Win Clark

This article was written by Chris Rainey

Tom Hanks made sure we all know “there’s no crying in baseball.” In addition to “crying,” the words “forgiveness” and “compassion” seldom are used regarding the game. Yet those two words are central to the career of Win Clark. As manager of the South Atlantic League Columbia (South Carolina) Gamecocks in 1908, he was tasked with trying to control outfielder John Bender, older brother of future Hall of Famer Chief Bender. The older Bender was known for his drunkenness and had been released recently by Augusta. Columbia signed him because Clark hoped to convert him into a pitcher.

In July the Gamecocks were returning home aboard the steamship Iroquois from a series in Jacksonville. The ship steward summoned Clark to the dining room because Bender was annoying passengers, especially the ladies. The incident escalated and led to a brawl between Clark and Bender. Clark gave away a couple of inches and 15 pounds to the younger Bender. Nevertheless, Clark knocked Bender to the floor and the fight was broken up. It was then that Clark discovered he had been knifed numerous times in the arm and body. Fortunately, a doctor was on board. He treated the wounds to stay the bleeding.1

Clark recovered from his wounds. Because the incident happened on the high seas, it was handled in the federal court system. Clark testified in pretrial hearings before a U.S. Magistrate. He asked for forgiveness for Bender and urged that the matter not go to trial. Charges were quietly dismissed.2

William Winfield Clark was born on April 11, 1875, in Circleville, Ohio. He was the third of six children, and the only boy, born to William R. and Ida (McCollister) Clark. His father was a laborer who worked in brickyards and on farms. Win graduated from high school in Circleville. He played for the Circleville Gloves before starting his professional baseball career in 1894. Clark threw and batted right-handed. In his prime he stood 5-feet-10-inches tall and weighed 175 pounds. In his later managerial years the word “rotund” was used to describe his waistline.

The members of the Virginia League recruited heavily in the small towns of southern Ohio. The Staunton franchise brought in Clark as well as a pitcher named William Severs from nearby Chillicothe. Just 19, Clark already had a feel for the game and was quickly labeled “clever” by a league sportswriter.3 He played mainly shortstop in his first season with the Hayseeds.

Clark was always considered to have excellent speed. Early in his career he was a fearless basestealer who snagged over 50 steals a season. Yet this speed did not translate into a wide-ranging gloveman. He did not lead his leagues in chances per game and he made his share of errors on balls hit to him. He was also a light hitter who seldom exhibited much power or hit for a high average. The Staunton franchise moved to Newport News/Hampton late in the season. By that time, Clark had dropped to the ninth spot in the batting order.

Clark and Severs teamed up again the following season. They joined the Shenandoah franchise in the Pennsylvania State League. Clark was at shortstop, second, or outfield while Severs pitched and played the outfield. The season ended after three weeks when the franchise was unable to make payroll or pay visiting clubs their gate shares. The two men returned to Ohio and played for their respective town teams. They faced each other on July 14 with Severs winning 24-9 despite Clark’s four hits.

In 1896 Clark opened the season with the Denison Tigers in the Class C Texas Association. He started the season batting third in the lineup and playing shortstop. He was eventually dropped to the bottom of the batting order and moved to third base, where his lack of range was not as glaring. The change helped as Denison won 10 of 12 in late June and escaped the cellar. In August the league contracted to four teams and Clark became the third baseman for the San Antonio Missionaries.

Clark returned to San Antonio and the newly created eight-team Texas League the following season. He played third base more often than second base for the first-place Missionaries. The 1898 Reach Baseball Guide printed statistics for the first half of the season. It listed Clark with a .313 batting average, the best of his career, in 71 games. He added 45 stolen bases.

The Louisville Colonels in the National League were suffering from a rash of injuries. When utilityman Charlie Dexter was sidelined the Colonels signed Clark. He joined the team just as it started a four-game homestand with Philadelphia. He earned a $100 advance from the Colonels on his salary of $250 a month.4

The Colonels won the first match, 10-7, but then dropped the rest. Manager Fred Clarke used Win at second for three games and then at third in the finale. The verdict was clear that Clark “was unable to cover ground or to handle the ball quickly when he gets it. He is too slow for this League.”5 Clark ended his major-league career after four games. He hit .188 and fielded .769. Louisville finished the year in 11th place (out of 12 teams).

Clark signed with Eastern League Montreal Royals for the 1898 season. Sporting Life listed him on their roster in late March. Box scores show him in exhibition games against Philadelphia and Lancaster in April, but he does not appear in regular-season contests for the Royals. He saw limited action during the season for Springfield in the Eastern League and Taunton in the New England League.

Clark returned to San Antonio the following season and played in 72 games piling up 53 stolen bases. In 1900 he was back in Virginia playing for Portsmouth. The league reorganized in mid-July and finished with four teams. Clark played in 55 games.

Clark earned his first managerial position in 1901. He handled the Portsmouth Browns in the Virginia-North Carolina League. The franchise was shaky and relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina, shortly before the league disbanded. Many league players were then added to Southern Association rosters. Clark went south along with pitcher Tom Lipp. They finished the season with the Birmingham Barons.

Phenomenal Smith spent the winter filling out a roster for the Manchester, New Hampshire, franchise in the New England League. He put together a potent offense that included Clark at second base. Win showed power and was third on the team with 19 doubles; his .285 batting average was fifth on the team. Manchester pulled away from Lowell in late June and easily took the pennant with a 75-37 record.

In midseason, Clark took a day for his wedding to Eleanor “Ella” Weyer.6 She was eight years his senior and also an Ohio native. At the time of the wedding she had been teaching in Boston. The pair tied the knot on July 10 in Beantown. They were childless before Ella died in 1929.

Clark returned in 1903 to Manchester, which lost pitcher Jake Volz but returned the rest of the champions. Batting averages plummeted; only outfielder Pinky Swander could equal his 1902 stats. Clark showed very little power and dropped to .264. The franchise dropped to third place. In 1904 Clark started the year with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern League. He batted a lowly .125 before being released. He returned to the New England League with Concord and then New Bedford. The 1905 Reach Baseball Guide credited Clark with 95 games in New England and a .234 batting average.

In 1905 Clark took over as manager of the Manchester Colts, a move that reunited him with eight players from the 1902 squad. The team finished in the second division but did boast the league batting champion in Harry Armbruster.

Clark served as player-manager for the next five seasons. His playing time slowly decreased, and he saw action at first base more and more. He and Ella moved to Norfolk, Virginia, where he managed in 1906, 1909, and 1910. He also managed in Columbia, South Carolina, Roanoke, and Portsmouth.

Clark hung up his glove after the 1910 season. He went into the front office as president of the Portsmouth, Virginia, club. A need for competent umpires brought him back to the diamond from 1912-14. He worked in both the SALLY and Virginia Leagues.

Portsmouth persuaded Clark to re-enter the dugout in 1915. He led the Truckers to the second-half championship but then lost in the playoffs. He stayed in the Virginia League in 1916 but moved to Hopewell as president and manager. In 1917 he umpired in the North Carolina State League until it disbanded in late May. Clark’s obituary in The Sporting News says he managed for Portsmouth again in 1917, but that has not been verified.7

The United States’ entry into World War I opened a new chapter in Clark’s life. He enlisted in the Navy and was stationed at the newly built Hampton Roads Naval Base and rose to the rank of chief boatswain’s mate. The base command found the perfect duty for Clark; he served as the athletic director for the 35,000 men on base until he was mustered out in July 1921.

Back in civilian life, Clark took on the managerial job for the Norfolk Tars in the Virginia League, which was now Class B. He was never blessed with any future big-league stars, but he did guide the team to winning records from 1922 through 1924. He also served as general manager for the franchise. In 1925 he was a scout for the New York Yankees.

After a year of bird-dogging, Clark returned to the dugout with the Parksley, Virginia, Spuds in the Class D Eastern Shore League. He stepped up from there to the Harrisburg franchise in the Class B New York-Pennsylvania League. As before, he was not given the most impressive talent in the circuit, but he got the best he could from the players. His top pitcher was Lou Polli, who won 18 games. Polli had two stints in the majors that were 12 years apart (1932 and 1944). The Senators took the NYPL title in 1927.

Clark was wise when it came to signing contracts. He may not have the best team or talent, but he tried his best to have a solid contract with a stable franchise. Harrisburg tried over and over to get Clark to commit for 1928 but he knew that the club had financial issues. He signed to manage York in the NYPL a day before news broke that the Harrisburg franchise was entering bankruptcy court.8 After a losing season with the White Roses, he moved on to Manchester in the New England League for the 1929 season.

The death of his wife and the onset of diabetes all came to bear on Clark in 1929-30. He left the dugout and was looking to purchase a franchise. He was most closely associated with a possible purchase of the Harrisburg team, but that fell through. After spending 1930 out of the game, he returned as manager of Norfolk in 1931 and 1932. The Tars had moved up to the Class A Eastern League. Because of finances, the league disbanded in mid-July of 1932.

The on-field phase of Clark’s career came to an end when the Eastern League folded. He had played over 1,000 games and managed in nearly 2,000. He served in front-office jobs for the next few years before the most important part of his baseball career started in 1938.

The Association of Professional Ball Players of America (APBPA) was founded in 1924 by a group of 12 West Coast baseball men. The goal of the organization was to assist former players from the lowest minors to the majors when they fell on hard times. The group had hired veteran Russ Hall as the secretary. He was re-elected each year and was praised for the growth of the membership and the treasury (which benefited from All-Star Game revenue). Hall died in 1937.

The secretary’s job entailed raising money and membership for the APBPA as well as deciding which players were to receive assistance. Hall made it a point to travel the nation; there was seldom a baseball banquet that he did not attend. Clark picked up where Hall left off. He deftly handled each case with compassion and care. Names of indigent players were seldom revealed. One notable exception centered on Chalmer Cissell, who was found to be destitute and trying to care for his children. His situation made a splash in the newspapers and alerted the APBPA and the Chicago White Sox to his plight.

Players like Cissell could apply to the association or a fellow player could apply for them. Clark would then investigate or have a member in proximity of the player investigate. In a 1953 speech, Clark pointed out that the APBPA disbursed between $80,000 and $100,000 yearly. In the early days of his tenure, “$25 or $30 a month would pull a fellow out of trouble. Nowadays his medicine alone costs more than that.”9

Clark, like Hall before him, traveled the country raising funds and awareness. Over his tenure, umpires were added to the membership rolls. In 1949 his travels took him back to Norfolk, where he had spent so many years. The baseball community held a “Win Clark Night” to honor him. Two years later he lost a leg to diabetes; three years later he lost the other. This curtailed much of his travel, but he continued with his duties from the Los Angeles office.

In 1952 the Helms Athletic Foundation saluted Clark’s efforts. They created the Win Clark Trophy, which would be given to the outstanding first-year baseball player from the Southern California area. The first winner was Lee Walls, who hit .342 at Modesto in 1951. Pitcher Tex Clevenger took home the award after a 16-2 season at San Jose in 1953.

Clark continued his efforts until 1959. A heart attack in February cut him back to part-time and then a second heart attack on April 12 sent him to the hospital, where he died on April 15, 1959. Walter O’Malley simply said, “Win Clark’s grand contribution to baseball and to many of its less fortunate players would be difficult to measure and to match. In the face of tremendous personal handicap, Win spent all of his time and efforts making the lives of others more comfortable and happier. He was unique to our game of baseball.”10

At the time of his death, Clark was survived by two sisters. After a ceremony at the Grace Chapel at the Inglewood Cemetery, his body was returned to Circleville, Ohio, where his sister Virginia still resided. Clark was buried in Forest Cemetery.

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Len Levin and fact-checked by Rob Wood.

 

Notes

1 SABR author Bill Lamb has written an excellent account of the fight that can be found at https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/27a2ed59.

2 Ibid.

3 “Now the Norfolks Win,” Richmond Times, July 1, 1894: 2.

4 “Goes to Colonels,” Dallas Morning News, July 9, 1897: 2.

5 “Gossip of the Game,” Louisville Courier-Journal, July 15, 1897: 10.

6 Some sources say Weaver, but the marriage license information from ancestry.com spells it Weyer.

7 “Win Clark, Head of Player’s Aid Organization, Dies at 84,” The Sporting News, April 22, 1959: 34.

8 “Bankruptcy Procedure May Precede Plan to Rehabilitate Senators,” Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Evening News, November 22, 1927: 1.

9 Rube Samuelson, “500 Hear Webb, Stengel Stress Value of Game’s Relief Society,” The Sporting News, February 18, 1953: 26.

10 “Win Clark, Head of Player’s Aid Organization.”