Life's a Pitch

David Clyde was supposed to save the Texas Rangers. Thirty years later, he just wants 27 days of his old life back.

The back-road drive into Tomball is stereotypical Texas. Cattle graze on long, flat prairies spotted with yellow dandelions. Trees are scarce; rolls of sod and wire fences mark the land. Large state and American flags fly at ranch entrances. A portable sign with black plastic letters, the kind youd find at a gas station (only there isnt one around), sits by the side of the road, imploring motorists to Support Our Troops.

Off a small, two-lane highway, there's a nondescript development of nice, not ostentatious, homes. It's quiet here. David Clyde likes it quiet. That's partly why he's lived in this area about 40 minutes north of Houston for the past 20 years with his third wife, Robin, and their three children. It's a fine home, a picture of small-town comfort. In front, a wraparound driveway is mottled with chestnut-colored leaves. Around back, there's a big yard and a Jacuzzi. It is the life of the middle-class everyman. A life radically different from the one he once knew.

Years ago, 1973 to be exact, Clyde broke into professional baseball amid the kind of pomp generally reserved for returning POWs. But he played only eight seasons before retiring and spent the majority of his post-baseball days in various capacities with McCauley Lumber, whiling away his time at an honest job in the unforgiving Texas sun. Eventually, he became a partner in the business. Nothing grand or spectacular in any of it, until you consider the details. Because Clyde wasn't just another prospect who didn't realize his full potential. He isn't some once-overhyped burnout who has only now found his true station in life.

Former Texas Rangers pitcher David Clyde, who had a fearsome hook, shows off his grip.
Mark Graham
Former Texas Rangers pitcher David Clyde, who had a fearsome hook, shows off his grip.
Clyde's card collection shows his quick progression from fuzz-cheeked 18-year-old phenom to broken-down veteran.
Mark Graham
Clyde's card collection shows his quick progression from fuzz-cheeked 18-year-old phenom to broken-down veteran.

No, David Clyde was a prodigy--a young pitcher whose blessed left arm was lusted after by every team in the majors. He was the first baseball player ever to go straight from high school to the Bigs.

"I try not to go back on it, 'cause on the one hand, it was a very glorious time of my life, but on the other hand, it opens up some pretty painful memories," Clyde says. "People seem to have good memories of my career. I don't always have good memories of it. But the one thing, like I was saying, the good thing that's come out of all of this, is that every three or four years, when another young talent comes along, and sometimes every year, they say they're not gonna let happen to him what happened to David Clyde."

There's a lot to be learned from what happened to Clyde and where he ended up, because he had less control over his career than most. From jump, it wasn't what it should have been. After being taken with the first pick in the draft by the Texas Rangers, and just a few weeks removed from the high school state playoffs, Clyde, at the behest of Texas Rangers owner Bob Short, packed a bag and flew to join the team in Minneapolis, nervous with anticipation. He hadn't thrown one pitch in the minors, but there he was at the Leamington Hotel, waiting on his new teammates. Clyde was sitting at the bar smoking a cigarette but not drinking, he says, when the first of the Rangers walked through the door.

"This is my very first day with the ball club," Clyde recalls, staring into the distance but talking with a voice as engaging as his handshake. "Finally I start seeing some guys walking in, and they're dressed pretty wild, you know, '70s and stuff. The big bell-bottoms, platform shoes, a couple of them wearing purses. And I go over and I introduce myself to one of them. And I said, 'My name is such-and-such.' And he says, 'My name is such-and-such, but don't think I'm gonna be your friend 'cause you're after my job.' I won't tell you who that was, sorry, no, I won't.

"As it turns out, the fellow they had to send to the minor leagues to make room for me on the roster was his best friend on the team. So, I understand a little bit. But at the same time, it was very shocking to me. I think the very first day is when it started downhill."

That's about the way it went for him; never fully accepted into the fold, never as much a baseball player as he was Short's sideshow. Over his career, he was exploited by the owner in an attempt to save a struggling franchise, ostracized by some of his teammates because of his age, mishandled by his managers and finally kicked to the curb when his arm blew out and his talent was drained. In between, he went through two wives and drank heavily, though he maintains he never had a drinking problem. By 26, he was out of baseball entirely.

Thirty years after his debut, the memories, and pain, are fresh. He went from a sure thing and a fan favorite, a guy who was a national name, to a living admonition of how not to handle young talent. His is the cautionary tale everyone invokes when someone like workhorse Chicago Cubs phenom Kerry Wood needs arm surgery, or St. Louis Cardinals prospect Rick Ankiel craters because it seems he was brought to the pro level too quickly.

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