Interviewing David Clyde for today's “The Lost Boys of Summer” feature, it's as if the onetime pitching phenom suffers from baseball Tourette's.
That's because, in between March thunderstorms, the former Texas Ranger is speaking with me on the phone while schooling a young pitcher at a North Houston baseball academy.
Clyde knows a thing or dozen about the pressures of being a young hurler. After going 18-0 at Houston's Westchester High School, the lefty was taken with the No. 1 pick by the Texas Rangers in 1973's amateur draft, receiving an unheard of $125,000 signing bonus at the time. The team owner was desperate for a local hook to boost sagging home game attendance.
Thus, the youngest draftee ever at the time was not done setting firsts. On June 27, 1973–three weeks after his high school graduation and without having spent a day in the minor leagues–Clyde started before 37,000 fans at Arlington Stadium, the Rangers' first-ever sell-out. That made him the youngest pitcher ever to start a Major League Baseball game at the time–and the youngest to notch the win. He also won his second game, and a national media sensation was born.
I tell Clyde about having seen him as a rookie on the cover of Sports Illustrated or The Sporting News, his lanky frame photographed in the middle of a high-kicking wind-up. But he politely informs he did not make the cover of those mags, only significant feature spreads inside. Wherever we saw the story, it certainly made an impression on us sandlotters and Little Leaguers. Baseball turned a kid into a pro–our dreams really could come true.
The Clyde interview for lost boys was condensed for print, with some quotes and the orders he's barking out to his young charge removed for space and clarity reasons. Reading the conversation in full below offers a flavor of what it's like listening in on the phone.
Clyde was out of Major League Baseball by 1979, having suffered an arm injury with the Cleveland Indians and, despite trades back to Texas and the Houston Astros, he never made it back to the mound in a big league game. He was just 37 days shy of the four years of pro service required to get a full pension.
My first question concerns rumors he was removed from the MLB Players Alumni
Associations pensions committee for asking too many tough questions on
behalf of fellow lost boys frozen out of lifetime pensions and access to healthcare
“The answer that I was given was I wasn't renewed,” Clyde says in his Texas drawl. “I
was not told directly it had to do with that, so anything I have to say about that is pure conjecture. But a little bit on the funny side of that is we get these things approved, we are part of the inner committeee that got it approved, and then myself and Gary Neibauer are no longer needed.”
Clyde says he remains “fearful” about those retirees no longer having a voice on the pensions committee.
“I don't mean sound ugly or whatever, but for 25 years nothing happened,” says Clyde before shouting, “WIND UP!”
Asked about players from his era who are vested in the pension taking an interest in the plight of the lost boys, Clyde answers, “For the most part there have been very few. My fear is who is there to represent us now? Yes, sometimes you have to step on toes to get things done, but I don't think anybody I asked questions of acted as if I was out of line.”
I tell him about Tustin's Dick Baney, a lost boy who pitched for the Seattle Pilots and Cincinnati Reds, saying 90 percent of the non-vested are unhappy about what they are receiving.
“I'll be honest with you, I'm not totally happy with what I got, and I'm at the highest end
He receives about $9,300 annually after taxes through 2016.
“I want you to know I'm very grateful for what I got, because it's more than I had
before, what we had before. I don't mean to be rude, but if any player is not happy with
it, if he wants to give it back, go right ahead. If they are that unhappy with it, give it back.
Because there was nothing before.
“Still, my fear is there is nobody out there to represent the non-vested player.
Clyde explains he does not really need the pension.
"I've been very blessed my whole life. . . . I've been fortunate enough to still make a decent living. But I have fellow players out there that literally need it, that's the shame of it.
"WE'RE NOT THROWING DARTS!”
"Still, I don't think today's players know the plight of those who stood up for them 20, 30
years ago so these guys could have what have today.
"Twenty, 30 years ago, we had a whole lot more to lose than these guys do today. They
can play one year and be vested in the pension. The minium salary is $450,000.
"OKAY, VERY GOOD!”
"The average human being has to work a long time to make that kind of money. You
don't need $450,000 to live, unless you're Latrell Sprewell, who can't feed a family
on $14 million. Did you see that?”
He shifts back from the hard court to the ball diamond.
"A lot more people are in sadder shape than I am. I'm sorry they did not get completely
what they wanted to get. I'm hoping [the struggle to secure more money and benefits]
will continue with ongoing ways.
“I would also like to put forth that Michael Weiner, who is now the executive head
of the Major League Players Association, and Rob Manfred, the general counsel–
that without those two men involved, especially Weiner, we would not have got anything
done. I hope Michael Weiner will continue to endevor on behalf of mankind and the
rights of all baseball players.”
When it comes to the lack of survivor benefits, Clyde says, “I would ask the 500 or
600 families whose father or husband is no longer around what it would have meant to
them. By virtue of [baseball] stone[baseball]lmost 600 fellow players passed away” during
years of negotiations.
“Those guys would have loved to just in any way have been remembered.”
I mention what the Bay Area's Ernie DeFazio, a lost boy who played for the Houston Colt 45s and Kansas City A's, said about help possibly coming after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement ends in 2016.
“Well, there has always been the Baseball Assistance Team, or BAT. I think in a lot of
ways, yes, they are out there to help. At the same time, I think some of these players
deserve to be recognized by their own.”
We end our chat so Clyde can devote his full attention to the young pitcher on the mound.
Bottom line: David Eugene Clyde … Born April 22, 1955, in Kansas City, Kansas (age 56) … High school: Westchester High School in Houston, Texas, where he went 18-0 and only allowed 3 earned runs in 148 innings pitched his senior year … Pitcher … 6-foot-1 … 180 lbs. … Throws/bats: left … Drafted first in the 1973 MLB amateur draft, and received the highest signing bonus ever paid to a draft pick at the time ($125,000) … MLB debut June 27, 1973, with the Texas Rangers before a sell-out crowd at Arlington Stadium, a first for the facility … Traded Feb. 28, 1978, to the Cleveland Indians … Final MLB appearance Aug. 7, 1979, with the Indians … Traded to Jan. 4, 1980, to Texas, who released him March 31 that same year … Signed as free agent April 17, 1981, by the Houston Astros, but he did not get in another MLB game before retiring … Wins/losses: 18-33 … ERA: 4.63 … Strikeouts: 228 (Baseball-reference.com) Career highlights: At 19, the youngest MLB starting pitcher to win a game, his first.