Monday, April 8, 2013

#529 - Horace Clarke

Topps begins the final twenty per cent of the set right, with an action shot of Horace Clarke in the on deck circle at Yankee Stadium. I am guessing the view is from around home plate which means that would probably be Elston Howard behind him coaching first base. Horace usually batted lead-off so he could be watching the results of any of a number of guys – Gene Michael, Hal Lanier, Fred Stanley – at the plate. This is his final card so it’s a nice sendoff. And most likely Horace wasn’t even a Yankee by the time the card arrived as he’d been sold early in the ’74 season to San Diego. His timing couldn’t have been worse in terms of becoming a regular for NY. His career pretty much began right when the air came out of the Yankees post-season balloon and he left just two years before the mojo returned. So as a player he pretty much symbolized that dearth of titles. In ’73 he had pretty much a typical season with a middling average based on lots of line drives, very good defensive work, and rarely sitting. His stolen base totals had declined – in ’73 he had eleven – and his string of leading the AL in assists had ended. He missed meeting his successor at the position by a couple years as he was replaced by Sandy Alomar who bridged the gap between Horace and Willie Randolph. He enjoyed a pretty good run at the Stadium, providing solid play and lots of time on the field.

Horace Clarke was discovered by the Yankees while playing ball on St. Croix, his birth island in the Virgin Islands. Initially a player of cricket, he learned baseball while watching and then playing against American servicemen stationed on his island. The field they used had a short porch in left that ended in the ocean so to keep from losing balls he and his friends all became switch hitters. Horace was signed in ’58 and initially was a shortstop, that summer hitting only .225 in D ball but stealing 27 bases. But he got acclimated to US ball by the next year, as evidenced by a .292 average with 58 RBI’s and 34 stolen bases at the same level. In ’60 he moved up to C ball and hit .307 and in ’61 in A ball he hit .278 while swiping 40 bases. He stepped that up to .300 in Double A in ’62 and then moved to Triple A the next year where his average slipped to .249 as he began putting in time at second. Tommy Tresh was slated to take over at shortstop so Horace began to be groomed to replace Bobby Richardson, who was a pretty old 28. In ’64 Horace improved to .299 and got his stolen bases back up to 20 from only six the prior year. After a .301 start in 90 games in ’65 he was moved up to NY.

Clarke’s first season in NY in ’65 was a back-and-forth affair and while up top he pinch hit, pinch ran, and played at third base more than anywhere else. He then spent most of ’66 splitting starts at shortstop. That season he connected for his second home run and those first two were grand slams. In ’67 Richardson retired to coach college ball and Horace took over second base where he would remain as the regular guy through ’73. He didn’t have a crazy high OBA for a leadoff hitter but he regularly led the team in stolen bases and didn’t strike out very much. His best offensive year was '69 when he had a .367 OBA and stole 33 bases. Defensively he put up some nice numbers, leading AL second basemen in putouts four straight years (’68 to ’71) and in assists for six (’67 to ’72). During that time he also led in fielding percentage once and double plays twice. A knock on him was that he was unwilling to get hit while turning the DP and he sometimes held onto the ball too long, but he ranks pretty high in lifetime range factor so he seems to have made up for that elsewhere. In the winter after ’73 the Yankees were looking to grab Dick Williams from Oakland after Williams announced he’d had it with Charlie O Finley during the Series. NY offered Oakland Horace in exchange but Charlie O wouldn’t negotiate. That did set the tone for Horace’s future in NY as in spring training he lost the starting gig to Gene Michael and then after an early-season trade to Sandy Alomar. In May he was sold to the Padres as back-up for Glenn Beckert who had been hurt in spring training. But Horace had a couple injuries, wasn’t feeling the love, and after the season retired to go back home. He finished with a .256 average with 151 stolen bases and only about a K every 13 at bats.

Clarke stayed close to baseball upon his return to St. Croix and for many years worked as sort of a goodwill ambassador for the country to help develop local ball players. He also did some scouting work for a couple teams and has been retired since about 2007.

All this stuff was covered above except for the cartoon. He is one of only a handful of guys from the Virgin Islands to play MLB ball.

Here we use a great guy who passed away a couple years ago:

1. Clarke and Bobby Murcer ’65 to ’66 and ’69 to’74 Yankees;
2. Murcer and Bill Bonham ’77 Cubs.

1 comment:

  1. Horace Clarke and Roy White: Two long-suffering Yankees' regulars. At least White got to the post-season in his final seasons.