Upon His Return to Arlington, David Clyde on His Bittersweet Legacy as a Texas Ranger
The 18-year-old David Clyde being informed he's now a Texas Ranger in June 1973
We began talking at 11:55 Thursday night and wrapped up some time after 1 Friday morning. But, what else did he have to do? "I'm just drivin'," he said, "somewhere on I-45, a little closer to Dallas than Houston at this point, I believe." He didn't even think of flying. "Because by the time you drive to the airport, park ..." Just quicker to drive. And, it's easier to escape after. Just get in the car and go.
David Clyde, the Texas Rangers' first-round amateur draft pick in 1973, doesn't make it up to this part of Texas very often, maybe once or twice a year. He needs a good reason. This one's close enough: The Texas Rangers asked Clyde to take part in Kenny Rogers's induction into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame, which also involves an autograph-signing session this evening at the Ballpark in Arlington before the Rangers play the Indians, to whom Clyde was traded in '78. He'll be joined by the likes of former teammates Tom Grieve and Toby Harrah amongst the beloved heroes (Nolan Ryan, Buddy Bell, Rusty Greer, Jim Sundberg) and other summertime idols and half-forgotten footnotes who've filled out the Rangers' dugout over the decades. Where have you gone, David Hulse?
Clyde wishes he had other plans this weekend: For the past few years he's coached one the select teams at the Houston Miracles Baseball Academy, which usually finds itself in post-season play. Not this year. "I wish my ball club was still playing and I was on the ball field managing, doing what I love to do," he says. But don't get him wrong: "I am looking forward to this and honoring Mr. Rogers."
And to spending time with other men who've worn the uniform of the Texas Rangers, a team that has been, on and off throughout its 40 years, more punch line than powerhouse, especially during those infamously woebegone days of the 1970s. Clyde, more than any of them, epitomizes those seasons in hell: Just 18 when selected in the first round by the Rangers in 1973, he was, infamously, first savior then sacrifice -- a kid tasked with saving a fledgling franchise by an owner, Bob Short, who cared only about getting asses in those empty Arlington Stadium seats and ultimately wore out the kid's arm ringing up the cash register. The mistakes made were legion, legendary, so much so Mike and Rick Julian had hoped in 2003 to get a movie made about Clyde's 18-33 career: Squeeze Play. Clyde says they're still shopping it, still hoping.
"They have a lot tied up in this," the-56-year-old Clyde says. "Whatever it cost 'em to get to this point, and all the blood, sweat and tears they put into it, I'd like to see it happen for their benefit." Not his. I ask: If the movie doesn't happen, has he ever thought of writing a book -- because, as sportswriters like to remind from time to time, his is an extraordinary story ... or cautionary tale.
"I've been approached over the years, several times, but I don't know if I have a lot of desire to write a book," he says. "For whatever reasons ... I don't really know. At this point in my life, it hasn't jumped up and said, 'That sounds like something you should do.'"
Clyde, incidentally, has never read Mike Shropshire's Seasons in Hell, about his time in Texas. Which isn't to say Clyde hides from his past. Far from it.
You've been coaching the Miracles for a while now, and for the longest time you've talked about wanting to work with minor-leaguers, perhaps even in the Rangers' farm system. Has your work with the Miracles shown you that, for lack of a better word, coaching is a calling for your?
I really don't know. God anointed me with the ability, yes, so that may be. But it's taken me some time to get to the point where I've been able to put into words and try to teach to these young men I work with how to throw and teach them and tell them what came to me so naturally. And so that's what makes it difficult at times -- not that I was a great pitcher, but I understood the fundamentals of pitching. Just because we play at a certain level doesn't mean you can teach or coach. There have been some great players who tried to manage and failed miserably because of their ... I don't know if you'd call it an inability, but they had an inability to communicate with the players in a way that helped motivate rather than degrade them.
But when you have a great player, it's tough not to want everyone to be at that level and understand everyone won't be. If you're Jamie Moyer, don't try to pitch like Nolan Ryan. What I am trying to say is don't try to be something you're not. It's something that has evolved, and I've always been able to, it seems like, motivate young players. I had dabbled in this part time, giving lessons, and once I left the lumber business in 2003 and had to continue to pay the bills, then I looked at it very seriously and built it into a fairly decent business and love doing it. What more could I want? I get to work with kids, I get to still be involved with the great game of baseball, I don't know what more could be better in my life.
I am constantly amazed by how much you love this game.
I'm prejudiced toward it, but it's the many unique intricacies that make it so great. It's a team game. It takes nine players to play. Yet it's a one-on-one game -- you against the pitcher. And then it becomes a solo act -- you against the ball. Ball's hit, now it's you against the ball to field it. Ball's let go by the pitcher, and now it's up to you to decide what the pitcher's thrown, and it's still you against the ball. It's got everything -- the team concept, the one-on-one and the individual concept of, say, golf. So it's a very unique game with a lot of idiosyncrasies that if you don't understand the game, then I can understand how a lot of people perceive it as slow and boring.
But the difference in a line-drive base hit and a ground ball out is measured in one ten-thousandth of a second. I don't know we've measured a NASCAR race down to that. Baseball's not slow. You have to understand the game and realize what it's all about. Once somebody points these things out and explains to them why things go on in certain ways, then all of the sudden a whole new world opens up to them, and they realize this isn't such a boring, slow game after all. Look at all the possibilities! Baseball's a great game.
Time and again you've said: There is a legacy to your career -- an important one. Which is: Whenever young ballplayers are brought up, owners and managers and even fans are reminded: "Don't do to him what you did to David Clyde." Which is certainly a bittersweet legacy, but also powerful one.
But it's gonna happen again. I am very happy, and I do mean it. It's a bittersweet memory of leaving an indelible mark, and yet I left a mark that'll remain there. I was in a perfect storm at that point. Yes, I was a very, very, very good baseball player at 18, and whether it would have been the Rangers or someone else, I would have been a first-round pick. But here I was, a native Texan out of Houston. Bob Short needed to sell the ball club. He wanted to sell to some local people, but he needs to show it's a viable business, and I proved baseball can survive in the North Texas area with the Dallas Cowboys. And so Bob was able to sell to Brad Corbett, who in turn sold to Eddie Chiles, who in turn sold to George Bush and his group, who in turn sold to Tom Hicks, who went belly-up, and Nolan and his group with Chuck Greenberg and those guys came in last year.
But what happened to me will happen again, in spite of the fact everyone's looking at long-term investments instead of short term. Nobody wants to blow up an $8-, $9-, $10-million investment. But it'll happen again in spite of that because somebody somewhere will be in a bit of a bind financially and need to do something drastic, and as much as we want to say it's a game, and the players do play it in a lot of ways for the game, it's a business also. And the fan has to realize it is a business, and the owners are at great financial risk. They've got a lot on the line, and if the fans don't come out, if the players don't perform, a lot of things don't fall into place to allow these men to make money. And as much as everyone would love to say that's not why we own the team, nobody wants to lose money. Millionaires aren't millionaires because they lost money, and I promise you they don't enjoy losing any of it. It's a tough sell if the team's not successful, so it ultimately boils down to the player performing. It'll occur again, that perfect storm.
And that next player, he may come through it better than I did. It wasn't life-threatening that occurred to me. So that's why, I guess, in my opinion, I don't like how it went down, but they didn't do anything illegal, they didn't do anything unethical. I don't believe they did anything immoral, so why should they be condemned for it? It wasn't the right way to do it, but it's a business, and it happens all the time in the real business world, so that's life."
I have an illustration of you in my office -- I look at it every day. And I think of you solely as a sacrifice, an example of greatness never allowed to flourish. And I blame Bob Short, Whitey Herzog, never you. In fact, most of my friends who also grew up around here, as Rangers fans, recall you with nothing other than fondness.
I can' t explain it either. I'm not gonna lie to you -- it makes me feel good, to be remembered the way I am 40 years after the fact. I'm an 18-33 career Major League pitcher. And yet I garner almost as much attention as some highly successful pitchers and players. For what reason, I don't know.
Perhaps it's because we saw, first hand, the business of baseball betray one of its best -- and held it against them, never against you.
That's tremendous from that point of view -- that the fans get it. The fans are great. The fans are great no matter what side of the road they fall on, whether they're booing you or patting you on the back.
And you're not a punch line, not a joke, but a symbol at this point.
I can't put it into words how it makes me feel, that the people appreciate it and understand that. And that's what's amazing. They're not always gonna understand and get it. I promise you that.
Which much make coming up here for an event like Saturday night's a little ... bittersweet?
Sometimes the hurt or the blows are softened and the memories are embellished. And this helped me deal with it, with my lack of success. It was around the time Roger Clemens was going for his 300th victory, and the time I was done with lumber and I was working in the garage on a Sunday morning and they said, 'There's only been 15,000 Major League players in the history of the game, and only 7,500 pitchers.' When you think about that, 7,500 pitchers over 100 years, you're starting to get into some rarefied air.
Even though we weren't successful we were very, very, very good. I tell people, "If you had a Major League pitcher whose record was 4-23, would you think he was very good?" And they look at me like I'm nuts. I say, "That pitcher's very good -- so good that even though he lost 23 games, his club believed in him so much they kept sending him out there." Pitching in the majors is a very, very, very small fraternity. Only very few guys can sit around and share those stories from first-hand knowledge. It's war veterans telling stories. Guy can't tell a war story if he's never been to war. He doesn't know what it's like to be shot at. You're seeing guys you haven't seen for a long time, and they'll share things you can't share with anyone else.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.