The son of a successful Nebraska merchant, Henry Clarke was a well-educated young man who was athletic enough to play a little major-league baseball before the turn of the twentieth century. While on summer break from college and law school, he pitched six games and played three more in the outfield for the Cleveland Spiders (1897) and Chicago Orphans (1898). Clarke then returned to the Cornhusker State, where he was a prominent attorney, public servant, and businessman.
Henry Tefft Clarke Jr. was born in Bellevue, Nebraska. Sources differ as to his birthdate. The Clarke family genealogy says August 4, 1874, as seen in the 1902 book The “Clarke” Families of Rhode Island. His World War I draft registration lists August 4, 1875, as does Who’s Who in Nebraska, 1940. Finally, his death certificate presents August 28, 1875. This last, which may have been a clerical error, is also the date currently published in baseball encyclopedias. But the 1880 census showed Henry to be four years old, which supports the Nebraska book and draft registration, giving credence overall to August 4, 1875.
Clarke’s father made a singular contribution to the development of Nebraska. Henry Sr., a native of Greenwich, New York, came to Bellevue in 1855 at the age of 21. This town, formerly a fur-trading post on the Missouri River, became the state’s first permanent non-Native American settlement. Clarke Sr. foresaw the need for railroads. A classic self-made man, he then helped bring commerce and civilization to the frontier in numerous ways.
Henry Sr. was a steamboat agent, railroad surveyor, and builder of railways, roads, and bridges. He also operated a Pony Express that ran to the Black Hills of South Dakota. He was a general merchant with a specialty in hardware and mining supplies, later founding a drug company. Good relations with the Army — then fighting the Indians — helped his business greatly. Clarke père also became a farmer and rancher after receiving state land grants for his railroad efforts. He branched out into real estate and county investment securities.
In addition, Henry Clarke Sr. established post offices in the mining towns he served, founded the short-lived Platte Valley Times newspaper, helped incorporate the first electric utility in the region, and served in the territorial House of Representatives before Nebraska attained statehood in 1867. He built Bellevue’s first schoolhouse and founded Bellevue College in 1882.
Amid all these accomplishments, he raised a large family. After Henry and Martha Fielding Clarke were married in September 1858, they had seven sons (Harry, John, Millard, William, Charles, and Maurice were the other boys) and a daughter named Gertrude. Henry was the second-youngest child, born when Martha was in her early forties.
As a small boy, Henry Jr. attended the district school in Bellevue. Starting in 1882, he went to the public schools in Omaha, just 12 miles north of Bellevue.i Although other information is lacking on his youth, baseball had taken hold in Nebraska starting in the late 1860s. Professional ball came to Omaha as early as 1879. After a brief second attempt in 1885, it returned from 1887 through 1892 — likely making an impression on young Henry, who graduated as his class valedictorian from Omaha High School in 1892.ii
Henry traveled east to Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. It was rather unusual in those days to go to college so far from home, but the Clarkes were clearly eager to provide their children with a top-flight education. Sister Gertrude, who was eight years older, studied under private tutors, went to the Sorbonne, and traveled in Europe and South America. She later became a noted benefactor of the Library of Congress — especially in the field of music, donating five Stradivarius violins.
Henry Clarke attended Williams from 1892 to 1894. He was a member of the Sigma Phi fraternity and the baseball team. In June 1893, he made his debut against Yale Law School. The New York Times wrote, “Williams had a new pitcher, Clarke ’96, during the first half of the game. He did creditably but showed lack of experience.”iii Also on the pitching staff with him was Ted Lewis, the finest major-leaguer ever to play for the Ephmen, and later a noted educator (among his many talents). Though Lewis was an unquestioned star, Clarke developed. In 1897, The Illustrated American wrote, “He will be remembered by Eastern college men for good work in the box in his sophomore year. . .when he gave Lewis a close rub for the position of Varsity pitcher.”iv
Clarke transferred to the University of Chicago, which had been founded only a few years before, in 1890, by John D. Rockefeller. It is possible that Henry may have wished to be closer to home; in addition, his closest sibling Maurice was there. Clarke was a member of the first full four-year class. He was very active on campus — the yearbooks featured him often in text and photos. Among other things, he played on the football team and was the president of the glee club. The pitcher also became captain of the baseball team, coached by Amos Alonzo Stagg. Though Stagg is far better known as a great American football innovator, he was a pitcher of note at Yale and led the Maroons on the diamond for their first 20 years too.
Clarke earned a Bachelor of Philosophy Degree in 1896 and followed that up with a Graduate in Pharmacy degree the next year. He also did post-graduate work in political science and public law.v The baseball team went 15-5, 19-11, and 17-4 with him as a member.
On May 20, 1897, the Chicago Tribune reported that “the clever University of Chicago twirler” had won a tryout with the Boston Beaneaters. The article in its entirety is worth reproducing. But the essence is that manager Frank Selee was impressed enough with the young hurler’s repertoire — “good speed, an excellent change of pace, combined with curves that kept the Boston men guessing” — to state that he would join the club after the school year ended in June.vi Selee liked college players. It is both tempting and reasonable to believe that old Williams teammate Ted Lewis, who had joined Boston the previous year, made his voice heard.
Yet Clarke wound up not with the pennant-winning Beaneaters that June but the Cleveland Spiders. Sporting Life reported how he made a deal with Cleveland’s player-manager, Patsy Tebeau. “This lad was first tried in practice by Selee, and has since been dickering with Boston and Louisville. Tebeau came to town and Clarke, who seems anxious to play ball, hunted him up, Patsy finally agreeing to give him a chance, and to sign him on trust. Clarke’s nerve probably dazed Patsy, for he refused to accept less than $300 a month, and got it.”vii
The negotiations got a little tangled, though. “A notice has been received from [Louisville] President [Harry] Pulliam saying Clark [sic] has accepted his offer of $300 a month, and cannot therefore sign with Cleveland. Clark says the telegram of acceptance was sent Mr. Pulliam by his (Clark) brother, and that he prefers to be an Indian.”viii It is interesting to note that this nickname for the Cleveland franchise was already gaining currency.
Cleveland needed pitching. The number-two starter after Cy Young, Nig Cuppy, had fallen prey to overwork after averaging 329 innings during his first five seasons. Clarke became the youngest man on a squad that included Young and another Hall of Famer, Bobby Wallace — as well as Louis Sockalexis, the Penobscot Indian who enjoyed a briefly spectacular run that summer.
When he made his debut on June 26, Clarke became only the second Nebraskan (after Charlie Abbey) to play in the majors. He faced the Chicago Colts in a road game at the West Side Grounds, the park that preceded Wrigley Field. Clarke lost 9-3, as he gave up a two-run homer to Bill Lange in the third inning and a solo shot to Bill Everitt in the fifth. The Sporting News stated, “Henry Clark [sic], the star twirler of the University of Chicago team, was given a trial by the Indians today. He pitched a creditable game.”ix Sporting Life added, “With ordinary support, he would have made a good showing. He was steady, had good control, was fast, and held the Colts down to eight hits.”x
Three days later, he dropped another 9-3 decision to Pittsburgh. The comment in The Sporting News read, “Cleveland lost to-day’s game in the fourth inning, when its new college pitcher, Clark [sic], was batted freely.”xi Then on July 5, the Pirates beat him again, 6-1, in the second game of a doubleheader.
On July 12, Clarke came on in relief of Cy Young in a game that Boston was already winning. The final was 8-2, as Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins hit a two-run homer off Clarke in the fifth inning that Sockalexis misplayed — “miserable work,” The Sporting News sniffed.xii Just eight days before, the right fielder had suffered his notorious leg injury in a drunken jump from the second floor of a brothel. Ted Lewis did not pitch that day, but the Williams comrades quite likely exchanged greetings at Cleveland’s League Park.
In July, Patsy Tebeau said that behind his veteran pitchers, the team had “a coming star like Henry Clarke to fall back upon when something easy comes along.”xiii Clarke did not take the mound again until August 2, which would be his last appearance of the year. At Louisville’s Eclipse Park, he lost a “dull and slowly played” 5-3 game to the Colonels; the big blow was a two-run homer by General Stafford. For the season, the right-hander pitched in five games, completing three of his four losing starts. His ERA was a shaky 5.87, as he allowed 32 hits, walked 12 men, and hit three more while striking out only three in 30 2/3 innings pitched.
In addition, Clarke appeared in two games in right field. He committed two errors both there and on the mound, so his fielding percentage was unsightly. However, Clarke handled the bat well, with seven singles in 25 at-bats (.280) and three RBIs. After his first start, Sporting Life wrote, “At the bat he drove Tebeau into ecstasies. Two smashing hits through the outfield, a hard fly to short and a terrific liner which Bill Lange hauled down before it could develop into a clean home run – he can kill the leather.”xiv
In late August, Sporting Life reported, “Henry Clarke, the Chicago College pitcher, recently released by Cleveland, has decided not to play next year, but will devote himself entirely to college study.”xv That fall, he entered the University of Michigan to study law. During the 1898 season, he was an assistant to the head baseball coach, Charles Watkins. Over the winter of 1897-98, the Chicago Tribune twice singled him out. “Chicago will be weakened in its pitching force by the loss of Henry Clarke, who was easily the star of the Western college diamond last season.”xvi “The largest element in the success of the institution by the Midway was the phenomenal pitching of Henry Clarke. If victory can be accredited to any one man that man was Clarke last year.”xvii
In the summer of 1898, he got another major-league trial with the Chicago Orphans (who became known as the Cubs in 1903). Another Hall of Famer, Clark Griffith, spearheaded the Chicago pitching staff. But “The Old Fox” injured his back against Boston on June 23, and was hobbled enough not to start for two weeks. Matt Kilroy, another starter, had an injured leg. Strapped for arms, as the Spiders were the year before, Chicago called for reinforcements. Said the Chicago Tribune on July 1:
“Manager [Tom] Burns yesterday had a long talk with Henry Clarke, the University of Chicago pitcher whom Cleveland gave a short trial last season. Clarke is to report for practice and go through the paces. . .If he proves satisfactory he will get a trial.”xviii
Clarke played one game in center field and turned in one respectable pitching effort, a complete-game 5-4 victory on July 5 at home over his old mates the Spiders. He walked five, hit a batter, and struck out just one while scattering eight hits. But only two of the runs he allowed were earned. In its terse write-up, The Sporting News said, “Cleveland could not hit Clark [sic] at the right time, while the Orphans got their hits in bunches and stole bases at will.”xix The Tribune added, “It was a case of the stone which the builders rejected becoming the head of the corner, for Henry Clarke. . . whom Cleveland tried and alleged to find wanting, pitched the visitors off their feet and won in spite of funereal support by the broken team behind him.”xx The Orphans committed six errors yet turned three key double plays on his behalf.
So Clarke’s major-league career ended on a positive note. His career won-lost record: 1-4, with an ERA of 4.99. Since he went 1-for-4 in his start, his total batting average was .276.
Once the disabled pitchers returned, Chicago did not retain Clarke. Near the end of July, Sporting Life wrote, “Burns didn’t sign Henry Clarke because he thought he had pitchers to burn, but a winning pitcher ought not to be overlooked even with a dozen others on the staff. It goes without saying that a young pitcher who, pitching his first game at the head of a crippled club, can down Cleveland, as Clarke did, is of more than ordinary quality.”xxi
Clarke more likely still had his eye on academics, though. He returned to Michigan, where he coached the freshman football team.xxii He earned his LLB degree in 1899, while also serving as the interim head baseball coach that year. In February 1899, The Michigan Alumnus wrote: “Next to the presence of a lot of new players the question of having a good all round coach is important. There will be no doubt on that score this year as the management has hired Henry Clarke, the famous ex-Chicago pitcher, who for the past two years has been a student in the law department here and was last year assistant coach of the baseball team. Clarke has the entire confidence both of the players and the student body. He brings to the duties of his advanced position a knowledge of the game in all its departments, a long schooling on the best college teams, and a valuable experience in National League company. His aid to the battery candidates will be invaluable and as he was regarded as Chicago’s crack batsman for two years his development of Michigan’s comparatively weak stick work will be watched with interest.”xxiii
The Wolverines posted an overall record of 14-5, including 5-2 in conference play, dethroning Chicago as conference champion. During the 1899 season, Clarke also got into a few games. In April, he mopped up in a blowout loss to a professional team, Milwaukee of the Western League.xxiv In May, he appeared in two matches against the Hamilton Club of Chicago.xxv
Rich Adler, author of Baseball at the University of Michigan, commented in 2007 on Henry’s amateur standing: “The question of amateur/professional status at that time was rather nebulous. The University of Michigan was stricter than most, but even here it was not unusual for a pro or semi-pro player to return to school as a ‘scholar/athlete.’ One reason the Western Conference, the precursor to the Big Ten, was formed [in 1896] was to establish specific rules of eligibility. In Clarke’s case, there was no conflict. He had already completed his eligibility when he signed with Cleveland.”
Clarke was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1899 and the Nebraska bar in 1900, where he formed a law partnership in Omaha with Frank Crawford. He also served as a representative in the Nebraska legislature in 1905. In 1907, he sponsored the state’s first child labor law, as well as a terminal tax law that placed railroad taxation on a fair basis.
In 1907, Henry left Crawford & Clarke to become a Nebraska railway commissioner, serving in this capacity through 1917. In fact, Clarke was one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against an Illinois railroad that sought to charge more for its services in Nebraska than the rates fixed under state law. That case wound up going to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1908, where the defendant’s petition for removal to Circuit Court was dismissed. Clarke then joined the Omaha Grain Exchange, where he was attorney and traffic manager. From 1921 on, he managed his own affairs.
Henry Clarke married Grace Louise Allen on September 25, 1901. Grace was born in Central City, Colorado, in 1873. She was educated in Omaha and at the Lasell Female Seminary in Auburndale, Massachusetts, from which she graduated in 1895. The couple may have met while Clarke was at Williams. In 1898, she was named the fourth queen of Ak-Sar-Ben (Nebraska spelled backwards), an Omaha booster society. The family legend is that being queen of Ak-Sar-Ben meant being queen of the state fair — which appears true, since the group was founded to prevent Omaha from losing the fair to Lincoln.
Grace was a homemaker who also did various good works, including Community Chest, welfare programs, and (during World War I) women’s war activities. She was a member of the Colonial Dames of America too. The Clarkes raised three sons: Allen Gordon, William Cleaveland, and Henry Tefft III.
Henry’s grandson, A. Gordon Clarke Jr., contributed memories of the couple. “I first met [Grace] as a little boy around 1935 when we visited Omaha, where they lived at 3903 Dewey Avenue. Her mother was living or visiting with them, a spare, Victorian lady, dressed in black with a black choker around her neck.
“Sometime in the mid-1930s, Henry and Grace built a summer camp on Lake Koronis, outside of Paynesville, Minnesota. My family was then living in Winnetka, near Chicago, and we visited for several summers, the last being 1941. Henry was hard of hearing and a lover of classical music, the records for which he took with him from Omaha. He had speakers piped from the camp to a terrace overlooking the lake. After Sunday dinner, he would repair to the terrace with the volume turned way up to enjoy a mini-concert. Fishermen from all over anchored below to enjoy the music.
“I recall that, for a year or two, he had a Chesapeake Bay retriever named Jack who rode on the running board of the car when he was wet.” Throughout his life, Henry Clarke enjoyed hunting and fishing, as well as travel.
“Gracie was a lovely woman, even in later life,” noted Gordon Clarke. “I recall that she would sometimes drive off to town to attend a camp or revival meeting, much to the amusement of Henry, who seemed to dote on her every move.”
Grace Allen Clarke passed away at the beginning of 1942. Widower Henry T. Clarke, Jr. survived her for another eight years. For roughly the last year of his life (perhaps because of Alzheimer’s), he resided at the Emory John Brady Hospital in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “Brady’s” was a spa-like psychiatric facility known widely for its caring family approach. Henry succumbed to heart disease on March 28, 1950 at the age of 74. Three days later, he was laid to rest in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Omaha, next to his beloved wife.
Thanks to the following descendants of Henry Clarke for their contributions to this biography: A. Gordon Clarke, Jr. (grandson), John and Charles Remmers (great-grandsons). Thanks also to SABR member Rich Adler; Terry Price, Executive Director & Treasurer, The Central High School Foundation, Omaha, NE; Bill Thomas, Special Collections Staff, Pikes Peak Library District, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Vital records, El Paso County Health Department, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
George Austin Morrison Jr., The “Clarke” Families of Rhode Island (New York: The Evening Post Job Printing House, 1902), p. 188.
Rich Adler, Baseball at the University of Michigan (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2004).
www.athletics.uchicago.edu (University of Chicago archives and website)
www.kancoll.org/books/andreas_ne/sarpy/sarpy-p2.html (background on Henry Tefft Clarke, Sr.)
www.la84foundation.org (items from Sporting Life)
www.nebraskasocialstudies.org/notable/clarke.html (background on Henry Tefft Clarke, Sr.)
www.paperofrecord.com (items from The Sporting News)
www.rootsweb.com/~nedougla/html/douglas4.htm (excerpts from Who’s Who in Nebraska, 1940: background on Henry Clarke and his wife Grace)
Nebraskans, 1854-1904 (The Omaha Bee, 1904)
i Albert Watkins, Illustrated History of Nebraska (Lincoln, Nebraska: Western Publishing and Engraving Company, 1913), 489
iii “Williams’s Errorless Game,” New York Times, June 11, 1893.
iv “Charles E. Patterson, Afield and Afloat,” The Illustrated American, May 29, 1897.
v Watkins, Illustrated History of Nebraska
vi “Clarke Goes to Boston,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 20, 1897, 4.
vii “Another Good Pitcher,” Sporting Life, July 3, 1897, 6.
viii “Cleveland Chatter,” Sporting Life, July 3, 1897, 8.
ix The Sporting News, July 3, 1897, 2.
x “Cleveland Chatter,” Sporting Life, July 3, 1897, 8.
xi The Sporting News, July 3, 1897, 2.
xii The Sporting News, July 17, 1897, 2.
xiii “Cleveland Chatter,” Sporting Life, July 24, 1897, 6.
xiv “Another Good Pitcher”
xv “News and Comment,” Sporting Life, August 21, 1897, 5.
xvi “Plan a College League,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 23, 1897, 5.
xvii “Begin Indoor Practice,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 3, 1898, 4.
xviii “Notes of the Game,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 1, 1898, 4.
xix The Sporting News, July 9, 1898, 2.
xx Chicago Daily Tribune, July 6, 1898, 4.
xxi “Chicago Gleaning,” Sporting Life, July 30, 1898, 11.
xxii Michiganensian, 1899, 86.
xxiii “Baseball,” The Michigan Alumnus, February 1899, 196.
xxiv “Baseball,” The Michigan Alumnus, May 1899, 328
xxv “Baseball,” The Michigan Alumnus, June 1899, 379–380