Saturday, August 12, 2006

August 12th, 1912

Harlond Clift Born

I'm not sure about this--I don't have my usual collection of research aids where I am--but I'm pretty sure that Clift got his rather unfortunate nickname, "Darkie," on account of a teammate thinking his first name to be "Harlem" and from which a nickname was born.

Clift had two genuinely great years when he was twenty-three and twenty-four (and a pretty good one at twenty-two) in 1937 and '38 for the St. Louis Browns. Playing third base, Clift posted OPS+ of 139 and 143 in back-to-back years while stealing twenty bases over the two years. He also became the first third baseman to hit thirty or more home runs when he slugged 34 in 1938. It was Clift's bad luck to be playing for the Browns, who were both woeful--they averaged over a hundred losses over the two years--and barely attended in way we can't grasp now. (The Browns had a total attendance of just over two hundred and fifty thousand for the two seasons, their per game average was below fifteen hundred.) As such, his great seasons went almost unnoticed, failing to even make the All-Star team the second year.

Had Clift continued on his career path, he would be in the Hall of Fame, even with his misfortune of being on the Browns. Those two years represented the high water mark for him however, and although he remained a solid hitter through 1942, he would drop off shortly after that. By 1945, Clift was a below average hitter and that marked his last season in the Major Leagues. All said he only played twelve years, but he remains probably one of the more underrated players in history.

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