SABR

Lefty Clarke

This article was written by Mark Zeigler.

Although he hurled but a single game in the major leagues, Lefty Clarke achieved a measure of fame for his many successful years in the Blue Ridge League, both before and after World War I, and later for his career as a horse breeder and trainer in his native Maryland.

Clarke was born Allen Thomas Clark Jr. to Thomas H. and Eleanor "Ella" H. (nee Hardy) Clark (1870-1953) on March 8, 1896. The family lived at Huntington Farm, the home of John Thomas Hardy, Ella's father, located in Howard County, Maryland, near Clarksville. Allen Jr. was one of five children, also including John (b. 1889), Herman (b. 1891), Eleanor (b. 1893), and Glen (b. 1900).

One of the intriguing facets of Clarke's story is the variations in spelling of both his first and last names. As late as the 1910 census, the entire family used the name "Clark", while by 1930 both he and his mother, with whom he lived, spelled their names "Clarke." In addition, by 1916, early in his baseball career, newspapers were calling him "Alan," rather than "Allen." He name is listed as "Alan Thomas Clarke" in his service records--he was in the Army for six months in 1918--and this is the name he used for the rest of his life.

As a teenager, Allen Clark played sandlot baseball on Sundays, evidently attracting crowds of people who watched the youngster pitch. At Sherwood High School in nearby Montgomery County, Clark continued to show promise on the mound, in the mold of a former Sherwood High star, major leaguer Jack Bentley.

According to his Hall of Fame file, a player named Allen Clark made his professional debut as a 17-year old pitcher with the Clarksville, Kentucky, club in the Kitty League during the 1914 season. However, no statistical records could be found listing him for this club.

In 1915, word of a promising young 18-year old southpaw caught the attention of William "Country" Morris, who was the manager of the Martinsburg, West Virginia, club in the newly formed Class D Blue Ridge League. After receiving a try out for the Champions, as Martinsburg was called that season, he made the cut as the club's fourth pitcher on the 13-player roster. He was the only southpaw on the pitching staff, and newspapers around the league began calling him "Lefty."

His first season in Martinsburg was unremarkable, 7-7 in 143 innings, but he showed enough promise that Morris tagged the young left-hander to be a regular starter for the club the following season. The 1916 Martinsburg club, who became known as the Mountaineers, featured several future major leaguers, including first baseman Luzerne Blue, and the most dominant southpaw pitcher the league would produce, Marvin M. Goodwin of Gordonsville, Virginia. Goodwin, who was sent to Morris by Clark Griffith of the Washington Senators, would provide a help to young Clarke. (As mentioned, sometime during this season, Lefty began spelling his name "Clarke.")

The pitching corps of Goodwin, Clarke, and right-hander Frank Colley propelled the 1916 Martinsburg club to a tense battle with the Chambersburg Maroons for the league pennant. The two clubs fought until the final few days of the season, before Chambersburg came away with the crown, leaving Martinsburg the bridesmaid for the second straight season. While Goodwin led the league with 19 victories, and Colley was close behind with 17 wins, Clarke, with a 14-10 record, helped keep the Mountaineers pennant hopes alive until the end. Noted for his hard, high fastball, he led the league by hitting 15 batters, while fanning 126.

Clarke returned for his third season with Martinsburg in 1917. With Goodwin now pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals, Clarke and Colley became the ace pitchers for the Mountaineers. Clarke responded by leading the Mountaineers with 17 wins and fanning 132 batters, while leading the league by walking 89 batters.

On June 23, Boston's Ernie Shore pitched one of baseball's legendary games, when he relieved Babe Ruth with no outs in the first inning and threw nine perfect innings for the victory. Just a week before Shore's feat, on June 15, Clarke performed a comparable feat when the Mountaineers hosted the Hanover (Pennsylvania) Raiders at Rosemont Park. "Cozy" Dolan started for the Raiders against right-hander "Charlie" Hough. Through the first nine innings, the game was a slugfest, as the two clubs battled to a 10-10 tie, with Martinsburg scoring five runs in the 9th inning to put the game into extra innings. Both clubs changed pitchers in the 10th, with right-fielder Bobbie Orrison taking the mound for Hanover, and Clarke for Martinsburg. Amazingly, both pitchers went on to toss shutout ball over the next eight-plus innings, as only five hits were recorded, all by the Mountaineers. Clarke retired the side in the 18th, and in the bottom of the frame "Country" Morris and Lee Percy doubled to end the game. Clarke pitched nine innings of no-hit ball, walking one batter and fanning three, in what was called the best relief performance in the league's history. This game, umpired by future Hall of Famer Bill McGowan, was the second longest played in the league's early history, lasting three hours and fifty minutes.

Clarke accomplished another rare feat on August 11, against the same Hanover club, when he tossed a doubleheader shutout, winning 6-0 and 1-0. He was one of two pitchers in the league to toss a double shutout that season, preceding another southpaw, Frederick's Eddie Hook, who matched the feat two weeks later against Martinsburg, winning both games by 1-0 scores.

Despite Clarke's outstanding pitching down the stretch, and the fine batting of Lu Blue, George "Reggie" Rawlings, Morris and Percy, Martinsburg finished second again, this time behind Jack Hurley's Hagerstown (Maryland) Terriers.

After missing two full seasons, in part due to military service during the Great War, Clarke returned to the Blue Ridge League for the 1920 baseball season. This time Clarke changed uniforms, following Morris to Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, to play for the newly formed Villagers.

Since he now had to oversee the operation of his family farm, Clarke traveled to the ballpark on the day he pitched, took his turn on the mound, and returned home. "I'm running a farm and pitching ball at the same time," he once said. "Some job, I jump on the mound, hurl nine innings, if I last that long, hop in my machine [truck], and beat it for Clarksville, near Baltimore, which is about 80 miles from most Blue Ridge League towns. I farm for two days and then hot foot it back to the Blue Ridge. Believe me gentleman I am not a loafer.

In 24 starts in 1920, Clarke finished 14-8. He pitched 190 innings, fanning 150 batters, and recorded an impressive 1.80 ERA. Waynesboro battled for the league crown, but settled for fourth place behind the league champions, Hagerstown Champs.

Clarke returned to Waynesboro for the 1921 campaign for his fifth season in the league's six-year history, and responded with a season that would go down in the league's record books. Clarke pitched in 34 contests, starting 31 times. He finished 25-7, tying the league's victory mark set by Hagerstown's Earl Howard in 1917. Clarke, who added a curve ball to his repertoire the previous season, fanned a league record 258 batters in 274 innings of work, while shutting out eight opponents. In addition, he tossed the league's only no-hitter that season against his former team, Martinsburg. His nasty curve ball resulted in a league record 29 hit batsmen along with 90 walks, but it was observed that very few batters would dare crowd the plate without the fear of being "beaned" in the head by one of his pitches.

Major league scouts converged on Waynesboro's E-B Park that season to check out the play of infielder Wally Kimmick. What they also witnessed was the remarkable pitching prowess of Clarke, Kimmick's teammate. Several clubs expressed interest in both players, and after some negotiations with the Waynesboro team, their contracts were sold to the Cincinnati Reds.

After the end of the Blue Ridge season, Clarke and Kimmick joined the Reds. After sitting on the bench for two weeks, the two finally played on October 2, 1921, as the Reds hosted the Chicago Cubs in a doubleheader at Crosley Field. Clarke made his pitching debut during the second game, which was the final game of the season. Clarke started against Chicago's Virgil Cheeves, and he kept the Cubs scoreless for two innings. Unfortunately, the southpaw got a bitter taste of Major League batting, as Chicago scored seven runs off him third inning. Two fielding errors by Kimmick, a bases loaded triple by the Cubs Bill Marriott, and a run scoring double by fellow Marylander, George Maisel, were all the Cubs needed, as they defeated Clarke and the Reds, 7 to 0 in a five inning contest, called because of darkness. Only three of the seven runs were earned against Clarke, who walked two batters and fanned one batter in what would be the only Major League game of his career.

The Reds returned Clarke to the Blue Ridge League at his request for the 1922 season, where he finished 9-3, leading the league with a .750 win percentage in 25 games. According to local newspaper reports, Clarke had a "tired arm", and never showed the dominance he had during the 1921 season.

Clarke tried to pitch in the Class C Virginia League in 1923, but hurt his arm after just two games with Petersburg and asked for his release. He came back to the Blue Ridge League in 1924 to pitch for the Hagerstown Hubs, winning all five of his decisions in 10 games, but his season came to a premature end when he injured his knee. Clarke pitched briefly with Chambersburg in 1925, but couldn't regain his old form and decided to hang up his spikes.

After his baseball career ended, Clarke became a very successful farmer and thoroughbred breeder and trainer in the state of Maryland. Based at his birth home, Huntington Farm, Clarke bred several prize horses (Mowlee, King Mowlee, Lemmowlee, and Senator Joe, among others) during the mid-1930s through the early 1960s. In 1939, Huntington Farm had 62 thoroughbreds, and was considered the top wintering center in the region. Clarke was known for his ability to rehabilitate injured horses, most notably the gelding Honey Cloud. Clarke was once quoted as saying "If I get any more horses, I guess I will have to sleep in the attic and use the bathtub for a watering trough."

On February 26, 1945, Clarke obtained a marriage license in Frederick, Maryland to wed 24-year Lillian Price Moric of Baltimore, Maryland. The license listed Clarke as 42-years of age, though he was actually 47. Lefty and Lillian raised five daughters: Caroline, Lillian, Arlene, Lucinda Lee, and Alana.

Lefty Clarke died from the effects of Parkinson's Disease on March 11, 1975, at Prince Georges General Hospital in Cheverly, Maryland, three days after his 78th birthday. His services were held at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Highland, Maryland, and he is buried at St. Mark's Cemetery, adjacent to the church.

Sources

Society of American Baseball Research, Cleveland, Ohio. Access to ProQuest.

Horses and People with Walter Haight, Washington Post, April 29, 1960.

Bill Bennings at The Post, Washington Post, September 26, 1939; December 30, 1939; May 7, 1951.

The Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, New York. Special thanks to Gabriel Schechter for researching Clarke's professional baseball contracts.

Reach's Official American League Guide, Philadelphia, 1921, 1923.

Spalding's Official Baseball Guide, St. Louis, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925.

www.baseball-almanac.com.

Bill James Electronic Baseball Encyclopedia, 1995 Miller Associates, Inc.

Mike McCann's Minor League Teams - http://www.geocities.com/big_bunko/total.htm.

The Frederick Post, Frederick, MD, various dates, 1915, 1916, 1917; July 15, 1920, Riff-Raff, page 3; various dates 1921; Riff-Raff, November 2, 1925, page 3; Riff-Raff, December 10, 1938, page 3;"Lefty Clarke Gets License To Wed Here", February 27, 1945, front page.

The News, Frederick, MD, March 13, 1975, Obituaries, page A-5.

Martinsburg News-Journal, Martinsburg, WV, August 1916; June 16, 1917.

Hagerstown Daily Mail, Hagerstown, MD, various dates, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1921, 1922.

Alexander Hamilton Library, Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, for microfilm access to Waynesboro Record-Herald, 1920, 1921, 1922

www.newspaperarchive.com - Thomas "Lefty" Clarke query

Deaths, Alan T. Clarke, Washington Post, March 13, 1975, page C12.

St. Mark's Cemetery, Highland, MD, data compiled by Joshua Jenkins. http://www.interment.net/data/us/md/howard/stmark/ Includes burial mention of Alan Thomas Clarke and Ella Hardey (sp.) Clarke.

Heritage Quest, 1910 Census/Maryland/Howard County/Clarksville District. Supervisor District No. 4; Enumeration District No. 56.

Heritage Quest, 1920 Census/Maryland/Howard County/Clarksville District No. 5; Series: T625; Roll: 653; Page: 253.

Heritage Quest, 1930 Census/Maryland/Howard County/Clarksville District No. 5 (West Part); Series: T626; Roll: 876; Page: 127.

Special thanks to Steve Boren and Andrew North of SABR-L for research in providing Clarke's missing professional statistics.

Zeigler, Mark C., compiler. Blue Ridge League statistics; verified in Reach's American League Guides 1916, 1917, 1918.

Zeigler, Mark C. Blue Ridge League information at www.blueridgeleague.org.

_____. "Boys of the Blue Ridge – The Early Years, History of the Class D, Blue Ridge League 1915-18." Miscellaneous Games, Longest Extra Innings Games, page 152; Doubleheader 1-0 Shutouts, Doubleheader Shutout by One Pitcher, page 146. (The manuscript for this book is being completed, and is scheduled to be published in 2005. Lefty Clarke's accomplishments are mentioned throughout the book.)

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