Clark Endures Changes as Big League Career Begins
Mike B. | On 09, Jan 2016
July 21, 1948
The New York Yankees are expecting more than 125,000 fans during the next three days as they continue to battle the Cleveland Indians for the American League pennant. If Allie Clark doesn’t appear intimidated by the crowd or the pressure, don’t be surprised.
“Of course, I played before a 73,000 crowd in the World Series last year, so I’m used to it,” Clark said.
Clark easily could be manning third base for the Yankees in this same series. Two years ago, he was a New York farmhand manning the hot corner, but Clark has endured an injury, position change and a trade. Even this year, his role has changed from Opening Day to now with the Cleveland Indians.
Currently, Clark plays right field for the Indians against left-handed starting pitchers. He’s expected to be in the lineup against the Yankees’ Eddie Lopat in the first game of today’s doubleheader. It’s the first of four games in a key series between the two teams. Clark was acquired from New York last December in exchange for Red Embree, a trade the Tribe has certainly got the best of in the first 80 games since its agreement.
But before he was a Tribesman, he was a Yankee third baseman with a weak arm. In 1946, George Selkirk – Clark’s manager in the minors and a former New York outfielder – moved him to the outfield. Originally, the Yankees doubted he’d be able to handle the range necessary to roam the green pastures beyond the infield, but Clark proved them wrong. In 1947, he split his time between outfield and third base in the minor leagues before being a late-season spark to the Yankees.
Clark hit .373 in 73 plate appearances and 24 games with New York last season, including a home run and 14 runs batted in. He was 1-for-3 in three pinch-hit appearances in the World Series.
“I don’t care if I ever go back to third base,” Clark said. “I work out there once in a while, just so I’ll be ready if they need me in some emergency, but I’d just as soon play the outfield as long as I play ball.”
Clark filled in for third baseman Ken Keltner when he was injured in late May. Clark finished the game when Keltner injured his hand and played the next day in his place. New York still questioned his arm strength and traded him to Cleveland, feeling he could be a liability in the outfield not because of his range, but arm.
On Opening Day Clark won the Tribe’s left field job. After having great early season success against left-handed pitchers, and Dale Mitchell’s spark to the offense, Clark has shifted from every day left fielder to platoon right fielder with Hank Edwards. Right field is a position that commands a much stronger outfield arm than left. However, Clark feels his arm issues have passed him and that he can play anywhere.
“I had an operation after the 1946 season, but I waited too long,” Clark said. “Instead of having the operation right away, I went to South America with the Bushwicks, a Brooklyn semi-pro team, and by the time I got back and let them operate, it was too close to spring training.
“For a while, I couldn’t throw across this room, but my arm kept getting stronger, and by the end of the season, it was as strong as ever,” Clark said. “I think it was a lot of talk about nothing. Right now I can throw as well as I ever could.”
Still, the Indians doubt Clark’s arm strength. During Monday’s 7-6 win over the Washington Senators, Indians manager Lou Boudreau subbed Clark out of the game with the winning run on third base and just one out for Bob Kennedy. Kennedy has a much stronger arm and needed it when he threw Bud Stewart out at the plate to keep the game tied.
Clark chooses to focus on his bat and not his arm. Currently, Clark hits .350 against southpaws. They’ll need him against Lopat this afternoon, a left-hander who has given the Tribe fits his entire career. He’ll likely be hitting third, right in front of his manager, Boudreau.
That might seem like a lot of pressure for a player in his first full season in the big leagues, but Clark can handle the big crowds and pressure. He’s stronger than most teams think.