SABR

Ty Cline

This article was written by Steven Schmitt.

“He’s worth a bonus,” Cleveland Indians scout Jimmy Gruzdis told farm director Walter Arthur “Hoot” Evers.1 “He” was Tyrone Alexander Cline, a 1960 first-team All-American outfielder for the Clemson University Tigers who batted .335 in two varsity seasons, including a career-best .348 for the 1959 Atlantic Coast Conference champions. He also won five of six decisions with a 2.78 ERA as a left-handed pitcher, striking out more than a batter per inning with a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His only loss, to Penn State, eliminated Clemson from its second straight College World Series appearance.

Gruzdis and Evers had gone to a mill town in South Carolina in an effort to sign future major-league catcher Dick Dietz (who later signed with the Giants for more than $100,000) when they discovered Cline’s gifts of running speed, defensive skills, and a solid, level left-handed swing that Evers thought could be developed into a power stroke. They likened Cline’s speed to that of Ty Cobb and his fielding skills to those of Mickey Mantle. Over the objections of Cline’s mother, who wanted him to finish college, Evers offered the 20-year-old country boy $40,000 (spread over four years for tax purposes). On May 31, 1960, Cline signed his first professional contract. “With all the competition for players,” Evers said, “we couldn’t afford to let him stay in school and get bids from others. We had to offer him enough to consider him coming with us immediately.”2

Ty Cline was born on June 15, 1939, in Hampton, South Carolina, the only child of Sam and Verta Gooding Cline. As of 2015 he remained the only major-league player born in Hampton, a small farming community 75 miles south of Charleston. Sam worked a welder and died on November 12, 1942, at the age of 45 of complications from pneumonia (before the advent of penicillin) when Ty was 3 years old. Verta Cline remarried after World War II and Ray Faircloth, a World War II veteran who worked at the US Naval Shipyard in Charleston, became Ty Cline’s stepfather when Ty was 8. “He took a big interest in me as a teenager,” said Cline, who called his stepfather “Pop.”3

At 10 Ty started playing Little League baseball for Lane’s Dry Cleaners at Hampton Park and moved up to the Pony League (ages 13-14), playing for the West Ashley Jaycees team in Charleston. A three-sport athlete at St. Andrew’s Parish High School in Charleston, Cline quarterbacked the 1955 football squad to a state championship, started at point guard in basketball, pitched and played outfield and first base in baseball, and played American Legion summer baseball for the West Ashley and Post 59 teams.

Upon graduation, Cline received a half-basketball, half-baseball scholarship offer from Clemson. While a freshman, Cline discussed his future with baseball coach Bill Wilhelm and basketball coach Press Maravich, father and future coach of Louisiana State University and NBA star Pistol Pete Maravich. “We decided that baseball was my best opportunity,” said Cline, who drove in 36 runs, stole 22 bases, and had 21 extra-base hits in 53 games for Clemson in 1959, and also pitched in 13 games, 10 as a starter.4

Cline played semipro baseball in Halifax and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, in the summers of 1958 and 1959. Players mowed lawns and maintained athletic fields as summer jobs with the local playground and recreation departments in various towns.5 Cline also played for the US team that won a Bronze Medal in the 1959 Pan American Games, held from August 27 to September 7 at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. He played in the same outfield with future Hall of Famer Lou Brock.6

Cline was a first-team All-American in 1960. That summer he planned to play with college and professional players in the NCAA-sanctioned Basin League in South Dakota, but then Gruzdis and Evers paid their surprise visit. “I was very fortunate not to start in the low minors,” Cline said. “You could get lost in the system.”7 Cline batted .311 for the Mobile Bears of the Double-A Southern Association and had a 14-game hitting streak that included a 10-for-17 series with seven extra-base hits (three of them homers) and eight runs scored against the Atlanta Crackers. “There’s no telling how far he can go,” said Evers. “So far, his improvement has been amazing.”8

On September 14, 1960, Cline was thrust into the Cleveland lineup because left fielder Harvey Kuenn was out for the season with a fractured left foot. Cline batted third and played center field. “The first ball I swung at, I hit off the end of the bat, a line drive into the Red Sox dugout,” he recalled. He singled on the next pitch and stopped at first base rather than run out the hit. “Are you OK?” Boston Red Sox first baseman Vic Wertz asked him. “Yeah,” Cline replied. “I think I’m a little nervous.”9 Cline tripled in the third inning to drive in a run and scored on a wild pitch in the Indians’ 11-7 victory. Cline finished at .308 with 8 hits in 26 at-bats.

That fall, Cline played in the Florida Winter Instructional League. He started out hitting .444 and the Cleveland brass discussed trading center fielder Jimmy Piersall, who had led AL outfielders in fielding in 1961, and replacing him with Cline, who hit .271 for the champion Milwaukee Braves instructional league team.

In 1961 Cline batted .290 in 144 games for the Salt Lake City Bees of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, with 28 doubles, 9 triples, 6 home runs, and 69 runs batted in. The Indians called him up in September and he hit .209 in 12 games. Sportswriter Hal Lebovitz compared Cline to Dale Mitchell of Cleveland’s 1948 world champions, because of his ability to hit the ball solidly to the opposite field.

In March 1962 Cline was considered “the youthful heir apparent to Jimmy Piersall’s center field berth,” now that Piersall had been traded to the Washington Senators. Cline even got a letter from Piersall “telling me I could make good.”10 Manager Mel McGaha called Cline the best prospect in the Indians’ spring camp and said that Piersall never would have been traded if the Indians thought Cline couldn’t replace him.11 In his syndicated column, Feller in Camp, Bob Feller said Cline “is the fastest man in camp and goes from first to third with the speed of the desert wind.” If Cline flops, Feller continued, it will be because of his hitting.12

In 1962 Cline played mostly center field with more than 400 plate appearances and a .248 average, 2 home runs and 28 RBIs. As the season wore on, he was increasingly platooned and used as a pinch-hitter. That fall he entered the US Army, completing basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, and transferring to Fort Rucker, Alabama, where he did office work at a helicopter school as part of a six-month military obligation. Cline arrived three weeks late for 1963 spring training. With Vic Davalillo impressing in center field and Birdie Tebbetts installed as manager, Cline was the player to be named later in a trade that sent him to the Milwaukee Braves on March 18. Braves general manager John McHale saw Cline as a center fielder and leadoff man. Cline, a 6-foot, 170-pounder with little power, wanted the challenge. “I’ve got to get on base,” he said. “That’s all I’m trying for. Then Frank Bolling can move me to second or third and either Hank Aaron or Eddie Mathews can bring me home.”13

The plan failed in its first month. Cline batted .197 and on May 9 joined the Toronto Maple Leafs of the Triple-A International League. He batted .274 in 82 games, was recalled by Milwaukee on July 30, and stayed the rest of the season, finishing with a .236 average. Cline recalled a good atmosphere in Milwaukee under the new ownership of William Bartholomay’s Chicago-based syndicate that bought the Braves in November 1962 but would move the club to Atlanta in 1966. Cline said manager Bobby Bragan was “a nice guy, treated me fair.” Hitting coach Dixie Walker was another story. “He had the bright idea of having me use a barrel bat,” Cline recalled. “All he wanted me to do was slap at the ball and utilize my speed.”14 Cline went back to a smaller bat and in 1964 became the best pinch-hitter in the National League.

Cline had his best season in 1964, batting .302 and leading the majors with 14 pinch hits in 40 at-bats (.350). He had three game-winning hits and became manager Bobby Bragan’s favorite double-switch tool. Cline would either pinch-hit or pinch-run and then stay in the game as an outfielder or first baseman. Bragan did this 15 times and Milwaukee won 11 of those games. The Braves won 19 of their last 25 games and contributed to the Philadelphia Phillies’ classic collapse with four straight wins at Connie Mack Stadium September 24-27. Cline went 2-for-3 with an RBI in the game that knocked the Phillies out of first place. “It was really tough watching those guys struggle the way they did,” he recalled. “It was amazing to watch, it really was, because they had quite a team.”15

In the Braves’ final season in Milwaukee, Cline played in 123 games but had a terrible season. On September 26 he had 200 at-bats and a .200 average, finishing at .191. “This has really been a frustrating year for me,” he told the Milwaukee Journal’s Bob Wolf. “I had such high hopes when the season began and then to have a year like this.”16 At one point Cline went a month without a hit. “Just one of those dreaded slumps,” he said in 2014. “The longer it goes, the more you fight it, mentally and physically.”17 Cline believed that an offseason exercise program would increase his strength and batting average.

Cline began 1966 helping promote the Atlanta Braves in America’s Southland. He was sent to Richmond of the Triple-A International League because the Braves wanted to save a roster spot for relief pitcher Joe Hoerner, whom they planned to select in the Rule 5 draft. Under the draft rules then in effect, teams could select players from other teams’ farm systems for up to $50,000 but they had to keep the player for 90 days. Teams could also trade draftees to other clubs. In Cline’s case, the St. Louis Cardinals drafted Hoerner, and the Chicago Cubs – who had hired Leo Durocher as manager a month before – selected Cline off the Richmond club for $25,000 as a candidate for their center-field job.

“(H)e can shag that ball for you in center field,” Durocher said. “And that’s another thing that the Cubs have needed. Nobody is going to run on him either because he has a strong, accurate arm.” Durocher believed Cline was a better hitter and planned to use him as his leadoff man.18

In the Cubs’ first victory of 1966, on April 14 at San Francisco, Cline had five hits in five trips, scored twice and knocked in two runs, batting sixth. The next day he singled at Los Angeles but never got another hit for the Cubs, who acquired center fielder Adolfo Phillips and pitcher Ferguson Jenkins from the Phillies on April 21and sent Cline back to Richmond. “I really don’t know why to this day,” said Cline, who showed up at Wrigley Field on April 28 expecting to play against the Pittsburgh Pirates, only to find his locker empty. Clubhouse man Yosh Kowano told him that general manager John Holland wanted to see him. “Where’s Leo?” Cline asked. “He’s out on the field but he doesn’t want to see you,” Kowano replied. Durocher had stationed a policeman at the clubhouse door so that Cline could not get on the field.19

Once again Cline played his way back to the majors. He batted .271 in 67 games and returned to Atlanta on July 26, purchased from the Cubs. Under new manager Billy Hitchcock, Cline got a pinch hit off Gaylord Perry in the Braves’ 6-5 win on July 30, and had eight hits in his first 16 trips. “He has been tremendous,” Hitchcock said. “Any time you send the guy up there, you know he’s going to get his bat on the ball. He’ll hit it somewhere.”20 Hitchcock helped when he suggested to Cline that he change the grip on the bat from way back in his left hand to his fingertips and use the bat as a whip, not a club. “I’m hitting more line drives, and let’s face it … I have to hit line drives,” Cline said. “I’m not as strong as Aaron and Mays and some of those fellows. But I’ve noticed that they hold the bat the same way.”21

Cline was one of the first Braves to sign a 1967 contract, spending the only offseason of his career away from Charleston, promoting the Braves and joining teammates on a caravan that visited 3,500 patients at area hospitals. On the seventh anniversary of signing his first professional contract, the Braves sold Cline to the San Francisco Giants. He got off to a 2-for-24 start (.083) and suffered a hamstring injury on July 14. When he returned, he got three hits off Phil Niekro in Atlanta, and finished the season at .254. He also qualified for the players pension plan and celebrated the birth of his second daughter, Christina Diane.

In 1968 Cline started some spring-training games at first base, even with Willie McCovey on the team. Manager Herman Franks saw Cline as a late-inning replacement for McCovey as a first baseman or pinch-runner and an occasional starter to give Stretch a rest. He would also fill in as an outfielder and left-handed pinch-hitter. After starting out 3-for 36, Cline had a pair of three-hit games and hit his first home run in four years, off Don Drysdale, who had set a record of 58⅔ scoreless innings earlier in the season. By September 8 Cline was batting .235 with 27 RBIs. He flattened out to .223 but had four game-winning hits. His World Series share of $1,969 would likely not come in 1969, as he headed north of the border to play for a brand-new team.

On October 14, 1968, the Montreal Expos chose Cline in the fifth round of the National League expansion draft, a move that came as surprise to Cline, who expected to play for the Giants and be protected from the draft. “I was devastated because I loved San Francisco,” he recalled. “It was probably the hardest thing that ever happened to me in baseball but I had to move on and just accept it.”22 Cline was grateful to play for Montreal manager Gene Mauch, “the greatest tactician and manager that never won. He’d manage two or three innings ahead. I had a lot of respect for him.”23

On April 17 the Expos earned respect when Bill Stoneman no-hit the Philadelphia Phillies. Cline scored a run, drove in another, and gloved the throw to first from Maury Wills for the final out. While teammates celebrated, Cline handed the baseball to Stoneman as a memento of his accomplishment.24 On June 15 the Expos traded Wills and outfielder Manny Mota for first baseman-outfielder Ron Fairly and acquired Adolfo Phillips from the Cubs. Cline’s job security had dropped with his average but he called the trades stopgaps until the Expos grew their own talent. “We knew we were there temporarily, that they’d probably trade 90 percent of us.”25 Cline raised his average to .263 through July but rode the bench the final two weeks of the season and finished at .239.

When Cline reported to spring training in 1970, doctors found that he was anemic and discovered a mass in his lower intestine on the right side. Fearing cancer, Cline had Dr. Julian Buxton perform surgery in South Carolina for diverticulitis. In the process Dr. Buxton parted Cline’s stomach muscles rather than cutting them, to allow a quicker return to baseball. The Expos put Cline on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. He rejoined the team in June, went 1-for-2 as a pinch-hitter and, on his 31st birthday was traded to the Cincinnati Reds. The move reunited Cline with a 1963 Toronto teammate, Reds manager Sparky Anderson, and gave him his only experience as a postseason hero. Foreshadowing his performance in the 1970 National League Championship Series, Cline got four hits in two games against the Pirates on July 16 and 17. In August he delivered three of his nine pinch hits.

The Reds easily won the National League West with a 102-60 record. In the first game of the NLCS, against the Pirates at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium, Cline batted for pitcher Gary Nolan in the 10th inning of a scoreless game and tripled to left-center field off Dock Ellis, then scored the go-ahead run in Cincy’s 3-0 victory on Pete Rose’s single.26 In the eighth inning of Game Three, pinch-hitter Cline walked, took second on Rose’s single, and scored the eventual winning run on Bobby Tolan’s hit. In an October 8 column in the Athens (Ohio) Messenger, sports editor Dick Maxwell referred to Cline as a “secret weapon” for the coming World Series.

Cline played in three World Series games against the Baltimore Orioles. His first appearance at Memorial Stadium, on October 10, 1970, ignited one of the most controversial plays in World Series history. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Cincinnati had Bernie Carbo on third base and Tommy Helms on first. Anderson sent Cline up to pinch-hit against Baltimore’s Jim Palmer. Cline Baltimore-chopped the ball off home plate and sped to first. Catcher Elrod Hendricks caught the ball when it came down and tagged Carbo breaking from third. Home-plate umpire Ken Burkhart called Carbo out while standing in front of the plate with his back to the pitcher’s mound, failing to notice that Hendricks had the ball in his bare hand when he made the tag. Cline turned after reaching first and watched the play develop. “Bernie hesitated,” Cline remembered. “He took a step and then stopped. Without the hesitation, he would have scored anyway.”27 Cline got a pinch-hit single in Game Two, grounded into a forceout in Game Three, and did not appear in another Series game.

Cline played his last major-league baseball game on September 26, 1971, popping out to third base as a pinch-hitter for pitcher Wayne Granger, who served up a grand slam to San Francisco’s Dick Dietz, the catcher the Cleveland Indians wanted when they discovered Cline in South Carolina. The unsuccessful at-bat brought his season batting average down to .196. While the Big Red Machine was poised to win three pennants and two World Series in the next five seasons, Cline would not share in the glory. On January 18, 1972, the Reds released Cline, who decided to become not a player but an owner.

A year before, Cline considered starting a Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors ice-cream store in Charleston. He had sold cars and credit-card processing machines for offseason income and saw a chance to grow a business in his hometown. He started the first store in 1971 and the sun-up to sundown work demands affected his physical condition. “I went to spring training and lost 12 pounds,” he recalled. The good news was, “I made more money in that little ice-cream store than I did playing baseball in 1971.” His mother, wife, and three daughters – Cindy, Debbie, and Christy – all worked at what became three locations, two that operated for 30 years and a third that scooped up customers for 22 years in Mount Pleasant, 2½ miles across the river from his first store, in St. Andrew. “I was my own boss, for a change,” recalled Cline, who occasionally had to pinch-hit and grab a scoop if an employee did not show up for work. “I had to get to work,” Cline said. “I was a sub again.”28 Customers enjoyed the baseball memorabilia – pictures, bats, baseball cards – on the walls of the St. Andrew store. When Baskin-Robbins had the store renovated some years later, the pictures had to come down.29

The birth of Cline’s first child, Cindy, on January 26, 1964, made big news in Charleston because the Clines had expected a boy, even painting the nursery blue before the blessed event. “When he played baseball, (Dad) was very popular in Charleston,” recalled Cindy Beasenburg, who herself became the mother of two sons and a daughter. “There was a big article in the paper that Ty Cline had a girl instead of a boy.”30

Cline sold the stores in 2001 as increased competition and rising labor and insurance costs made it a good time to retire. As of 2015 he lived in Charleston with his second wife, Cathy, whom he married on July 21, 2007. His first wife, Diane, died in 2006 after struggling with a series of illnesses for a decade. They were married for 43 years. As of 2015 all three daughters were married, living in Charleston, and there were nine grandchildren.

Ty Cline may not have followed the scouting report during a 12-year major-league career but his perseverance is an example for those given the same opportunities. He was a dependable, multiskilled player who gave his best whenever and wherever he was asked to do so. Cline’s humble personality, which his daughter Cindy attributed in part to Grandpa Faircloth, is shown in his attitude toward his ever-changing 12-year journey across the baseball landscape during which he reveled in scoring in front of a Henry Aaron or Eddie Mathews home run or subbing for Willie Mays or Willie McCovey.

“I had God-given talent with an earthly desire to succeed,” Cline said.31

That’s worth a bonus in anyone’s book.

Last revised: July 14, 2015

 

Notes

1 Hal Lebovitz, “Kuenn Sidelined – Fracture Kayo on Bat Title Hopes,” The Sporting News. September 21, 1960: 12.

2 Ibid.

3 Author telephone interview with Ty Cline, June 4, 2014 (June 4 interview).

4 Author telephone interview with Ty Cline, May 28, 2014 (May 28 interview). Clemson Sports Information Department, 2013 Baseball Guide.

5 May 28 interview.

6 June 4 interview.

7 May 28 interview.

8 Gene Leonard, “College Kids Koch, Cline Click in Bow,” The Sporting News, July 27, 1960: 35. Leonard, The Sporting News, September 14, 1960: 35.

9 June 4 interview.

10 “Cline Seems Ready for Tribe Berth,” Salt Lake City Tribune, March 19, 1962: 24.

11 Ken Alexander, “Ken’s Pen,” Gastonia (North Carolina) Gazette, March 19, 1962: Sports, 1.

12 Bob Feller (as told to Harry Grayson), “McGaha Strong Leader. Feller in Camp,” Indiana (Pennsylvania) Evening Gazette, March 20, 1962.

13 Gene Hintz, “Cline May Be Answer to Braves’ Outfield Problem,” Eau Claire (Wisconsin) Leader-Telegram, April 16, 1963: Sports, 1.

14 May 28 interview.

15 May 28 interview.

16 Bob Wolf, “Slump Goads Cline to Build More Brawn,” The Sporting News, October 7, 1965: 22.

17 May 28 interview.

18 Edgar Munzel, “Leo Leaning Toward Kids in Cub Plans,” The Sporting News, December 18, 1965: 18.

19 May 28 interview.

20 Wayne Minshew, “Braves’ Best Bet in Clutch: Clouter Cline,” The Sporting News, September 10, 1966: 5.

21 Ibid.

22 May 28 interview.

23 May 28 interview.

24 June 4 interview.

25 May 28 interview.

26 May 28 interview.

27 May 28 interview.

28 May 28 interview.

29 Author’s telephone interview, Cindy Beasenburg, July 14, 2014 (July 14 interview).

30 July 14 interview.

31 May 28 interview.

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