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.

Recently, Clyde, now 48, resolved to get back into baseball, partly because he'd like to have his pension, mostly because he misses the game. He's circulated his résumé to a few teams, the Rangers among them. Meanwhile, two brothers from L.A. are trying to get a movie made about him.

How ironic, then, that years after a career that never really was, years after his curly locks have given way to horseshoe baldness, Clyde enjoys a small part of the fame he was promised so long ago--not by reliving past glory but by talking about how dreadfully things unfolded. It's the sad truth, lamentable, a tale Sophocles could have scripted, had he worked for SportsDay.

"I really feel, and I've always said this, that David Clyde was wronged by almost everyone who handled his career," says former Rangers GM Tom Grieve, who was a teammate of Clyde's when he broke in with the Rangers and who now does TV color commentary for the club. "Had he gone through the minors, if he had been given a chance to breathe on his own, away from the cameras and the sportswriters and the pressure of having to save what was a bad organization, I think he would have had a terrific career. Ten or 15 years of good, quality starts. He would have been something. If that had happened, if they had brought him along slowly, everything would have turned out differently."

David Clyde received this telegram from legendary pitcher Sandy Koufax on the night of his first start for Texas. Growing up, Clyde would mimic Koufax when he saw him on television; below, a sequence of Clyde's big wind-up and delivery that mesmerized fans and opponents--for a brief period.
David Clyde received this telegram from legendary pitcher Sandy Koufax on the night of his first start for Texas. Growing up, Clyde would mimic Koufax when he saw him on television; below, a sequence of Clyde's big wind-up and delivery that mesmerized fans and opponents--for a brief period.
Clyde returns to the rundown ballpark where his high school legend was born. His coach says he didn't need a radar gun to know Clyde was a special talent.
Mark Graham
Clyde returns to the rundown ballpark where his high school legend was born. His coach says he didn't need a radar gun to know Clyde was a special talent.


Before you can fully appreciate the fall, you have to relive the rise. It was fast and brilliant and, by all forecasts, destined to last forever. Clyde grew up in Kansas and then lived for a short while in New Jersey and St. Louis. His family settled, before his freshman year at Westchester High School, in the Houston area in a small town called Spring Branch. He was admired by his classmates and cooed over by the girls. He was good at most things he tried, particularly sports. He played soccer and basketball and was a place kicker on the football team; he kicked a 47-yarder during his senior year. But he was most comfortable and skilled on a baseball diamond. There was just something about standing atop the mound, toe against the rubber, ball gripped in his left hand, that felt right. It was empowering. There couldn't have been any other course for Clyde. He was meant to be a pitcher as surely as the sun is meant to rise. And set.

Bob French was his high school coach. The first year Clyde came out for the team, French had all but selected his club. Some of the players urged French to give Clyde a look anyway, or so the tale goes. He wandered over to where Clyde was throwing to see for himself.

"We had a tunnel that led to the field, and there was a cover on it--that's where he was throwing," French, 59, remembers vividly. His face and nose are ruddy from a long day of golf in the sun, and his black-gray hair is matted and sweaty. In between bites of peppered cheese and crackers, and sips of his margarita, he leans forward against the arm of his living room recliner, warming to the yarn. "So I'm walking down to the tunnel, and I could hear David throwing from pretty far away because it echoed loudly when the ball hit the glove. It sounded like an explosion. That was about all I needed to know. You know, there were so few radar guns then, I couldn't tell you how hard he threw, but the ball had a tail on it."

His senior season, Clyde won 18 games, lost none, with 14 shutouts and five no-hitters. In one game, Clyde developed a large blister on the index finger of his pitching hand, so he enlisted French to gnaw it off. "That was David," French says, smiling.

Naturally, Major League scouts, along with every college in the nation, were enamored. Mike Shropshire, a Dallas author who covered the team for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, recalled a Phillies scout as having said: "I watched Clyde pitch three innings and left. Why waste time? We're picking second."

Texas had the first pick in the draft that year. The Rangers had languished in last place for most of their embarrassing existence after the franchise moved to Arlington from Washington, D.C., in 1971. The team drew a crowd only when Short dreamed up another absurd promotion. The best, or most infamous, was "Hot Pants Night," which wasn't a giveaway, but rather a sort of soft-core porn pageant in which the best female ass in North Texas was encouraged to come to the ballpark and put itself on public display. That kind of publicity stunt became standard for the Rangers because the players weren't going to bring fans in, and neither was Arlington Stadium, a decrepit, glorified high school park with obstructed views and endless rows of hot metal bleachers.

In Clyde--6-foot-1 and 190 pounds with a goofy grin and a wild crop of curly brown hair; he looked like a mop with feet--Short saw something more than a prospect. He saw an immediate savior, a charismatic, humble homegrown talent who would cram fans into Arlington Stadium like cigarettes in an unopened pack. And if he won a game or two, so much the better. The consensus was that Clyde was a can't-miss project, but it was also assumed that he'd work his way through the minors before having a long, successful career in pro ball. Veggies before dessert--that's the way it was always done in baseball.

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