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Fred Clarke

Fred Clarke

Library of Congress

Fred Clarke of the Pittsburgh Pirates at the West Side Grounds in 1903

Position(s):
OF, SS, 3B
Nicknames:
Cap
Born:
October 3, 1872
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Right
Height:
5' 10"
Weight:
165 lbs
Major League Debut:
6-30-1894 with LS3
Hall of Fame:
1945

"Are you going to take that?" - player-manager Fred Clarke to the young Honus Wagner, who had been knocked around on the basepaths by the 19th Century Baltimore Orioles, thus inducing Wagner the next time to blast right through fielders blocking his path.

Fred Clarke was one of the few men in major league history that has enough credentials as both a manager and a player, to make the Hall of Fame in either category.

He was hired at the young age of 24 to command the Louisville Colonels in 1897 and was made the head man of the Pirates 3 years later when Louisville owner Barney Dreyfuss bought 47.3 % of the Bucs and brought several of his own players over including Clarke.

Clarke was an intense, very driven manager who would do whatever it took to win.  Often in Louisville, he would run from the outfield to the mound to chastise his pitcher.  That attitude often conflicted with that of Dreyfuss, who more concerned about winning with class and dignity.  One instance of this is when Clarke had Zimmer hide in the outfield scoreboard to steal signs (which they were eventually caught at by the Reds Tommy Corcoran who found the rod that Zimmer used to signal the pitches to the bench).  Another such example is when Dreyfuss stormed into the locker room to find out why the team played so poorly.  Clarke demanded he leave and to come back and talk about later in private not in front of the players.  Dreyfuss to his credit respected Clarke and would generally back off and let Clarke run the team on the field.

Clarke was also very loyal to Dreyfuss, which caused him not to look for offers from the new American League.  To reward that respect, Dreyfuss gave Clarke a percentage of the teams’ profits after 1902 to go along with his generous salary.  It was the great relationship that they had early on that allowed the team to be so successful.

One tendency of his was to change his batting order as he did several times during his first year in the Steel City in 1900.  Another one was the way he brought up his young pitchers.  Rather than throwing them out early to the wolves, he would keep them in the bullpen until they were ready to be slotted into the rotation.  It was this philosophy that helped him develop so many good young pitchers.  During his tenure, the team never led the league in hits allowed or walks allowed.  Babe Adams was a prime example of this in 1909 as he took it slow with the young hurler so by the time he let him go, Adams had accumulated a 12-3 mark with a 1.11 ERA and three wins in the World Series.  Defense was also an important part of Clarke’s repertoire, as his clubs never led the league in errors.

Although author Bill James ranked Clarke as the 13th best manager of all time in his book on Managers, he also made the statement that as Wagner got old, so did Clarke’s ability to manage.  Although there’s more to it than that, his teams did start to fail more towards the end of his tenure when Wagner was an aging player.

While Honus was his best player, his job as defacto general manager of the team, which club presidents and managers did during the early part of the century was more to blame. They traded players like Vic Willis, Tommy Leach, Owen Wilson, and Dots Miller and got Ed Konetchy, Mike Mowery, Sol Hofman and King Cole in return, most of who didn’t do anything for the team.

The great talent finds of the previous decade were now reduced to names such as Marty O’Toole and Bill Kelly, Bonus Baby’s if you will, who ended up with disappointing careers.

Bottom line it was poor personnel moves that dotted the end of his managerial career than poor managerial moves.  Nonetheless, with the losses increasing, the team falling to the second division, and his playing days pretty much over, Clarke called it quits after the 1915 season.  Johnny Evers, Cubs manager, in 1913, made the claim he never wanted to be Clarke whom he felt would rather be out there playing than in the dugout rooting for others. He had become a rich man by that point and time and money wasn’t driving him any more, so on October 3rd the Pirates defeated the Reds 5-3 sending Fred off a winner.  The Hall of Famer gave a dinner for him and his players to celebrate and went off into the sunset, or maybe he didn’t.


Clarke had invested in the club after he left and sat on the bench in his suit during the mid 20’s.  Controversy would rear its ugly head in 1926 when Clarke and manager Bill McKechnie got into a discussion about who would play centerfield with Carey slumping.  Clarke made the suggestion that Carey be replaced and McKechnie didn’t like his idea of putting Cuyler there.  Fred made the statement that the batboy could play better than Carey. The thought was that Clarke was anxious to get back to the bench and was trying to discredit McKechnie. That statement got back to Max who went to Dreyfuss with the support of Babe Adams and Carson Bigbee to get Clarke removed from the bench.  All the players were dropped from the team in deference to hid old friend.  McKechnie who was happy the players defended him also lost his job.  Clarke did eventually leave the bench too, a miserable way to end the greatest managerial career in team history.

By: Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia

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Tagged:
1945 Hall of Fame, Baseball History, Fred Clarke, Louisville Colonels, Pittsburgh Pirates

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