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John Gibson Clarkson (1861-1909)
Bay City baseball player inducted into Hall of Fame in 1963.
  • by Marvin Kusmierz (September 2002 - Updated Sep. 2005)
  • Born: 1 Jul 1861 - Cambridge, MA
    Died: 4 Feb 1909 - Belmont, MA
    Buried: Cambridge Cemetery, Cambridge, MA
    Spouse: Ella M. Barr, m. Mar. 4, 1886.
    Parents: Thomas G. & Ellen M. Clarkson
    Children: Unknown
    Siblings: Arthur H., Hellena, Isabella, Thomas, Walter
    (Source: 1880 U.S. Census)

    Take Me Out To The Ballgame.
    This popular baseball tune was written in 1908 by Jack Norworth and Albert von Tilzer.
    (Click title to play song.)

    On May 15, 1909, baseball fans from around the Bay City area eagerly gathered at their new ballpark just south of Center avenue east of Livingston street. It promised to be a special day at the new Clarkson Park, which was the home field of the newly formed Bay City Cardinals professional team.

    The only shadow casted over the occasion was John Clarkson wouldn't be there for the honor being bestowed upon him. He passed on only three months earlier from pneumonia. However, his wife Ella along with his his father and brother, were present to accept the gratitude being extended to John for his achievements as a major league ballplayer.

    Clarkson Ball Park
    Clarkson Ball Park: The ballpark was roughly located about 500 feet south off Center avenue just east of the present Rail Trail according to old insurance maps. The Polk Directories list it as Center avenue and P.M.R.R. Belt Line. Also listed as Bay City Ball Park in another reference.

    John Clarkson's Early Days in Michigan.

    Polk Directories
    1896: John
    Bds. 813 N. Birney
    Bus. 103 Center
    1904: John
    1102 Center
    Bus. Phoenix blk.
    1910: Ella M.(wid. John)
    Bds. 1200 6th.
    1910: Arthur H.
    Bds. 1200 6th
    Wk., tailor 415 Shearer Blk.
    1911: Ella M.(wid. John)
    Bds. 814 Center
    Wk. mlnr., 313 Shearer Blk.

    While I wasn't able to find specific information about when John moved to Michigan -- what references I was able to find says he came from the Boston area, and he first resided in Saginaw before moving on to Bay City where he had boarded at 813 N. Birney street. The U.S. Census for 1880 has John and Arthur still living with their parents in Cambridge. John is listed as 18 years old and working as a jeweller, Arthur is 13 years old and still in school. John began his professional career in baseball in 1882, which indicates he lived here for two years or less. During that time, he played for the Saginaw team in the Northwestern league and against their bitter rivals on the Bay City ball club. The Northwestern league was highly regarded by major league teams for its quality of play, and as a source for new young players for their teams.

    John began playing center field for the Saginaw team according to an article in the {Bay City Tribune on October 11, 1885}. It stated that John was an average player until in one game he was called on to substitute for an injured pitcher, and which turned him into becoming an outstanding player as a pitcher that ultimately took him to the major leagues.

    John was only 32 years old when he retired from baseball in 1894 and decided to set up residence in Bay City. Why he chose to live here isn't clear. It may have been the city was still bustling from the lumbering era or the friendships that he had made in this area. Whatever the reason, he opened a cigar business and maintained a residence here until his death, an indication that he had no plans of living elsewhere.

    In 1895 he played local base ball and managed the Bay City team. The 1895 Bay City Tribune newspaper (See Writings/Sports) covered several of the games. It appears from these accounts that the team had just been put together that year by John, and was still getting organized. The June 23, 1895 article covering the game against the Yales from Detroit makes reference to the team playing at the fairgrounds on what may have been a make-shift field. This article describes a ball being hit deep to the out field into the weeds. Research done the subject by Ron Bloomfield (Curator, Bay County Museum) found no reference to a stadium in city directories, supporting the conclusion their home field was most likely the fairgrounds.

    Brothers, Arthur and Walter

    John's two younger brothers, Arthur and Walter, also played major league baseball, and they also lived in Bay City after their playing days were over. I found nothing signicant on the history of them other than was recorded in their baseball records. I found Arthur in a Polk Directory listed as the owner of a cigar store at 311 Center Ave. (Shearer blk.), and not far from John's cigar store.

    The following information on John's younger brothers are from their baseball records:

    Arthur Hamilton Clarkson was born August 31, 1866 in Cambridge, MA and died February 5, 1911 in Somerville, MA. He played in the majors from 1891 to 1896, and was affectionately known as "Dad" Clarkson. A Bay City Tribune in 1899 makes reference to him playing for Detroit in 1898, but this does not appear in his statistical record.

    Walter Hamilton Clarkson was born November 3, 1878 in Cambridge, MA and died October 10, 1946 in Cambridge, MA. He major league career was from 1904 until 1909.

    Clarkson Boys Were Proficient Ballplayers.

    The Clarkson boys may represent the most proficient baseball brothers Bay County's history -- yet few are aware of them today. Certainly John who made it into baseball's Hall of Fame deserves official local recognition.

    Leslie Arndt in his book, "The Bay County Story - From Footpaths to Freeways" writes about this era,

    "For many of the residents in the early 1900s, Sundays besides church meant a ride on a street car featuring a sign on its front reading, 'Baseball Today.' Motorman John Opperman at the controls with August (Gus) Doupounce conductor would escort the crowds out to the old Clarkston Park on Center near Livingston for a MINT League game. The park, dedicated May 17, 1909, honored John G. Clarkston, local hurler 1883-85, who went on to big-league fame with Chicago and the World champion Boston Nationals. Clarkson then ran a snack shop at Center and Washington avenues, where local fans gathered."
  • Note: The snack shop referenced by Mr. Arndt was located in the Phoenix building.
  • Clarkson also got space in an earlier history written by Augustus H. Gansser, published in 1905.

    One of Bay City's really famous citizens is John G. Clarkson, known all over the world as the peer of baseball twirlers, 1880-95, who played here in 1883-85, then for years was with Chicago, until sold for $10,000 to the world's champion team at Boston. He is still active in promoting the national game locally.

    John Clarkson's Teams

    John Clarkson entered the major leagues at the age of 20 and played for Freeman Brown who managed the Worcester Ruby Legs of the national league. John's pitching record that year was 1 win and 3 losses. The following year (1883) there is no baseball record for John. His next recorded stats were for the 1884 season playing for Cap Anson, manager of the Chicago White Stockings which was established in 1876 and are today known as the Chicago Cubs. John won 10 and lost 3 games in 14 appearances during 1884. However, the next season he compiled a spectacular record playing in 70 games, winning 53 and losing only 16. He pitched 623 innings striking out 308 batters and gave up only 21 home runs. He won 30 plus games in the next two seasons for them, the was surprisingly traded him to the Boston Beaneasters in 1888.

    At Boston, his play was equally outstanding with a won loss record in 33-20 in 1885, 49-19 in 1889, 26-18 in 1890 and 33-19 in 1891. In 1892 his pitching performance dropped sharply. He played in only 16 games winning 8 and losting 6 -- I can only surmise that he had an injury that year. It was also the year that his younger brother, Arthur (aka. "Day" Clarkson) was picked up by Boston from the New York Giants, the team Arthur entered the league with the year before. Arthur appeared in only one game for Boston which he won.

    Both of the Clarkson brothers were traded in 1892 -- Arthur to the St. Louis Browns and John to the Cleveland Spiders which was the last team he played for before retiring in 1894. -- It's noted on John's baseball record that on July 13, 1894, he was traded to the Baltimore Oriole for Tony Mullane, but there I found no record of him every playing a game for Balitimore. It may be he decided to retire rather than join a new team.

    "One of Bay City's realy famous citizens is John G. Clarkson, known all over the world as the peer of basball twirlers, 1880-95, who played here in 1883-85, then for years was with Chicago, until sold for $10,000 to the world's champian team at Boston. He is still active promoting the national game locally."
    -- Augustus Gansser (1905)

    John Clarkson career in base ball (it was two words in the beginning) was remarkable. He won 30 or more games in six of the 12 seasons he played. He won 53 games and pitched a no hitter against Providence in his first year with the Chicago White Stockings who won the pennant that year. Three years later he was picked up by Boston where he was paid $10,000 putting him at the top of the pay scale for ball players at that time.

    Over a century later, Clarkson's records still ranks him among the all time great pitchers in baseball history. While it a folly to compare records of different eras, Total Baseball considered him the fourth best pitcher ever in 2003, right behind Hall of Famers Cy Young, Christy Matthewson and Lefty Grove.

    John Clarkson is clearly one of the most outstanding athletes to have ever played local sports in this area.

    Baseball pitching statistics for the Clarkson Brothers:

    CG - complete games | IP - inning pitched | BB - walks | SO - strike outs | ERA - earned run avg.
    John Gibson Clarkson

    1882Worchester Ruby Legs123224.049234.50
    1884Chicago White Stockings (Cubs)1031412118.094251022.14
    1885Chicago White Stockings (Cubs)53167068623.0497943081.85
    1886Chicago White Stockings (Cubs)36175550466.7419863132.41
    1887Chicago White Stockings (Cubs)38216056523.0513922373.08
    1888Boston Beaneaters (Braves)33205453483.34481192232.76
    1889Boston Beaneaters (Braves)49197368620.05892032842.73
    1890Boston Beaneaters (Braves)26184443383.03701401383.27
    1891Boston Beaneaters (Braves)33195547460.74351541412.79
    1892Boston & Cleveland teams25164542389.03501321392.35
    1893Cleveland Spiders16173631295.035895624.45
    1894Cleveland Spiders8102213150.717346284.42
    Won/Loss % .648

  • Source: [John Clarkson] - Baseball-Reference.com
  • (See right column for more stats.)
    Arthur Hamilton Clarkson

    1891New York (Giants)125128.02418112.89
    1892Boston Beaneaters (Braves)101128.024301.29
    1893St. Louis Browns1292417186.319479373.48
    1894St. Louis Browns8173224233.3318117466.36
    1895St. Louis & Boston1392117203.026090324.92
    1896Boston Beaneaters (Braves)427347.0721874.98
    Won/Loss % .500

  • Source: ["Dad" Clarkson] - Baseball-Reference.com

    Walter Hamilton Clarkson

    1904New York Highlanders1213266.36325435.02
    1905New York Highlanders 3313346.01335303.91
    1906New York Highlanders 94329151.013555642.32
    1907New York Highlanders 115017.319836.23
    1907Cleveland Naps 4617990.77729321.99
    1908Cleveland Naps 00203.362110.80
    Won/Loss % .529

  • Source: [Walter Clarkson] - Baseball-Reference.com

  • Post Baseball Days

    John returned to Bay City where he started a cigar business in the downtown area. However, it wasn't long before he became actively involved with Bay City's semi-pro team as a pitcher and coach. He could still throw good enough, but not with the consistency that marked his professional career. Life was good for John, his cigar business was doing well and he could still enjoy playing a little baseball. But sickness struck him and he wasn't able to overcome it. John died in Winthrop, MA, where he gone for treatment and temporarily residing with his parents. He was going to the hospital in Belmont and seemed to be getting better, and was looking forward to returning to his residence in Bay City and once again be with Ella and his brother Arthur. But pneumonia struck him a fatal blow.

    In a book written by Daniel M. Person, "Baseball in 1880: Players vs. Owners," page 197, gives additional information regarding John's health problem:

    John Clarkson stayed with Boston's National league team during the 1890 season, supposedly because his wife convinced him to do so (Tip O'Neill file, NBL). Even after his 620 inning, seventh-three game marathon season of 1889, Clarkson had two more good years. However, at the first sign of arm trouble in 1892, Boston's owners dispatched him to Cleveland where he gave the youthful Cy Young the benefit of his considerable pitching knowledge. Retiring from baseball after 1894, John Clarkson operated a cigar store in Bay City, Michigan until 1902.

    Increasing troubled with a nervous disorder, Clarkson was confined in the Eastern Michigan Asylum for the Insane at Pontiac, Michigan until the summer of 1908. Then, sufficiently recovered, he lived with his father in Winthrop, Massachusetts until contracting double pneumonia and dying in 1909. In his last days, “he seemed to have no memory at all for things of today, but talked clearly and lucidly of matters connected with his past” (Jacob C. Morse, S.L., 13 February 1909)

    His death was a shock as John's health seemed to be getting better. He was looking forward to returning to his home in Bay City, on 1200 Sixth Street, where he and Ella along with his brother, Arthur. But, he came down with pneumonia, and never recovered from it.
    -- (The 1910 Polk Directory has Arthur's occupation listed as a tailor working at 415 Shearer Blk., and in 1911, Ella is listed as milliner at 313 Shearer blk.)


    During his playing days, John was rightfully recognized for his amazing records as a pitcher. However, he remained pretty much forgotten until 1963 when he finally was elected into baseball's Hall of Fame.

    Tim Younkman, writer for The Bay City Times, wrote an article in 2002 stating that whenever a new baseball park is built in Bay City, it should be named after John Gibson Clarkson. I couldn't agree more. Clarkson's record and his association with local baseball speaks for itself. He's long over do the proper recognition that he deserves for his contributions to our local sports history.

    Addition Notes:

    • 1886 - Record of John G. Clarkson, son of Thomas G. and Ellen Clarkson, marriage on March 4, 1886, to Ella M. Barr (b. 1863), daughter of William A. and Arabella Barr. [Mass. Marriage Records]
    • 1880 - Clarkson and his parents, Thomas P. and Ellen M. Clarkson, are picked up in the census at Cambridge, Mass.
    • 1900 - Clarkson (age 38) and Ella (age 37) are picked up in census living at 1400 Fifth St., Bay City's west side.
    • 1902 - Clarkson was a Mason, and member of Bay City Lodge No. 53.
    • 1902 - John G. Clarkson & Co. is listed as wholesale cigar merchant, 203 5th ave, retail, Phoenix blk., Bay City, Mich. [Young & Co. Bus. & Prof. directory]

    Viewer Comments:

    Clarkson still being talked about. (Contributed by Jim Petrimoulx - Apr., 2009)
    An interesting blog posting about Clarkson on Jan. 30, 2007, gives some new insights into Clarkson's early life and how the game of base ball was played during his time. According to this article, Clarkson's father was a well off jeweler, all five of his sons were excellent athletes. The author also notes that Clarkson was a bit sensitive, which often had an affect on his pitching performance.
    -- [SB Nation Sports Blog]

    Sent email to Bay-Journal to add your comments here.

    Related Pages

    John G. Clarkson (1905)

    Clarkson, J.G. 1909 papers.
    Clarkson, A.H. 1899 paper.
    B.C. Cardinals, 1909 paper.
    Clarkson Park. (1909)
    1885 Base Ball Articles
    1895 Base Ball Articles
    People Referenced
    Arndt, Leslie
    Anson, Cap
    Barr, Arabella Mrs.
    Barr, Ella (wife)
    Barr, William A.
    Brown, Freeman
    Clarkson, Arthur (bro)
    Clarkson, Ellen Mrs(mother)
    Clarkson, John G. (subject)
    Clarkson, Thomas G. (father)
    Clarkson, Walter (bro)
    Doupounce, August (Gus)
    Grove, Lefty
    Matthewson, Christy
    Morse, Jacob C.
    Mullane, Tony
    Opperman, John
    Young, Cy
    Subjects Referenced
    Baseball Hall of Fame
    Bay City, MI
    Belmont, MA
    Boston Beaneaters
    Boston Nationals
    Cambridge, MA
    Chicago White Stockings
    Clarkson Park
    Cleveland Spiders
    Fairgrounds, Bay City
    Goodwin & Company
    MINT League
    National League
    New York, NY
    Providence team
    Saginaw, MI
    Worchester Ruby Legs
    Yales (Detroit)
    Newspaper Article
    Bay City Tribune - Jul. 26, 1896
    IT'S A FAKE.
    John Clarkson Will Not Enter Diamond Again.


    A report has been going the rounds of the press the past few days that John G. Clarkson would return to the diamond. Mr. Clarkson was seen by a Tribune reporter yesterday in regard to the matter and said that report was entiredly without foundation.

    "I have not even been considering such a possibility," said Mr. Clarkson, "and am at a loss to know how the story originated."

    Mr. Clarkson was the star pitcher of the Boston's when it was at the head of the national league for three consequtive seasons.
    More John Clarkson's Stats.
    Managers played for:
    [Worchester Ruby Legs]
    Freeman Brown
    Tommy Bond
    Jack Chapman

    [Chicago White Stockings]
    Cap A.C. Anson
    [Boston Braves]
    (now Atlanta Braves)
    Jim Hart (1889)
    Frank Selee (1890-91)

    [Cleveland Spiders]
    Patsy Tebeau
    League Leader
    Wins: 1885, 1887, 1889
    Earn Run Average (ERA): 1889
    Strike Outs (K): 1885, 1886, 1887, 1889
    Career Record [mlb.com]
    Wins: 328 (ranks 10th all time as of 2003.)
    Losses: 178
    Games: 531
    Earned Run Aveage (ERA): 2.81, - 4,536 innings pitched.
    Strike Outs: 1978.
    No hitters: 1 (4-0 against Providence in 1885)
    Won 30 or games in six times.
    Retired as National League's winningest pitcher.
    Single Season Highs
    53 wins in 1885 appearing in 70 games with Chicago.
    68 complete games in 1885 appearing in 70 games with Chicago.
    68 complete games in 1889 appearing in 73 games with Boston.
    1.85 earn run average in 1885 appearing in 70 games.
    313 strike outs in 1885 with Chicago.
    J.G. Clarkson Baseball Cards
    Note: Click photos to enlarge.

    Photos from Library of Congress.
    Old Time Bay City Base Ball
    Old time base ball is still alive and doing well in Bay City. The game as it was originally played has been resurrected over a century later to the delight fans who are more than willing to bring along a lawn chair to enjoy the play of the Bay City Independents.

    You can learn more about the Bay City Indepenents and local base ball history at:
    [Bay City Independents]
    Related Internet Resources
    [-] Detailed history on John Clarkson -- SABR.org.
    [-] John Clarkson's Baseball Hall of Fame page. Includes photo and some stats.
    [-] Library of Congress: Baseball Card Collection
    [-] Baseball Reference.com: Detailed statistics.
    [-] Baseball Library.com: Books and articles about John Clarkson.
    Article's Sources
    Tim Younkman, Article, Bay City Times, published 21 Jul 2002.
    Leslie E. Arndt, The Bay County Story - From Footpaths to Freeways.
    Library of Congress, Baseball history & photos.
    Baseball Hall of Fame, Online history of baseball.
    1880 U.S. Census - Cambridge, MA.
    Polk City Directories.
    Bay City Base Ball (1882-1929), paper by Ron Bloomfield (2005)
    PEOPLE HISTORY: Help Us If You Can - Contribute an article on a historical personality.