If you think for a moment that baseball fans do not stick by the heroes—fallen or otherwise—whom they create, you should have been at Arlington Stadium on the night of May 16, when the Texas Rangers flashed the news on the scoreboard that David Clyde of the Cleveland Indians had just pitched a win over the Oakland A's. It was Clyde's first major league victory since May 15, 1974. Light applause emanated from the stands as pockets of fans saw the message, and then when players pointed to the scoreboard from the Ranger dugout, more people took notice and began clapping. Soon a genuine ovation built in warm salute to the former Ranger lefthander who once was the top draft choice in the nation and had been hailed as the second coming of Bob Feller. Never mind that Clyde's overall record with Texas had been a pitiful 7-18 and that he had spent every inning but seven in the past four seasons in the minors. This was their David, the kid from Houston's Westchester High, the good ole homegrown boy who had moseyed his way deep into the hearts of Texans by providing the Rangers with the most splendid night in their history.
That well-chronicled event occurred on June 27, 1973, when Clyde, then an 18-year-old only 19 days out of high school, started against the Minnesota Twins and beat them 4-3 before the Rangers' first sellout crowd. In five innings on the mound he gave up one hit—a two-run homer—and struck out eight, including three straight in a storybook first inning. "That night was the living of a dream," Clyde says. "There are no words to describe it. That whole year was a dream."
The next whole year was something else; Clyde made a rapid descent from cloud nine to the bench. After starting off 3-0, he lost his last nine decisions and spent the second half of the season idly watching his team fight for the pennant instead of learning the craft of pitching. "It was a wasted year for me," he says. "I didn't learn a thing. Physically I was ready for the majors, but mentally I wasn't. I was trying to live up to everyone's expectations and pressed much too hard. Off the field, I messed up my marriage. Looking back on it, I think that I was pretty close to some sort of breakdown. It really surprises me that more people haven't cracked up in this game."
In 1975 the Rangers gave Clyde his first taste of the minors, which was where most baseball men felt he should have been to begin with. After an encouraging 12-8 performance at Pittsfield, Mass.—to date his only winning season professionally—Clyde was shifted to Sacramento, where he had an abysmal 0-4 record and 8.67 ERA before undergoing surgery on his left shoulder to correct an entrapped nerve. Last year he pitched in Tucson for yet another Texas farm club. There, throwing off a delivery Cleveland Manager Jeff Torborg lyrically calls "a collection of corrections," Clyde endured his most depressing season, finishing with a 5-7 record, an earned run average of 5.84 and 119 walks in 128 innings. He lacked each "C" of the pitcher's big three—concentration, confidence and control—and his career had never looked bleaker. When Texas mercifully traded Clyde on Feb. 28, the best it could get for him and aging Designated Hitter Willie Horton, who was really the main man in the deal, was Cleveland's 31-year-old Relief Pitcher Tom Buskey, who had a lifetime 12-15 record, and Outfielder John Lowenstein, a .239 career hitter.
Shortly after the trade, Cleveland Pitching Coach Harvey Haddix and Manager Torborg saw a film of their new acquisition that had been taken when Clyde was pitching in Tucson. "There was no way a man could be a successful pitcher the way they had David throwing," says Haddix. "He was a combination of everyone's ideas. He was using a no-windup thing that had him jumping out at the hitter, striding too long and throwing the ball too late. We got him to go back to throwing naturally. Once he did that, there was no question in my mind that he would win games—if he threw strikes. The stuff was there. His fastball travels at between 90 and 95 mph. He's got what I call the good old-fashioned Carl Erskine curveball. It breaks straight down."
The key to Clyde's comeback was throwing strikes. He slowed his delivery—"85% of pitching problems are caused by rushing the delivery," says Haddix—and relaxed his wrist. "You've got to be loosey-goosey out there," says Clyde. "There's an awfully fine line between trying 100% and pressing too hard. I finally learned that." Sticking strictly to three pitches, a fastball, curve and palm ball, Clyde regained his high school smoothness. But his wildness remained. Then Torborg noticed an odd thing about the pitcher's gait as he watched Clyde sauntering about one day. "When you see him walk," his manager says, "he's up on his toes. He was pitching like that, too, shooting way up and trying to come down again. So I told him to break down his left leg and drive through low. Sonofagun—with that he started to find the plate."
Sonofagun, when David Clyde started to find the plate, American League batters started to find out what all the fuss was about five years ago. Following the May 16 win over Oakland, which Clyde calls "the best-pitched game of my life," he beat Baltimore 3-2 with relief help. Then on May 27 he went all the way to defeat the Orioles 6-2. That victory ran his record to 3-0, where it remained at the end of last week. His ERA was 2.31, despite a no-decision start last Friday against Milwaukee, in which he gave up a bundle of cheap hits and five runs. Most important, as a starter Clyde had allowed only 2 walks per 9 innings. "My goal is to pitch 200 innings this year," he says. "If I do that, the wins will take care of themselves."
And if he does that, Clyde, at 23, will finally shake the image of a high school phenom who flashed in the pan one night long ago in Texas. Soft spoken, happily remarried and as quietly confident in his own ability as he was at 18, Clyde says, "Some people have been joking about me becoming the youngest player to win the Comeback Player of the Year award. No way. You've got to have been successful in the past to qualify, and as I understand it, high school ball doesn't count."
After this year—at last—it shouldn't have to.