Texan lefthander Cliff Hill overcame family tragedy to become a stalwart minor league starter from the late 1910s into the early 1920s. He once won 14 straight games, as well as a 20-inning complete game. Hill pitched in one game in the major leagues, for the cellar-dwelling Philadelphia A’s of 1917.
Clifford Joseph Hill was born on January 20, 1893, in Marshall, Texas, to Georgia-born James “Harry” Hill (1871-1938) and Eugenia “Birdie” (Gaffield) Hill (1874-1914). His siblings were Mary Elizabeth, William (who passed away before 1910), and Ella. Their father was a switchman on the Texas & Pacific Railroad; their mother was a buyer for an El Paso department store.1 The Hill family moved clear across the Lone Star State, from the eastern tip of Marshall to the western tip of El Paso, shortly after the turn of the century. Not much information is available about Hill’s days as a youngster.
In 1911, Hill began pitching in the El Paso City League for the Globe Flour Mill Millers, who won the league in both 1911 and 1912.2 In 1912, he threw a no-hitter in the city playoffs, then won the deciding game against the Army 22nd Infantry squad, 5-2, striking out ten batters while batting cleanup, in front of roughly 2100 fans.3 Later in October, Hill joined the local semipro team in the regional Os-Aple (“El Paso” spelled backwards) tournament, against teams from places such as Pecos, Texas, and Hurley, New Mexico.
In 1913, Cliff entered the professional ranks, joining the El Paso Mavericks of the newly-formed independent Copper League. One of his many season’s highlights was a three-hit, 7-0 shutout over Santa Rita on June 8, striking out 13 batters.4 After his final start for the Mavericks, a 5-2 win against Hurley, on June 13, Hill owned a 13-game winning streak, and packed his bags for bigger pastures — the Waco Navigators of the Class B Texas League.5
His debut for Waco was a one-hit, 1-0 shutout over the Galveston Pirates on June 30, for his 14th consecutive victory.6 Hill sent telegrams to his former El Paso teammates announcing his achievement. It was already claimed, by none other than Waco President William Davidson, that “the boy has stuff that no other pitcher in the league has.”7 On July 8, the “sensational youngster picked up off the corner lots of El Paso,” beat Fort Worth, 3-2.8 Hill finished with a 7-8 record for Waco, pitching 143 innings in 19 games.
After his final start for Waco in September, Hill hightailed it back to El Paso to suit up once again for the Mavericks, who were playing the Southern Arizona champions Miami (AZ) in a post-season series. Later that month, He tossed a one-hit, 2-0 shutout, with 12 strikeouts, against the Phoenix Regulars of the unaffiliated Salt River Valley League.9
In 1914, after Hill spurned an offer from the Federal League, Waco optioned him to the Roanoke Tigers of the Class C Virginia League. He beat Newport News with a two-run double and a complete-game victory in his debut,10 and was 9-9 in 18 games for the Tigers before being recalled by Waco in late August. Hill was 10-5 for Waco, where it was said of him that “perfect control and smoking speed make him one of the most feared hurlers in the league.”11 In September, tragedy hit the Hill family: Cliff’s father shot and killed his mother before turning the gun on himself. He survived, but his self-inflicted wound caused permanent blindness.
Hill began the 1915 season with the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Class A Southern Association, where he lost all three of his decisions before returning to Waco, where he tossed a 5-0 shutout over Dallas in his first start on June 5.12 He later recorded 13 strikeouts, tying the league- and season-high of teammate Cliff Markle (who had been signed by the New York Yankees the same day), in an August victory over Beaumont.13 Hill finished with a 15-8 record in 30 games.
Back with Waco in 1916, Hill posted a 23-14 record in 40 games spanning 343 innings. On August 13 he won a thrilling 20-inning game, 4-1, against spit-baller Jim Gudger and Galveston, the longest game ever in the Texas League.14 Four days later, the “owner of the Winsome Willie smile and the curves that make ‘em hit where they ain’t,” shut out Beaumont, 5-0, in a mere hour and 15 minutes.15 Cliff was selected to the Texas League All-Star team for 1916.16 After the season, he was drafted by the Philadelphia Athletics.17
Hill attended the Athletics training camp in Fort Pierce, Florida, and broke camp with the varsity to begin the season. On April 21 in Washington, Connie Mack summoned Hill to replace Ellis Johnson in the bottom of the first inning, after two runs had scored and the bases were loaded. Although the legendary Mack was on record as saying he didn’t possess any left-handed pitchers, “a chap named Hill, obtained from the Waco team of the Texas League, was inserted into the fray at this juncture.”18 An error followed by a two-run double by catcher Eddie Ainsmith allowed all three inherited runners to score. Hill gave up a run on his own to complete the six-run first, then surrendered another run in the bottom of the next frame, before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in an eventual 11-6 loss to Walter Johnson. He had faced only nine batters. The same game report later quipped that, after Hill’s performance, “maybe Connie knew what he was talking about.”19
After Hill’s debut, a regional Texas paper chimed in that “for three years he has stood batters on their heads in this company and yet it is safe to say that he will not stick with the Athletics for the reason that he is too highly strung and feels the importance of being a major leaguer too much.”20 On May 8, Hill was left in Philadelphia as the Athletics embarked on a road trip,21 and was soon sent to the Baltimore Orioles of the Class AA International League.
During the same month, in completing his war draft registration, Hill claimed an exemption due to a “blind father and a sister, 14, his dependent.” He posted a 20-12 record for Baltimore, with a 3.01 ERA in 41 games, then headed back to El Paso to “spend the winter with his two sisters.”22 In October, he pitched for the Feldman Pass City squad in El Paso, striking out 17 batters against a local Army team.23 By December Hill had enlisted in the Army, and was stationed at Camp Bowie in Fort Worth, under the direction of Dr. Major Thomas J. McCamant.
A unique service-related arrangement was struck regarding Hill in 1918. His Baltimore option was picked up by the Athletics after the International League “took a bust” for 1918.24 The Athletics agreed to allow Hill to pitch for Fort Worth of the Texas League in home games and in Dallas.25
Hill’s first game for Fort Worth had a unique storyline. Dallas had tried to enlist the services of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Marvin Goodwin, who was stationed at nearby Camp Dick. The eligibility rules of the National Association prohibited this, so Dallas manager Ham Patterson tried to announce his new recruit as having a last name of Marvin. Word got out, but Goodwin still faced the Gassers. Nonetheless, Hill and Fort Worth prevailed, 7-4, in ten innings.26 After one more start, however, the National Association put the kibosh on Hill’s soldier-professional player arrangement.27 Still, he found time to moonlight, pitching for the Magnolia Petroleum in the local semipro circuit, allowing only three hits in a 1-0 defeat (thanks to an opposing no-hitter) at the hands of Fort Worth Power and Light.28 By June, Hill was twirling for the Army’s 111th Sanitary Train club against the Motor Repair shop team from Fort Sam Houston.29
Hill was shipped to France in the fall of 1918, as part of the 141st Field Hospital in the 36th Division, returning from service in May 1919.30 He reported to the Orioles on June 5, joining Ellis Johnson, his Athletics game mate from two seasons ago. By mid-August, Cliff was nominally leading the International League with an 8-1 record,31 and ended with a stellar 12-3 mark in 24 games for the Orioles, who won the first of their seven consecutive International League championships.
Before the 1920 season, the “crack pitcher” Hill was sold to the IL’s Akron Buckeyes.32 “Akron’s Beau Brummel [Hill] southpawed the [Jersey City] Skeeters into knots with a change of pace, then hesitated long enough to laugh at their efforts to hit” in a 5-1 defeat on July 12.33 On August 15, his pinch hit won a game for Akron against Reading, which had earlier received a home run from Jim Thorpe.34 Hill posted a respectable 14-11 record in 21 games with an ERA of 3.91.
Hill started 1921 with the Newark Bears of the International League, but appeared in only four games before the Dallas Submarines bought him in June. After a 9-7 record, he returned in 1922. On April 2, he got the starting nod in an exhibition against Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees. “A local pitcher named Cliff Hill was bombarded for two runs in the first inning and three in the fourth, after which he retired silently and sadly,”35 as Dallas (now known as the Steers) fell, 6-3. Hill posted a record of 5-7 in 16 games with an ERA of 4.04 for the Steers.
Hill returned to Waco in 1923, but appeared in only three games, posting a 1-1 record, before being released.36 He joined the Zanesville Greys of the independent Eastern Ohio League. His debut on June 10 for Zanesville was a victory over the Newark Mendels. However, he had not yet signed an official contract, so the league president nullified the win, and ruled that Hill was not allowed to play until July 1.37 After a couple more games with the Greys, he left in mid-July to join the House of David traveling team led by Doc Tally.38 That was Hill’s last known appearance on a diamond.
According to the 1930 census, Cliff Hill rented a room and was an auto salesman in Dallas. In 1936, he married a lady named Vera (maiden name unknown) in El Paso.39 Hill later worked as the manager of the used car department of Watkins Motor Co.
Cliff Hill passed away on August 11, 1938, from complications a week after an emergency appendectomy, at the age of 45 in El Paso, where he is buried at the Evergreen Cemetery. He was survived by his spouse Vera, father J.H., and sister Ella.40 Hill was posthumously inducted into the El Paso Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.41
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin,
MyHeritage.com Birth, Death, and Marriage Records
1 “Kills His Wife and Wounds Self,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, September 11, 1914: 11.
2 “Cliff Hill May Sign with the Waco Team,” El Paso Herald, June 6, 1913: 9.
3 “Millers Are the Champions of the City League; Win El Paso Pennant,” El Paso Herald, October 7, 1912: 9.
4 “Cliff Hill Wins Twelfth Straight Game in Victory over Santa Rita,” El Paso Herald, June 9, 1913: 9.
5 “Cliff Hill Pitches His Farewell Game,” El Paso Herald, June 14, 1913: 24.
6 “Cliff Hill Pitches Victory for Waco,” El Paso Herald, July 1, 1913: 8.
7 “El Paso Idol Makes Good,” El Paso Times, July 1, 1913: 9.
8 “Rhodes Outpitches Hill but Errors Give Navigators Game,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 9, 1913: 10.
9 “Cliff Hill Twirls Gem,” El Paso Times, September 27, 1913: 5.
10 “Cliff Hill Again Showing Pitching Form,” El Paso Herald, May 5, 1914: 6.
11 “Shows Value of Reserve Clause,” El Paso Herald, August 28, 1914: 7.
12 “Hill Was Effective,” Houston Post, June 6, 1915: 18.
13 “Lefty Hill Wins a Pitching Duel,” Waco Morning News, August 12, 1915: 6.
14 “Waco Wins Twenty Inning Battle from Galveston 4-1, Hill and Gudger Pitchers,” Waco Morning News, August 14, 1916: 6.
15 “Waco Shuts Out Beaumont,” Austin American-Statesman, August 19, 1913: 3.
17 “Mack Not Counting on His Holdouts,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 25, 1917: 33.
18 Denman Thompson “Griffmen Batter Way to Victory” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), April 22, 1917: 4
20 “Kike’s Komment,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 27, 1917: 16.
21 Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Telegraph, May 9, 1917: 12.
22 El Paso Herald, September 21, 1917: 8.
23 “Paul Fisher Will Start Game for Civilians Against the Army,” El Paso Herald, October 20, 1917: 55.
24 El Paso Herald, May 4, 1918: 14.
25 “Cliff Hill Signs with Local Club,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 2, 1918: 12.
26 “Rickey’s $12,000 Beauty Given Beating by Atzmen in Thrilling Sunday Setto; Hill and Whittaker Land Victories,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 6, 1918: 8.
27 Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 9, 1918: 18.
28 “Oilers Drop First Game to Light Boys,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 19, 1918: 21.
29 “Fort Sam Houston’s Best to Play Victor in Camp Bowie Clash,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 27, 1918: 14.
30 “Notes,” El Paso Times, May 19, 1919: 6.
31 “Bill Fischer of Cobblers Tops the Hitters,” Buffalo Enquirer, August 16, 1919: 16.
32 “Cliff Hill to Akron,” El Paso Times, March 16, 1920: 6.
33 “Hill Stars as Numatics Take Second Game from Donovan’s ‘Skeeters’ 5-1,” Akron Beacon Journal, July 13, 1920: 16.
34 “Lefty Hill as Pinch Hitter Paves Way to Capture Close Game,” Akron Beacon Journal, August 16, 1920: 12.
35 “Yankees Gain Easy Victory in Dallas,” New York Times, April 3, 1922: 12.
36 Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 8, 1923: 14.
37 “Manager Morgan Determined to Break Jinx on Afefas,” Times Recorder (Zanesville, Ohio), June 16, 1923: 9.
38 “Zanesville Loses Pitcher Cliff Hill,” Coshocton (Ohio) Tribune, July 16, 1923: 4.
39 “Clifford Hill Passes Away,” El Paso Times, August 12, 1938: 5. (from Baseball Hall of Fame player file)
40 “Clifford Hill Taken by Death,” El Paso Herald Post, August 11, 1928: 12. (from Baseball Hall of Fame player file).