Uke Clanton

This article was written by Chris Rainey

On September 21, 1922, manager Tris Speaker of the Cleveland Indians employed 11 rookies in a 15-5 loss to the Boston Red Sox. Making his debut that day was a slick-fielding first baseman from the Southwestern League, Uke Clanton. Local beat writer Francis J. Powers remarked that “he leaps higher than any first baseman in the league. As a fielder… he is the goods.”1 Oddly, Clanton was the lone Tribe rookie to make an error that day. He went hitless in his only at bat and, despite a 10-year career, never saw action in the majors again.

Born on February 19, 1898, in Powell, Missouri, Eucal (often spelled Ucal) Clanton was the youngest of three sons (Ned and Curt) born to Ellis and Maniot Clanton. His parents were farm workers and moved around Missouri and Oklahoma until settling in Lincoln County, Oklahoma. There Clanton attended grade school in Wellston before going to high school in Luther, about 30 miles northeast of Oklahoma City. A decent student and gifted athlete, he enrolled in Oklahoma University in the fall of 1915. He played outfield for the school baseball team the next spring. After his sophomore year, his education was curtailed by World War 1. He served as an infantryman and returned home to work as a laborer and did not reenter college. Like so many youths at that time, Clanton played semi-pro baseball along with his brother Curt, a catcher. His wife suggests that the first year he was a professional was 1920.2 No box scores were found showing him in action in 1920, however.

Clanton opened the 1921 Class D Southwestern League season as first baseman for the Sapulpa, Oklahoma, Sappers. He played 7 or 8 games with them before he was swapped to the Muskogee Metropolitans. Many sources also list him with Coffeyville, but that was probably his brother Curt. There are numerous box scores that show a Clanton in the lineup for both Coffeyville (at catcher) and Muskogee (at first base) on the same day. Clanton hit .300 for the Mets and was recruited by Cleveland along with outfielder Joe Rabbitt. After their appearance versus Boston, the Cleveland rookies played three exhibition games against the regulars. Clanton saw action in all three games, going 3-for-9 with a sacrifice and three walks for a .794 OPS. On September 28 in another exhibition, he played first against the Pittsburgh Pirates and was hitless in one at bat. He signed a contract for the next season and returned to his home in Wellston. He and Curt were recruited by the town of Coffeyville, Kansas, to play for the town team on Walter Johnson Day. Playing alongside Johnson, Clanton opened the scoring with an RBI double and the Coffeyville contingent cruised to a 9-3 win.3

Over the winter, Cleveland transferred the option on Clanton to the New Orleans franchise in the Class A Southern Association. He took over the job at first base until May 22 when he was replaced by the previous year’s first baseman, Snake Henry, who was sent down by the Boston Braves. New Orleans went on to win the pennant; Clanton was transferred with Cleveland’s permission to Little Rock in the Southern. Manager Kid Elberfeld was overjoyed to add Clanton to his roster. The infatuation lasted barely two weeks when Clanton was transferred to Waterbury in the Class A Eastern League. Clanton hit .283 in the Southern Association, but his lack of power (no homers and .342 slugging percentage) outweighed his glove work. He performed well for Waterbury, reeling off an 18-game hitting streak in late July and early August. He ended with a .283 average with one homer while frequently batting in the lead-off position.

Clanton had spent only a brief time in New Orleans, but it was time enough to meet Alzina Ruth Bourgeois and fall in love. The couple married on November 5, 1924, in New Orleans. They would have two daughters. Shirley was born while Clanton played for Terre Haute in 1927 and Mary Lee was born in 1932 in Oklahoma after Clanton’s playing days.

The Indians recalled Clanton from Waterbury in November 1923, but a month later optioned him to the Terre Haute Tots in the Class B Three-I League. Clanton opened the season batting sixth, but after a blazing 13-for-26 start he was moved into the lead-off spot. His bat soon cooled, but his defensive skills earned him the nickname “Cat.” A late season surge gave Terre Haute the pennant by one game over Evansville. It was Clanton’s only pennant-winning season; he hit .258 and laced a career-high 15 triples. Clanton and his bride found a home in Terre Haute for the next three seasons. Clanton hit .310 for the 1925 Tots and smacked 9 homers for the second- place team. He followed that up with a .302 average, 10 triples and 10 homers for the 1926 squad that finished in third place, three games off the lead. He slumped badly, as did the team, in 1927. His average was a dismal .242 and he hit only 4 homers. In December he was traded to Wichita in the Class A Western League for catcher Pat Haley, who became the Tots’ manager.

Clanton had a hot spring for the Aviators and it carried over into the season. In late June he was hitting .324, but found himself traded from a pennant contender to a losing Amarillo team. He was swapped even up for Wilbur “Bill” Swansboro.4 Clanton kept hitting and ended the season at .308 with 10 homers. Swansboro, by contrast, hit .344 with 20 dingers. The Amarillo franchise was transferred to Topeka over the winter and Clanton went with the team. He played a career-high 161 games, but slumped to .239. The following season he joined the Shawnee, Oklahoma, Robins in the Class C Western Association. The Robins struggled to a 65-71 record, but Clanton closed out his career with a .299 average.

Clanton and his family made Oklahoma their home, moving from Shawnee to by 1935. Clanton went into the insurance business and like so many in oil country also dabbled in oil leases. He never totally gave up his connection to baseball. He was prominent in the American Legion as a baseball coach and later as a Post Commander. He also managed in the semi-pro ranks and served as a bird-dog scout for various organizations. When the Sooner State League was born in 1947 he was chosen as the manager of the Ada franchise. A spirited and at times fiery manager, he guided the team to a second-place finish. In 1948, the league expanded but Ada dropped to fifth place. Clanton left the dugout, but returned to the league as its president 1952-1955.

Clanton turned the league over to former National League umpire George Barr in October 1955, and settled into a simpler life with his insurance agency. On February 24, 1960, he was in southeastern Oklahoma on business when an ice and snow storm hit the area. He made the decision that roads were clear enough to return to Ada. Six miles out of Antlers, Oklahoma, his car skidded into a truck and Clanton was killed.5 The newspaper article mentions his surviving daughters, but not his wife. This suggests that the couple was separated or divorced. Alzina Clanton was living in New Orleans when she completed the Hall of Fame questionnaire and died there in 1979. Eucal Clanton was buried in Memorial Gardens in Ada. Alzina Clanton was buried in St. Louis Cemetery in New Orleans.6

 

Sources

Ancestry.com

Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, eds., Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, First Edition (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, Inc., 1993).

Daily Illinois State Journal(Springfield, Illinois)

Dallas Morning News

Evansville (Indiana) Courier and Press

Muskogee (Oklahoma) Times-Democrat

Pampa (Texas) Daily News

Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican

The Morning Tulsa Daily World

The Sporting News

 

Notes

1 Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 22, 1922. 18

2 Clanton’s Hall of Fame questionnaire completed by his wife after his death.

3 Coffeyville (Kansas)Daily Journal, October 24,1921. 8

4 Amarillo Globe-Times, June 29, 1928. 1

5 The Ada Evening News, February 25, 1960. 1 &3

6 New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 16, 1979. 16