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.

After selecting Clyde with the first overall pick, Short, who died in 1987, wanted to option Clyde directly to the big club despite the objections of then-manager Whitey Herzog. There was no precedence for moving him straight to the majors, a tactic Herzog believed would create a smothering amount of pressure and attention. That's what Short was counting on. With the franchise having serious fiduciary troubles, he overruled Herzog and brought Clyde to the majors.

"There's no doubt about that; he had dollar signs in his eyes," says Shropshire, who chronicled the pitiful 1973-'75 Rangers in his hilarious book Seasons in Hell. "But I don't think that Bob...there was nothing draconian about it. I don't think he ever said to himself, 'Well, this will ruin the kid, but fuck him.' He was a nice guy, but he was short-sighted. All he had to do was convince the [Clyde] family."

That didn't take long. Clyde passed "Go" and collected a handsome sum (it was widely reported that the Rangers inked him for $125,000; Clyde maintains that he received $62,500 in a signing bonus and $22,000 in base salary). Shortly thereafter, the second-guessing began. People wondered aloud if he should have gone to school or, barring that, if the Clydes should have insisted that David start his career more traditionally, with a layover in the minors.

Former Texas Rangers pitcher David Clyde talks with hopefuls trying out for the Houston Miracles, the elite high school team he coaches.
Mark Graham
Former Texas Rangers pitcher David Clyde talks with hopefuls trying out for the Houston Miracles, the elite high school team he coaches.
David Clyde uses a Jugs radar gun to check pitch speed during a tryout. Hollywood ignored Clyde's tale--possibly because there's no storybook ending.
Mark Graham
David Clyde uses a Jugs radar gun to check pitch speed during a tryout. Hollywood ignored Clyde's tale--possibly because there's no storybook ending.

"There was no way we could tell Mr. Short, Bob Short, here's what you do with David," Gene Clyde says. "Do you say no to a number-one draft choice and take a scholarship? Because, as I look back, there was risk in that, too. He could have gotten hurt. When it came down to it, we asked what he thought, and when he said what he wanted to do, how do I as a father tell him no?"

"When you're 17 or 18 years old, and somebody comes to you and says here's a nice chunk of change to play a sport, who would pass up the opportunity to live their dream, given those conditions?" David Clyde asks. "They could've drafted me number 101; I still would have signed."

There couldn't have been a team more ill-suited for the guardianship of an 18-year-old than the Texas Rangers. Despite the stewardship of Herzog (who did not return phone calls for this story), they were rabble. Not much changed away from the park; they were a hard-drinking, profligate bunch, fond of late nights and loose women. Think Major League--only more depraved.

"The off-the-field aspects, particularly back in those days, it was pretty hefty nightlife," Shropshire says. "You can't really appreciate the scale of the partying unless you were there...One waitress who we used to see at a certain restaurant, after we had been going there for a while, she asked me, 'What's with this team? They sleep late, they order the heaviest thing on the menu, they smoke and drink more than any of the other teams.' It was sort of like, not only going from high school to the big leagues but also getting cast in a Marx brothers movie."

Despite the environment, Clyde's debut was the stuff of legend. The Minnesota Twins had come to Arlington to find the Dallas-Fort Worth area reborn. Everyone was talking about Clyde. He had even supplanted the Cowboys at the top of the local sports page. The fans started pouring into the stadium hours before game time. Reportedly, 10,000 were turned away at the gate. The game started late to make sure those who did have tickets found their seats before the momentous first pitch. Unusual for a Rangers game, to say the least. "You could have gone to funeral parlors and gotten more action than at a Rangers game," Shropshire says. "There might have been that much excitement at some promotional night where they were giving blow jobs at the bar or something, but never for baseball."

Inside, an anxious Clyde waited to take the mound. A little earlier, he was given his jersey: No. 32, same as his idol, fellow lefty and Dodgers Cy Young winner Sandy Koufax. Just before heading out to the field, Clyde received a telegram. It read, simply: "Good luck number 32." It was signed Sandy Koufax. "It couldn't have gotten any better," Clyde says.

Yet it did. After walking the first two batters (one of whom was Hall of Famer Rod Carew), Clyde struck out the next three Twins to end the inning. As he walked off the field and down the dugout steps, the crowd cheered mightily, rising to its feet with the noise and motion of a large wave about to break.

Clyde pitched five innings that day, allowing just one hit and two earned runs. He struck out eight and got the win. It couldn't have been better crafted. But in retrospect, it was just as much requiem as dream. It left Clyde with nowhere to go but down.

"I saw David perform, and I thought he had great talent," says Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, who made his mark with the Cubs but also played with the Rangers. "Unfortunately, it didn't last long. I hate to say he was a flash in the pan, because he might not have been a flash in the pan if he had had the counseling or somebody, as they say, watching his back."

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