Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A bush-league MOVE

Thanks to a greedy, short-sighted owner, high school phenom's career cut short

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HUMBLE, Texas -- David Clyde vaguely remembers the hula girls and the giant papier-mache giraffe, but not the two lion cubs.

He was 18 then. He's 58 now, so pardon his murky recall of that June 27, 1973, night's kooky sideshow at old Arlington Stadium, compliments of nearby Six Flags, Seven Seas and Lion Country Safari.

Clyde, of course, was the main event. He was baseball's No. 1 draft pick, the Rangers' savior, the phenom 35,698 fans came to see. Ready or not, he faced Minnesota just 20 days after firing his last pitch for Houston's Westchester High.

The spectacle had all the makings of a flop, but 6-foot-1, 190-pound, blue-eyed, curly-haired left-hander Clyde did not disappoint the first home sellout crowd in Rangers history. He allowed just one hit in five innings and earned the win in Texas' 4-3 victory.

"That was long, long ago in a land far, far away," Clyde says, searching his memory as another anniversary, No. 40, nears.

"How do you describe getting to live your dream? How do you describe something you've dreamed your entire life and all of a sudden you wake up and you're right in the middle of it?"

Even when they materialize, though, dreams aren't everlasting. David Eugene Clyde's was cruelly brief.

True, he was a high school legend, setting 14 national high school records, several of which still stand. True, he thrilled everyone in his big league debut, especially cash-strapped Rangers owner Bob Short.

But the can't-miss prospect who was 18-0 with an 0.18 ERA as a Westchester senior went just 18-33 as a major leaguer. He threw his last major league pitch on Aug. 7, 1979, as a 24-year-old Cleveland Indian, 37 days shy of qualifying for MLB's pension plan.

Initially it was agreed that he would start two or three games for Texas before heading to the minors to develop. Short, though, got other ideas after 33,010 fans flocked to Arlington Stadium for Clyde's second start, a six-inning, no-decision performance against the White Sox.

Clyde remained a Ranger and got battered, going 4-8 with a 5.01 ERA for a 57-105 team.

"It was the dumbest thing you could ever do to a high school pitcher," says Tom Grieve, one of Clyde's Rangers teammates, voice rising with disgust. "In my opinion, it ruined his career.

"Bob Short did it because he needed the money. It's as simple as that. A lot of people think it saved Bob Short from having to give the team back to the league.

"So David served a purpose for Bob Short, at the expense of what I firmly believe would have been a nice 12- to 15-year big league career."

Short purchased the Washington Senators in December 1968. He moved them to Arlington before the 1972 season.

But until Clyde's arrival, there was little indication Major League Baseball would survive in football-crazy North Texas. The Rangers had drawn four crowds of 20,000-plus, the largest being 24,222.

After drawing 662,974 fans and finishing 54-100 in the strike-shortened 1972 season, Texas was 40,000 behind that pace in 1973 when it drafted Clyde.

For Arlington, then a city of 90,000, the frenzy surrounding Clyde's debut and the message that baseball could be a viable commerce ranked with the arrivals of General Motors in 1954 and Six Flags in 1961.

"From now on," proclaimed Arlington Mayor Tom Vandergriff, who had been instrumental in luring the Rangers, "time here shall be marked from June 27, 1973."

Clyde started 18 games that season, 12 at home. Of the 686,085 fans Texas drew for 74 home dates, 218,250 came for Clyde's starts. The Rangers' home average was 18,187 when he pitched, 7,546 otherwise.

Perhaps that was the sweetener Short needed to attract a buyer. On May 29, 1974, he sold to a local group headed by Brad Corbett. Short died in 1982.

Asked how his career might have turned out had he been drafted elsewhere, Clyde shrugs. "All you can do is look at it and guess," he says. "Bob Short, God rest his soul, was in it for the quick turn rather than the long-term investment."

Four decades and five ownerships later, the Rangers have played in two World Series and rank among baseball's attendance leaders.

Arlington, now a city of 375,000, funded the construction of a new ballpark Rangers Ballpark that opened in 1994 and later helped Jerry Jones fund neighboring Cowboys Stadium.

As the years pass, the seed Clyde planted 40 Junes ago fades from memories, as does the fact he was a sacrificial lamb.

"In my mind, he went a long way toward saving the franchise," says Jackie Moore, the Rangers' first-base coach in 1973 and currently their 74-year-old bench coach. "I hope there are baseball gods. I hope they understand the situation he went through here."

Few if any disagree that Clyde was wronged, but in four decades no one's figured out a way to make things right.

"A travesty," says 81-year-old Whitey Herzog, the Rangers' manager on that June night in '73. "As an 18-year-old kid, he might have been as good or better than anybody I'd ever seen."

Herzog says he pleaded with Short to send Clyde to the minors. Like many young pitchers, Herzog says, Clyde started throwing his curveball too hard and lost control of it. Then hitters began sitting on his fastball. Herzog says Clyde could have regained his control and confidence in the minors.

On Sept. 8, Short fired Herzog and replaced him with Billy Martin. Though he went on to a Hall of Fame managing career in Kansas City and St. Louis, Herzog remains haunted by a 40-year-ago promise he couldn't keep.

"David's parents wanted to make sure he went to church and all this stuff," Herzog says. "I told them, 'I'll take care of David. Don't you worry about him.' "

Clyde was born in Kansas City, the oldest of Gene and Amy Clyde's four boys.

Following Gene's career path as a Southwestern Bell executive, the Clydes moved to New Jersey, then St. Louis before settling in Houston in late 1969.

What a gift for Westchester, which Clyde led to the state tournament semifinal in 1972 and the final in 1973. He threw 10 no-hitters and still owns the national records for most career shutouts (29) and strikeouts (842).

Herzog dispatched Moore 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."

On draft day, June 5, TV trucks lined the Clyde's street. David says contract negotiations with the Rangers took all of 20 minutes.

It was widely reported that Clyde received a $125,000 signing bonus, plus salary. He says he actually received a $65,000 signing bonus, $22,500 salary ($5,000 above league minimum) and a $7,500 roster bonus.

"I don't know if my dad realized this, but I was thinking I would get the entire $22,500 salary," Clyde says. "But it was prorated, so it wound up being more like $12,000."

On the evening of his debut, Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike traffic was so snarled that Herzog asked Short to delay the game 15 minutes. Herzog worried that Clyde might get wild or shelled and late-arriving fans would miss seeing him.

Despite promotions like bat, hot pants, pantyhose Bat, Hot Pants, Pantyhose and 10-cent beer nights, the Rangers rarely got to make a lasting impression.

"People would get their pantyhose and leave the ballpark while the anthem was playing," Herzog says. "General admission tickets were $1.75. That's how (expletive) we were."

On June 27, though, 10,000 fans had to be turned away from the ticket office. TV cameras filmed Clyde at breakfast. Reporters chronicled his every pregame move in the clubhouse, dugout and bullpen.

Striding to the mound, Clyde waved to the crowd and smiled at high school sweetheart Cheryl Crawford, who showed photographers the promise ring David had given her. They would wed the following September, but the marriage lasted barely a year.

On his blissful first night as a Ranger, though, Clyde showed remarkable poise after walking the first two Twins. He struck out the next three, seemingly sparking in a new era.

"I remember thinking, 'There's no way I could have done that when I was coming out of high school,' " says Grieve, at the time a 25-year-old outfielder. "What he faced that day was extraordinary. He handled it unbelievably well."

That night, a beaming Short, wearing a white sports coat and blue slacks, promised to protect his precious investment.

Why wouldn't he? The previous year, Minnesota's games at Arlington Stadium drew an average of 7,000 fans. With an extra 28,000 tickets sold, at an average price of $2.70, The News deduced in the next morning's edition that Short made an extra $75,000.

Adding concession sales, it's possible Short more than covered Clyde's 1973 salary and bonuses that night.

Yet for the 1974 season, Clyde says he was offered the same base salary and no bonuses.

"I'd have been happy with a $500 raise," he says. "Just to show they appreciated what I did."

Physically fit, Clyde still is a striking presence, but has a gentle demeanor.

He's lived in the Houston area since his 1981 comeback from arm problems ended in Tucson, where he went 4-10 with the Astros' Triple-A team.

He started a lumber company with his then-father-in-law and helped operate it for about two decades until the marriage, his third, ended.

For the last 11 years, he has been pitching co-ordinator for the Houston Miracles, a Christian-based, five-team select baseball organization. He also manages the Miracles' under-18 squad. Along the way, he got to coach his now-adult sons, Ryan and Reed. He also has an adult daughter, Lauren.

Six years ago he moved into his parents' home in Humble, which he says proved to be a blessing. Amy died four years ago, leaving him as caregiver of 85-year-old Gene, who has dementia.

"Everybody's got 20-20 hindsight," Clyde says. "First and foremost, I am grateful to the Rangers for the opportunity they presented me to play Major League Baseball. My career didn't go the way I wanted it to. I'll take full responsibility for that.

"But of all the things that went on, the one positive that came out of my career is that to this very day, every now and then, when a very special talent comes along, I hear them say, 'We are not going to do to this young man what was done to David Clyde.' "

Of course, he would be more comfortable financially had he played those 37 more days in the majors to qualify for MLB's pension and healthcare plans.

When he retired, the minimum requirement was four years in the majors. After the 1981 strike, the minimum was reduced to 43 days -- one-quarter of a season. After 43 days, players are vested for a minimum annual benefit of $34,000. Players fully vested with 10 years receive $195,000 annually, the maximum allowed under IRS rules.

Players who retired before 1981 with less than four years of service fought to receive pensions retroactively. Clyde was among a handful of ex-players who negotiated with MLB on behalf of the alumni association. MLB agreed to pay a maximum annual benefit of $10,000, depending on quarters of service -- but no healthcare.

"It's just the right thing to do," commissioner Bud Selig said at the time. "I believe baseball is a social institution, and with that comes social responsibilities."

Clyde says his annual benefit is $6,000, for which he's grateful. Over the years, he's sought major league coaching opportunities because he believes he has much to offer and would love to get those 37 days of service.

In 2003, the Rangers honored Clyde a week before the 30th anniversary of his debut. He threw a ceremonial first pitch to his June 27, 1973, battery-mate, Ken Suarez.

Clyde says then-Rangers owner Tom Hicks gave him his phone number and offered to help.

"I called," Clyde says. "I could never get through to him.

"That's life," he says. "I would very much like to have my pension, but I'm happy what I'm doing. I'm still involved in the game, get to work with kids every day. If nothing happens, I'm still happy. God has blessed me my entire life.

"Maybe he's got something bigger and better in store for me."

-- The Dallas Morning News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 30, 2013 b8

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