A career minor-leaguer, Clem Dreisewerd struggled for 10 years through the adversities and disappointments of baseball’s contract system before attaining major league status. Further compounding his odyssey was that it took place during the difficult financial years of the Great Depression. Not only did he achieve his lifelong goal of making the major leagues, but he pitched one-third of an inning in Game Four of the memorable 1946 World Series between the Red Sox and Cardinals. All this was the result of his talent, dedication to the game, perseverance, clean living, and the good fortune of having a wife who was knowledgeable in the game and equally dedicated to it. The importance of this last factor in his success cannot be overstated.
Clemens Johann Dreisewerd was born January 24, 1916, in Old Monroe, Missouri, which is 43 miles from St. Louis. He was the seventh of ten children and lived on a farm three miles from Old Monroe. His father was a farmer who operated a completely functioning farm with milk cows, horses, pigs and raised wheat and corn and almost the family’s entire foodstuff. The family owned and operated a private club, the Lincoln Hunting Club for St. Louis businessmen who hunted ducks on the lake and fished in the summer. Branch Rickey was a member of the club. At age 7, Clem found a copy of The Sporting News which one of the members had left behind. With the help of an older brother, he ordered a book on how to throw a curve ball. From that time on his only ambition in life was to be a professional baseball player.
Clem’s mother died when he was ten and his father when he was fifteen. There were strong family ties. The older brothers and sisters were able to maintain the home for Clem and the younger children. Playing baseball was part of the family life. He became a pitcher exclusively when he accidentally shot himself in the foot which reduced his mobility. It was not long before he was playing with all the semi pro teams in his small town. He quit school after the eighth grade and went to work for the C. B. & Q. Railroad as a section laborer. While working for the railroad, he pitched for its team.
In the spring of 1934, his success brought him to the attention of Dr. Hub Pruett, a former pitcher for the Browns, Phillies, Giants and Braves. Pruett had an office a few blocks from Sportsman Park. Along with Johnny Schulte, a former major league catcher who had a barroom across from Dr. Pruett’s office, tryouts were arranged with the Phillies and the Giants while they were in town visiting the Cardinals. The Phillies offered him a contract. But he was advised to wait for the Giants. Manager Bill Terry asked him to join the Giants and travel with them for two months to get the feel of the game. Clem traveled with the club for two months at the beginning of the season. At the end of that time, he began his professional career by signing with the Giants. He soon learned what it was like to be under contract with a major league team.
Clem signed a contract for $150 a month and was assigned to Nashville in the Class A Southern Association League whom immediately sent him to Greenville in the Class C East Dixie League. After two weeks, he was told that they could not pay him his salary and returned his contract to Nashville. He was then sent to Jackson in the same Class C league and his salary was reduced to $80 a month. During 1934, he pitched 71 innings in 12 games. In 1935, he started with Nashville but was soon sent to Beckley in Middle Atlantic League another Class C league. Clem spent the remainder of the 1935 season winning 12 games and having an ERA under 3 for Beckley. This earned him another try in 1936 in a higher league at Class A1 Memphis. After he had lost 12 games and had an ERA around 6, Clem was sent back to Class C Greenwood in the Cotton States League. Again he had a good record, winning 9 games and having an ERA of 2.50 and was due a promotion to a higher league for 1937.
In the off-season, Clem and Edna McIntosh were married on the day after his twenty-first birthday in the rectory of the Catholic Church. His wife was a local girl from Old Monroe whose father had been Clem’s foreman when he worked for the C.B. & Q railroad. Edna was an avid baseball fan and player. This would play an important part in her being the wife of professional ball player. She supported and encouraged Clem’s career. More importantly, she was able to help him by being his catcher when he needed some one to keep him in condition.
In the spring of 1937, Clem was assigned to Baltimore of the Class AA International League for spring training. He trained with Pensacola, of the Class B Southeastern League, but was told to report to Macon of the Class B South Atlantic League to begin the season. They did not have a place for him and Baltimore was asked to find another assignment. This turned out to be Richmond in the Class B Piedmont League. Richmond was an independently owned team with a working agreement with the Giants.
He and his wife moved there and found an apartment on Floyd Avenue in the Fan District near Byrd Park. Clem and his wife would walk from their home the 3 or 4 miles to the ball park which was on Mayo Island in the James River. Living just a few blocks from the athletic fields at Byrd Park, Edna Dreisewerd was able to make connections with a team and played softball during the season. Clem had a good year in Richmond leading the league in strikeouts (succeeding Johnny Vander Meer as the Piedmont League strikeout leader). Edna and Clem liked it there and planned on staying during the off season. The only job he could find was in a gas station making $15 a week. Edna obtained seasonal employment at a department store during the Christmas holiday. On New Year’s Day of 1938, Commissioner Landis granted Clem free agency. This changed all their plans. They were hopeful that this would have a favorable effect on Clem’s baseball future.
Clem received his free agency because he wrote a letter to the Commissioner at the end of the 1937 season. In this letter, Clem complained about the manner in which he had been moved around to other organizations while under contract with the Giants and being paid by the Giants. Clem received offers from a number of teams. He accepted the Cardinal’s offer of a $4,000 bonus and $200 a month. He was assigned to Columbus of the Class AA American Association League. After two weeks, he was sent to Asheville of the Class B Piedmont League where he played the 1938 season and part of the 1939 season.
After an unsuccessful 1938 season, Clem was hoping to be sent somewhere else by the Cardinals. He was unhappy in Asheville. He blamed his problems on the bus travel in the mountains of North Carolina. At Richmond in the same league, the team traveled by cars instead of bus. The owner of the Richmond team was also the owner of the Packard dealership for Richmond. Instead of buses, he provided the team with Packards to make their road trips in luxury automobiles. After about a month, Clem was sent to Mobile, also a Class B team in the Southeastern League. After a short stay, he was disappointed to be sent down to the Class C Portsmouth team in the Mid-Atlantic League the same league he pitched in four years earlier. This was very discouraging for him and Edna. They considered leaving baseball. Clem still believed he could make the major leagues. He accepted the demotion and strove to develop more pitches.
The partial season in Portsmouth in 1939 was not very successful. In 1940, he compiled one of his best records in baseball leading the league in wins with 23 and having an earned run average of 2.48. This earned him a promotion to Class AA Rochester for the 1941 season which was another good one with a winning record and a low ERA. Clem’s record with Rochester in 1942 was one of his worst with a record of 1 win and 14 losses. With the war taking so many players in 1943, he was able to sign on with Sacramento of the Class AA Pacific Coast League. Clem lost twenty games in 1943. He turned things around in 1944 with 20 wins and an ERA of 1.61, the lowest in the league. When the Red Sox showed an interest in him, Sacramento initially refused to let him go as he was the biggest drawing card they had. Finally he made his major league debut with Boston on August 29, 1944. He appeared in 7 games during the remainder of the 1944 season.
After Clem and Edna purchased their trailer in 1938, they spent winters in New Orleans and made it their home. During most off seasons, Clem had worked in the factories. Since the beginning of the war, he had found employment in the boat yards around New Orleans in war work. Their daughter, Karen, was born January 11, 1942. Under these circumstances it appeared that at 29 and a half years of age and the war being over in Europe he was free of the draft. But the unpredictable Selective Service picked him. After appearing in only two games for the Red Sox, he was ordered to report to the induction center in Fort Devens, Massachusetts.
Unsure about his destination, Clem was paged at the induction center and told to report to the Navy at Sampson, New York. Lt. Commander “Red” Strader, the baseball coach, had called for him. On May 26, 1945, he was sent to the United States Naval Training Station in Sampson, New York, as an apprentice seaman. As Clem was being issued his gear at Sampson, he was pulled out of line and taken to the ball field. He pitched his first game for the base team that day. Such was the competition for ball players among the service teams during the war. Whether it was to promote the morale of the sailors being trained or to boost the egos of the Administration is uncertain, but every effort was made by all training stations to recruit the best available baseball talent.
Sampson was opened in the spring of 1942. No team was fielded that year. In 1943, a baseball diamond was constructed. A team representing the Sampson Naval Station began its schedule in May. Playing mainly local amateur or semi-pro teams, colleges and some teams from lower minor leagues, it compiled a record of 19 wins and 2 losses. The team had five players with major league experience. No major league teams played Sampson. The 1944 squad compiled a record of 24 wins and 1 loss. Four major league teams visited for games. There were 14 players with major league experience playing for the Sampson team. Addressing the major league teams’ criticism of the facilities at Sampson, a new clubhouse with “state of the art” dressing and training rooms was built before the 1945 season. The schedule for 1945 was an ambitious one. However, only one of the eight major league teams scheduled appeared. The final results were 24 wins and 4 losses. Again the schedule was mainly against lower minor league, local amateur, college, or semi-pro teams. There were 13 major league players on the 1945 team. Clem’s teammates included Mickey Owen, Jim Konstanty and Eddie Yost. His record for the season was 3 wins and 0 losses.
As an older professional athlete in a boot company with 17- and 18-year-olds, Clem adopted a paternal attitude. He tried to encourage his fellow recruits with their physical training. Since he had more freedom to leave the base with the baseball team, he always brought back treats for them such as candy bars. When the war ended, Clem was transferred to Pensacola, Florida near his New Orleans home. He finished out his service obligation playing baseball in Florida. Clem was released from the Navy in time for the start of the 1946 season with the Red Sox.
Clem had a 4-win, 1-loss season for Boston in 1946 pitching in relief except for one start. In game four of the World Series with the Red Sox losing 12 to 3, he pitched with 2 outs in the 9th inning. He faced Enos Slaughter who had 4 hits and needed another to set a series record. According to Slaughter, the home plate umpire reminded him of the record when he came to the plate. Slaughter became over anxious and hit a pop up to the mound. Clem said that he was particularly honored that Eddie Mooers, the owner of the Richmond Colts where Clem had played in 1937 came to Boston to watch him pitch in the World Series.
In 1947, Clem was sent down to the Red Sox Class AAA farm team in Louisville. He led the American Association with 18 wins and 2.15 ERA. He lost only seven games. He renegotiated a new contract with the Red Sox. Before the 1948 season began, he was traded to the Browns. His salary on the Browns was second only to Jerry Priddy. After 12 games with the Browns, he was sent back to the Giants. The organization he started with in 1934. After 4 games with the Giants, it was back to the minor leagues with Minneapolis of the American Association where Clem completed the 1948 season. For all practical purposes this was the end of his career in professional baseball.
During the offseason, he tried winter baseball in Venezuela, which was a disaster. After a month, they were caught in a revolution. Baseball was suspended. It took them a month to get home.
In the spring of 1949, they went to Seattle, where Clem developed severe arm problems. He was released after a month. Clem though the climate and conditions in Sacramento were more conducive to recover. When Clem’s arm did not improve in Sacramento, they returned to New Orleans.
In the spring of 1950, Clem began thinking of baseball and spring training. Clem and Edna went back to Sacramento. After a month, Clem’s arm did not improve and they returned to New Orleans. Clem thought he could still play. Brief trials with Birmingham and Baton Rogue convinced him that his baseball career was finished.
Since Clem and Edna had decided to make New Orleans their permanent home, they had bought property there. While deciding what they were going to do with the rest of their lives, they began construction of a house. This went so well that Clem joined the Carpenter’s Union. Clem and Edna continued in the construction business building homes and apartment buildings.
The 25th reunion of the players of the 1946 World Series was held in St. Louis in 1971. In a two-inning game, Clem again got to pitch to Enos Slaughter. This time he struck him out. In 1978, Edna Dreisewerd wrote a book called The Catcher was a Lady: The Clem Dreisewerd Story about their life together in baseball. Edna died in 1989.
By 1999, Clem was legally blind with macular degeneration. His second wife helped him with correspondence and fan mail. While on a vacation with his wife in Mississippi, he fell on the steps of the bed and breakfast where they were staying, hit his head, and died. The date was September 11, 2001.
In interviews with the author late in his life, Clem summed up his accomplishments in baseball as (1) the appearance he made in the World Series, (2) the book his wife wrote of their life, (3) being the second highest paid player for the Browns next to Jerry Priddy in 1948, (4) being the ERA leader in two different minor leagues, and (5) having Mickey Owen as his catcher when he was in the Navy.
Dreisewerd, Edna, The Catcher was a Lady: The Clem Dreisewerd Story. Hicksville, New York: Exposition Press, 1978.
“Golden Times: 1937 Richmond Colts Were Team to Watch.” Richmond News Leader, April 16, 1987.
Telephone conversations with Mr. Dreisewerd between 1999 and 2001.
Telephone conversation with Kris Sanchez, Mr. Dreisewerd’s granddaughter, in 2002.
“Wife, as Catcher-Coach, Helps Clem Develop Needle-Threading Control.” The Sporting News, June 29, 1944.
Wily, Tom. “Clem Dreisewerd Made Free Agent by Landis.” Richmond Times Dispatch, January 3, 1938.