VOL. 131 | NO. 11 | Friday, January 15, 2016
The Press Box
Stubby and Bo Know First Big-League Hit Is Forever
By Don Wade
They will always remember the first one because in baseball, there is no charity.
June 22, 2001, the St. Louis Cardinals are losing 10-5 to the San Francisco Giants when Stubby Clapp, back-flipping hero to Memphis Redbirds fans, leads off the bottom of the ninth inning as a pinch-hitter.
He made the back flip famous in Memphis, but Stubby Clapp treasures his brief time in the majors.
(Courtesy of Memphis Redbirds)
Clapp was 0-for-3 in his first big-league call-up. Now, he found himself down 0-2 in the count to Livan Hernandez. But this time Clapp, a 5-8, 175-pound left-handed hitter, served a double into the left-center field gap.
A footnote, really, unless you happened to be Richard Keith “Stubby” Clapp.
“Old Barry Bonds had to go pick it up,” Clapp said.
The whole of Stubby’s major-league career spanned just 23 games and 25 at-bats. But it’s funny how in a short time a man brushes up against history.
Before his first hit? A Chicago Cubs right fielder named Sammy Sosa robbed him with a diving catch. And in the field, next to Stubby’s position at second base, stood a massive redhead.
“I got to play catch with Mark McGwire,” he said.
June 19, 2003, at Milwaukee, and Bo Hart is in the Cardinals’ starting lineup, batting eighth and playing second base. Summoned from Triple-A Memphis – where he was tearing it up – because starting second baseman Fernando Vina had pulled a hamstring and backup Miguel Cairo was hit with a pitch and broke his hand.
“Some luck involved, some timing,” Hart said of his opportunity.
His first big-league at-bat, in the top of the second, Bodhi J. Hart stroked a 1-1 change-up on the ground down the leftfield line for a double.
“Ruben Quevedo,” Hart said, recalling the Brewers’ starting pitcher. “Don’t know where he is today. I think the ball stopped before it got to the left fielder. That’s how hard I hit it.”
Nonetheless, it was the beginning of an improbable hot streak. Hart tripled in that same game. He played every day. On July 4th, after a three-hit game, he was continuing to channel Cardinals Hall-of-Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby and batting .412.
After a two-hit game on Aug. 14 at Pittsburgh, he was still over .300.
“I had never played like that at any point in my life,” Hart said.
His average that season would finally rest at .277 in 296 at-bats. There would only be 13 more at-bats the following spring.
So, if you pull up the professional records for Bo Hart and Stubby Clapp, there is a lot more time, and much more space, devoted to the minor leagues.
Hart, like Clapp, was undersized; he played at 5-11 and 170 pounds. His last big-league at-bat came April 29, 2004, or about 10 months after his first one, and he fouled out.
After that, he bounced around. Played most of 2004 and all of 2005 with the Redbirds, but then he was with other organizations’ minor league teams and finally was playing independent ball for the Schaumburg Flyers and the Kansas City T-Bones of the Northern League.
Clapp played four years with the Redbirds (they retired his No. 10 a few years ago) and was with them when AutoZone Park opened in 2000.
“Those were four awesome years,” he said. “So awesome I almost forgot to keep dreaming and keep pushing to get to the big leagues.”
After the big leagues, he too took the minor league tour, finishing in the Northern League as a player-manager with the Edmonton Cracker-Cats.
Come Friday night, Jan. 15, Clapp and Hart will be back at AutoZone Park for the annual Cardinals Caravan. Younger fans will be focused on Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha and outfielder Stephen Piscotty. They’re the story now.
But older fans may want to catch up with a couple of favorites from the past. Hart, 39, works full-time as an account executive in Memphis for TEKsystems and helps out with the MUS baseball team, something he’s done the last six years.
Clapp, 42, expects to return to his role as the hitting coach at Double-A Manchester for the Toronto Blue Jays. He also runs Elite Sports Academy and Fitness in Savannah, Tenn., with brother-in-law and former big-league pitcher Chad Harville.
And if you’re wondering, his days of back flipping into the office are pretty much over.
“I attempted one after winning the gold medal in the Pan Am Games,” said Clapp, who was a coach on Canada’s team last summer. “I didn’t land it too well.”
Doesn’t matter, though, because now his trademark backflip is just a footnote.
The headline memory no one can take away: Once, old Barry Bonds himself had to jog over and pick up the first hit of Stubby Clapp’s big-league career.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.