen again. I am very happy, and I do mean it. It’s a bittersweet memory of leaving an indelible mark, and yet I left a mark that’ll remain there. I was in a perfect storm at that point. Yes, I was a very, very, very good baseball player at 18, and whether it would have been the Rangers or someone else, I would have been a first-round pick. But here I was, a native Texan out of Houston. Bob Short needed to sell the ball club. He wanted to sell to some local people, but he needs to show it’s a viable business, and I proved baseball can survive in the North Texas area with the Dallas Cowboys. And so Bob was able to sell to Brad Corbett, who in turn sold to Eddie Chiles, who in turn sold to George Bush and his group, who in turn sold to Tom Hicks, who went belly-up, and Nolan and his group with Chuck Greenberg and those guys came in last year.

But what happened to me will happen again, in spite of the fact everyone’s looking at long-term investments instead of short term. Nobody wants to blow up an $8-, $9-, $10-million investment. But it’ll happen again in spite of that because somebody somewhere will be in a bit of a bind financially and need to do something drastic, and as much as we want to say it’s a game, and the players do play it in a lot of ways for the game, it’s a business also. And the fan has to realize it is a business, and the owners are at great financial risk. They’ve got a lot on the line, and if the fans don’t come out, if the players don’t perform, a lot of things don’t fall into place to allow these men to make money. And as much as everyone would love to say that’s not why we own the team, nobody wants to lose money. Millionaires aren’t millionaires because they lost money, and I promise you they don’t enjoy losing any of it. It’s a tough sell if the team’s not successful, so it ultimately boils down to the player performing. It’ll occur again, that perfect storm.

And that next player, he may come through it better than I did.  It wasn’t life-threatening that occurred to me. So that’s why, I guess, in my opinion, I don’t like how it went down, but they didn’t do anything illegal, they didn’t do anything unethical. I don’t believe they did anything immoral, so why should they be condemned for it? It wasn’t the right way to do it, but it’s a business, and it happens all the time in the real business world, so that’s life.

David Clyde’s ill-starred career ended badly and way too soon, and it ended that way because a terrible owner made a terrible decision, putting financial considerations ahead of the well-being of a promising young player who could have been the cornerstone of a franchise for years to come. David Clyde paid for that, and it is to his credit that he is able to avoid bitterness and to try to serve as a role model for the young players that he now oversees as a high school baseball coach.

Clyde’s story is a cautionary tale that has played out too many times (see the similar stories of young phenoms such as Brien Taylor, Dick Baney, and others). Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals seemed like another Clyde, making his major league debut at a very young age and then needing Tommy John surgery in his first year at the major league level. The Nationals intend to shut Strasburg down early in order to protect his young arm, even though they are in the midst of a pennant race. Strasburg has stated, “Well, they’re gonna have to rip the ball out of my hands, that’s all I can say.” Let’s hope that the Nats have learned from David Clyde’s tragic story and that they do rip the ball out of Strasburg’s hands, pennant race or no pennant race.

Bob Short is hereby inducted into the You Stink! Hall of Shame for terrible owners for the way he ruined David Clyde’s career.

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