Saturday, March 20, 2004

Moose Clabaugh 

In 1926, Moose Clabaugh hit 62 home runs for the Tyler Trojans of the Class D East Texas League. This feat broke the record set the previous year when Tony Lazzeri hit 60 at Salt Lake City. Tony had the advantage of 200 games that year; roughly half of them at an altitude of 4,400 feet. Moose hit hid 62 in 121 games; averaging more than one homer every to games.

This earned Clabaugh a callup to Brooklyn, where he went 1 for 14. It was his only big league experience.

I stumbled across Clabaugh's story while reading the 1995 edition of Baseball Research Journal last year. Wanting to know more about the man, I queried some SABR members about him. As it turns out, there is an essay about him in an upcoming book. Ninety Feet from Fame : Close Calls with Baseball Immortality will be released this spring. According to the books description, Journalist and baseball historian Mike Robbins tells the gripping stories of dozens of players who came this (hold fingers only slightly apart) close to baseball immortality.

Robbins was kind enough to allow me to excerpt his section on Moose Clabaugh here. Enjoy.

Moose Clabaugh

Moose Clabaugh's eyesight was plenty sharp at the plate, but apparently not up to the job in the field. Throughout his career, Clabaugh blamed his eyes for his poor pursuit of fly balls. Glasses failed to solve the problem.

"I'd make easy plays look hard," he'd later admit.

Clabaugh's minor league statistics fit right in with the other players on this list--.339 career average and 346 home runs in 17 minor league seasons. But his taste of the majors was even briefer--just 14 at-bats and one lone hit for the Dodgers at the end of the 1926 season. Those 14 at-bats would be his only chance; Clabaugh never even got an invitation to a major-league spring training.
"Those were disappointing days," he told the Arizona Republic in 1981. "I talked to the major league scouts. They all told me the same thing. They said my fielding was holding me back."

Clabaugh's minor-league home-run total would have been even more impressive,
except his playing career essentially ended at the age of 35. Clabaugh held out for the entire 1938 season in contract dispute with Portland of the PCL. When that didn't work, he held out the entire 1939 season as well, joining the Oregon State Police during his extended hiatus. Clabaugh finally returned to baseball in 1940, but retired midseason.

Bad eyes might have cost Clabaugh a shot at stardom, but they didn't stop him from spending the second half of the 1940 season as an umpire, one of the first in pro ball to wear glasses. Clabaugh might have made a career of it, too, but his wife wanted him at home. He took a job as chief of security at Dalles Dam in Oregon. Clabaugh retired to Arizona in 1965, and died there in 1984 at the age of 82.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?