Forty years later, Clyde's rush to bigs still unfortunate
Instead of developing him in Minors, struggling franchise used him as a drawing card
David Clyde saved a franchise.
But it came at the cost of a career.
Forty years ago Thursday, Clyde made the jump from pitching for Westchester High School in Houston to pitching in the big leagues, starting for the Texas Rangers against the Minnesota Twins just 19 days after receiving his high-school diploma.
It was supposed to be a quick shot in the arm for a financially strapped franchise that just a year earlier had moved from Washington, D.C., and whose owner, Bob Short, was in jeopardy of having to turn it over to the American League.
But it turned out to be a fairy tale without a happy ending.
The plan was supposed to have Clyde make two big league starts and then head to the Minor Leagues to begin his development. Two sellouts, however, for a team that was averaging roughly 6,000 fans a game caught Short's attention, and the 18-year-old Clyde became a mainstay in the Rangers rotation, his starts juggled so that 12 of his 18 starts were at Arlington Stadium.
"It was touch and go," said Jackie Moore, the Rangers' current bench coach who was their first-base coach in 1973. "We went from one paycheck to the next."
The Rangers drew 686,085 for their 81 home games that year, 32 percent of them showing up for the 12 starts by Clyde, which accounted for 14.8 percent of the home schedule. It was about paying the bills. It was about a franchise, not a young man's career.
"They were trying to get enthusiasm," said Davey Nelson, the starting second baseman for the Rangers in Clyde's debut. "The franchise needed a jolt.''
Tom Grieve, now a broadcaster for the Rangers who was a teammate of Clyde's and later was the team's general manager, has never sugar-coated his opinion. "It was the dumbest thing you could ever do," he said.
It wasn't pretty.
Clyde was the crown jewel in the 1973 Draft, no question about that. He was 18-0 with a 0.18 ERA in his senior year at Westchester High, allowing three earned runs in 150 innings.
"It wasn't just a fastball he had," said Moore. "He had the curveball and the feel for pitching, but ..."
He wasn't big league ready, particularly off the field.
His career would stretch over parts of five big-league seasons, with Texas from 1973-75 and Cleveland in 1978-79. He was 18-33 with a 4.63 ERA, arm problems finally forcing his retirement. He tried a comeback with Houston in 1981, but after going 4-10 at Triple-A Tucson he called it quits.
He has tried at times to get back into the professional game, but the calls have gone unanswered.
And now, 40 years later, he is back in the Houston area, living with his 85-year-old father, who he serves as a caregiver, and serving as the pitching coordinator for the Christian-based Houston Miracles, which has five elite-level teams.
"His legacy is when you see a young kid get drafted and someone in an organization declares, 'He's not going to be another David Clyde," the late Hal Keller, the Rangers scouting director at the time, said more than once in the ensuing years. "He's a lesson in the need for patience. His career was sacrificed for a franchise."
He did win that big league debut against Minnesota, giving up just one hit, a two-run home run, but also walking seven in five innings of a 4-3 victory. But it took him six more starts to win again.
The numbers, however, that caught the attention of Short was tickets sold. The Rangers had an announced attendance of 22,114 for the season opener. They drew 19,000 or more seven other times in the 80 remaining home games -- the first seven starts Clyde made in Texas.
And whatever hope that Clyde had of being able to survive his force-fed big league career disappeared on Sept. 5, 1973. With the Rangers 33 1/2 games out of first place in the AL West, carrying a 47-91 record, first-year manager Whitey Herzog was fired and Billy Martin was hired.
Herzog had been hired away the previous offseason from the New York Mets, for whom his job had been overseeing a farm system that was rich in pitching, having produced the likes of Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Jerry Koosman, Tug McGraw and Gary Gentry.
"It might have been different if that hadn't happened," said Nelson. "Whitey was all about development."
"Well, Billy liked older, veteran players," said Pete Mackanin, who was called to the big leagues the day of Clyde's debut and was assigned to be his roommate. "Billy wasn't looking at tomorrow."
In other words, Clyde didn't fit in Martin's vision.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.