Year Inducted: 1945 (Veterans Committee)
In the last five years, teams have somewhat shifted away from hiring older, more experienced managerial candidates in favor of younger minds. The Cardinals hired Mike Matheny without any managerial experience, Detroit hired Brad Ausmus, and the recently resigned Walt Weiss and Robin Ventura in Colorado and Chicago, respectively, were all picked over older, possibly more qualified people. While all of these choices were younger, they each came with a wealth of baseball experience and were recently retired from the game. They weren’t 24 years old and playing Left Field in the few years before the Dead Ball Era like Fred Clarke was. Clarke was one of the first, and reportedly most successful, “boy managers” in baseball, managing for 19 seasons while patrolling left field for 21 years. Clarke has a good record as a manager (4 Pennants, 1 championship, 1600+ wins), but had credentials as a hitter, too.
Clarke was an excellent hitting outfielder for both the Louisville Colonels and the Pittsburgh Pirates for 21 seasons. In that time, Clarke hit .312/.386/.429 with a wRC+ of 131. He collected 67 homers, 361 doubles and 220 triples in his career, driving in over 1000 while scoring 1600 times. Clarke was a fantastic hitter, and a great base runner. He stole over 500 bases in his career and was worth nearly 20 runs on the bases.
Clarke, playing left field, wasn’t at a valuable defensive position. Still, he was worth nearly 100 fielding runs in the outfield. When he first played in the minors, he learned quickly that in order to make it in baseball he needed to improve his fielding. He would make it to the fields early and field fly balls until practices would begin. Eventually, he gained comfort at the position and developed into a solid fielder.
Defensively, Clarke was the best fielding outfielder at the time of his retirement. He also, among outfielders with more than 6000 plate appearances, ranked 2nd in fWAR, 11th in wRC+ and 9th in steals. He was an excellent all around player, made even better by the fact that he had a successful managing resume as well.
Clarke was an easy selection by the Veterans Committee when they met in 1945 to address the lack of players from the early era of the game. A star on the diamond and in the dugout, Clarke was an important part of the history of the game and was a statistically great player.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 10/13/16 This shortstop inducted in the 1970s by the Veterans Committee was a notoriously difficult hitter to strikeout.