: March 13, 2009
From 1993: BBL Publisher Mike Shatzkin's Conversation With Clyde Sukeforth, Part 1
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Yes, the Baseball Library does have a publisher, a stalwart fellow by the name of Mike Shatzkin, and he’s a baseball historian in his own right. This interview with the late former major league catcher Clyde Sukeforth was conducted by Mr. Shatzkin in 1993 and it first appeared in our page in 2000. As Mr. Shatzkin explains, “I discovered, I don\'t remember exactly how, that Clyde was alive and living in Maine. I called him and asked if we could meet, just because I thought it would be interesting. It turned out to be totally fascinating; George Gibson went along with me at least one time (I might actually have visited him twice) and we just chatted. Clyde was happy to let me run the tape recorder so I did. “
This transcription of their discussion is incomplete in parts and more than a bit rough around the edges, but as a service to our readers, we have decided to post the unabridged interview. Sukeforth’s baseball career as a player, manager and scout spanned, with some interruptions, over 40 years, and, during that time, he interacted with the likes of Babe Ruth, Dizzy Dean, Leo Durocher, Branch Rickey and Casey Stengel.
Mike Shatzkin: Let\'s start backwards, with how you got back into baseball after a hiatus...
Clyde Sukeforth: At the end of the \'57 season I retired. I wasn\'t there in \'58. I was out, let\'s see, 8, 9, \'60, \'61, and \'62. I was out five years. I went to Florida, bumped into the old crowd and everything, and I\'d been a little itchy anyway. So, when I left Pittsburgh, the general manager there, Joe Brown, gave me a TV set and everything and said "if you ever want to come back, contact us." I bumped into Mr. [Branch] Rickey in St. Petersburg and he offered me a job, so I thought I\'m obligated to Joe, I\'ll call Joe and ask him if he had anything he\'d like for me to do. He said, "Sure, come on over. So that was it."
MS: Rickey was then back with St. Louis…
Clyde Sukeforth:I went down to Columbus with Larry Shepard so I was back there with Shepard in Columbus in \'63. I was scouting in \'64. In \'65 I got stuck managing the club in Gastonia, North Carolina. I enjoyed that. I didn\'t mind managing in those lower minor leagues. Kids. I had Al Oliver on the club. And Bob Robertson.
MS: You had quite a career in the industrial leagues...
Clyde Sukeforth:Right after the War [WWI], semi-pro baseball was at its height. All of the industrial plants sponsored a baseball club and I played in [Millinockit?] for the Great Northern Paper Company. East [Millinockit?] had a mill too and they owned a baseball club. This is after I graduated from high school. East Millinockit had the nucleus of the Georgetown ball club for that year. This is in the 1923 season. [Clyde had made a living strictly playing industrial ball for some years.] They paid more than good ballplayers were making in the minor leagues. They\'d made the money during the war and they were competing with each other. They\'d go out and get the best talent they could find from colleges, high schools. It just so happened that Georgetown had a catcher by the name of Paul Thorns[?] and he had signed with the Giants. They ended up needing to acquire a catcher. They invited me to go back down there with them. And I did.
MS:Were academic credentials important at all?
Clyde Sukeforth:It wasn\'t particularly tied to any one thing. I wanted to play ball first. But at the same time, I wanted to acquire a little education, at least. But I didn\'t really have a career in mind, other than baseball. I went to school for the school years of \'23-\'24 and \'24-\'25. After the \'25 school year, I played in Nashua, New Hampshire. The manager there invited the Reds\' scout to look at me. Somebody did, anyway. I signed with the Cincinnati club in the Fall of 1925. I knew there was somebody with interest in me. I had read little notes in the papers. I didn\'t think that they were going to fight over my services. They gave me $1500 to sign and $600 a month.
MS: Which was more than you signed Don Newcombe for some 20 years later…
Clyde Sukeforth::I was signed in \'25 for the 1926 season. My first spring training was in Orlando, Florida. I imagine things have changed a little bit. Mr. Dealey, the road secretary, gave us $26 a week. That was for our meals and laundry. That was three-and-a-half a day for meals, a dollar-and-a-half a week for laundry. That adds up, I think, to $26.
Now, you won\'t believe this, but that was ample. We\'d eat in a restaurant that was right underneath the ground floor of our hotel. It was a nice restaurant. We\'d get orange juice and ham and eggs in the morning for eighty-five or ninety cents. At noon, we\'d get a good sandwich and everything that goes with it. And at night, for a dollar and a half, we\'d get a nice steak and vegetables.
Things were very much different. There was only the regular ballclub and about three or four of us rookies. They had two catchers, a pitcher, and an infielder who were rookies. The club had finished second the year before; they\'d made a pretty good run for it.
I didn\'t feel too much out of place. I didn\'t expect to make the club, and I didn\'t. In 26, I filled in as an emergency in Minneapolis. Their catcher got hurt and they wanted a catcher for a few days. It was a desperate thing, I guess. I caught five or six games there and then they optioned me to the New England League.
The New England League is now in organized baseball. That industrial league that I had been playing in was semi-pro, amateur, was now taken into professional baseball. The New England League. And I had a good year up there. I hit .368, and I was satisfied with my year. I was playing for Manchester. I think one or two guys hit more than I did.
Now, Bubbles Hargrave [the Reds\' regular catcher] had led the league in hitting. And by the time I got a chance to play, Bub couldn\'t run too well. But, as I say, he was a good hitter. He\'d get a hit late in the game and we were behind, and we usually were, I\'d run for Bub and maybe get a chance to hit once. This is in 1927 and \'28. I felt like I\'d get a good piece of the ball; I hit a few balls good, but I didn\'t get many hits. I couldn\'t reach that fence anyway. Well, that went on for a couple of years.
It doesn\'t do your ego any good to pick up the paper and see you\'re hitting a hundred and sixty. Nobody had tampered with me; nobody had tried to change me. But I changed myself.
I knew I could run. I got a big handled bat and choked up on it and I became a contact hitter. And I legged a few. Rather than those long fly balls.
MS: You hit .354 in 1929…
Clyde Sukeforth That\'s the year. I became a choke hitter, a contact hitter. And if I had continued as an orthodox hitter, holding the bat down on the end, at least I looked like a hitter. But I choked up and became strictly a contact hitter. The big leagues were a raise proportionately, compared to the economic conditions. But the big jump. I remember some young fellow as brought up; I forget who he was now. And I think the meal money was forty-two or forty-eight dollars-a-day. Something like that. And he thought, well I\'ll save some money. But his breakfast cost him twenty-four dollars! And so he said, I don\'t think I\'m going to save as much a I expected. I forget who that guy was.
MS:Your first Dodgesr team, in 1932, made a run but fell well short…
Clyde Sukeforth: It wasn\'t the best Dodger club, by any means. I mean, we didn\'t have [Duke] Snider, we didn\'t have [Roy] Campanella.
[But they had Lefty O\'Doul winning a batting championship and Hack Wilson with his last decent year at the bat.] And we had Johnny --- pitching. And we had a little punch. [Tony] Cuccinello hit a long ball now and then. But Cincinnati got the best of that deal. [Babe] Herman and [Ernie] Lombardi. They could hit the ball a far piece, both of them. The Dodgers had some old pitchers on that team. Dazzy Vance was 40; Jack Quinn was 48. We signed Sloppy Thurston, Watty Clark. He was a great pitcher too. [Van Lingle] Mungo. Vance. Clark was a good relief pitcher. He\'d come to spring training and the first day would throw as hard as he did the last day of the season. He broke all the rules of training. Just had one of those good arms. Max Carey was a real good manager. I guess he didn\'t have the talent. And I don\'t know why he only lasted one year.
MS: Casey [Stengel] was his coach…
Clyde Sukeforth:He was Casey. He couldn\'t be any different. Let\'s see, we had Otto Moore. I think Casey was there the first year. I was thinkin\' Casey took over in \'33, but he didn\'t.
MS:Did you have any mentors?
I tell you, baseball has really changed...the only coach they had in Cincinnati was the old infielder, Bobby Wallace. He was the only one who knew I was on the club. He was a real good ballplayer. For the Browns. And he was the only one that would take any interest in me.
MS:Did the Industrial League experience really train you adequately?
Clyde Sukeforth:Well, we had a manager. And he had some qualifications. We had some good men. This managing\'s overrated, I think. Handling the players I think is quite important. I mean, you\'ve got different personalities and some managers might do better with a certain individual, I don\'t know. Some of them are pretty temperamental. Like Casey. He didn\'t do anything in Brooklyn. He didn\'t do anything in Boston. He didn\'t do anything with the Mets. But he was a genius with the Yankees.
To be continued...