Clarence Winters was a right-handed pitcher from Detroit, born there on September 7, 1899. He was the first child of Laurence Winters, a cemetery laborer, and his German-born wife, Augusta, who had come to America at the age of 2. Laurence became a carpenter for the railroads, and later worked in an auto factory. On Clarence’s World War I draft card, he was listed as a toolwright for the Dodge Bros. automobile factory. The family lived on Central Avenue in Detroit and Clarence had three sisters and two brothers: Ella, Stella, Mabel, Laurence, Jr., and Bernard.
Clarence broke into professional baseball in 1920 with the Battle Creek Custers in the Class B Michigan-Ontario League. He won 13 games and lost 13 (the team was 46-74), but with a good earned-run average of 2.88. Battle Creek folded after the 1920 season, but Winters stayed in the league for three more years. In 1921 and 1922, he pitched for the new Port Huron-Sarnia franchise, the Saints, for whom his 1921 ERA ballooned to 4.50 as he led the league in earned runs and runs allowed. His record was 12-16. He got matters back under control a bit in 1922, with a 2.91 ERA and a 16-18 mark.
In 1923, Winters pitched for Saginaw. He won 17 while losing 10, with a 3.34 ERA, his first winning season. The Aces finished in second place. His work apparently got him noticed, and got him a 1924 contract with the Texas League playing for the San Antonio Bears. He won 13 games and lost 11, but his 3.62 ERA hardly seemed worthy of getting him a promotion to the major leagues – not in that era. Yet on August 17, the Boston Red Sox acquired him, trading left-hander Oscar Fuhr to San Antonio. Fuhr had a 3-6 record and a 5.94 ERA that year. The Red Sox were entering a stretch in which they played five doubleheaders in seven days. They needed another pitcher, and apparently determined that Buck Winters (another nickname was Chilly) would be a better bet. (Fuhr did rejoin the Red Sox in 1925, but posted an 0-6 record with a 6.60 ERA.)
Winters donned a Red Sox uniform, but there was a bit of a delay in his arrival. Fuhr didn’t report to San Antonio, and Bears president Harry Benson declined to send Buck north until Fuhr arrived. On the 22nd, Fuhr turned up, and Winters departed to join up with the Red Sox in Boston. The Sox were in last place at the time, as they were almost the entire decade of the 1920s.
Winters’ August 28 start was inauspicious. It was the second game of two, against the visiting Philadelphia Athletics. He had everything going for him, with his teammates scoring seven times in the first inning – and he held the Athletics to just one hit in his first three innings – but then it all fell apart. The Boston Globe’s James C. O’Leary was kind; he wrote, “They began to treat him roughly.” Winters gave up a double and a single, saw a screaming line drive mishandled, then surrendered another double, and another – and was sent to the showers. He’d let in four runs, and left with the lead, but that eventually evaporated after Buster Ross took the ball. The Athletics tied it, though Ross ultimately got a win when Boston put across an eighth run in the bottom of the eighth.
Winters started again just two days later, pitching against Philadelphia again in the first game of the August 30 twin bill. The A’s scored once in the first, but the Red Sox scored twice in the bottom of the inning. Again, Winters had a lead, though just by a run. After getting one out in the second, however, “Chilly” Winters walked a batter, was hit for a triple and a single, struck out a man, yielded a double and a single, and was pulled. He was charged with all five runs – plus the one he’d given up in the first. Four relievers followed him in succession, every one of them hit hard. The Red Sox never drew even in the game and the final score was 18-7 for the Athletics. Winters took the loss.
Yet again, he was given only one day off. Two days later, he faced the New York Yankees in the second game of a September 1 doubleheader in New York. Jack Winters (as he was also known) came on in seventh-inning relief and saw Wally Pipp drive in the two baserunners he’d inherited. Starter Bill Piercy surrendered eight earned runs in six-plus innings, five of them in the seventh. Winters secured two outs, but doled out a base on balls and four singles, and – with Lou Gehrig coming to bat – was pulled. Three runs were charged to the Winters account. The Boston Post said, “He was kicked around the diamond and left for dead in no time at all.”
Winters pitched for the fourth and final time on September 4, in another mop-up situation, in Washington’s Griffith Stadium. Curt Fullerton had started, pitching against Walter Johnson. Facing a dominant Washington team that already held a 9-3 lead, Winters came on to pitch the seventh and was “treated to a bombardment that netted a trio of tallies, when the Senators batted around.” (Boston Globe) He gave up seven hits in two innings, walked one, and struck out two.
After four appearances in an eight-day stretch, Winters’ brief big-league career was over. He had faced 48 batters and given up 22 hits and four walks. His ERA was 20.57 (it was likely little consolation that at the plate he was 1-for-3). The Red Sox purchased Ted Wingfield from Chattanooga on August 30, and slotted him into the role Winters had unsuccessfully tried to hold down. The season wasn’t a total disaster – the Red Sox finished in seventh place, a half-game out of last place but a full 25 games behind the pennant-winning Senators.
Winters reappeared in San Antonio in 1925 and was 11-11 (4.72), then appeared in a handful of games in 1926 – so few that records were not compiled. We don’t know what he did in his life after baseball, but do know that he died at home, at the fairly young age of 46, in Detroit on June 29, 1945.
In addition to the sources cited in this biography, the author consulted the online SABR Encyclopedia, retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, Bill Lee’s Baseball Necrology and the Lloyd Johnson/Miles Wolff Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball. Thanks as well to Maurice Bouchard for help with the Winters genealogy.