John Gibson Clarkson
Hall of Fame baseball pitcher. Born in Cambridge, MA and resident of Bay City, MI.
In addition to these historical documents related to John G. Clarson, there is biography detailing his base ball statistics on his history page in the People section the Heritage Library.
1896-7: Biography. (Added December, 2008)
A History of the Boston Base Ball Club, Compiled by George V. Tuohey (1896/7)
JOHN CLARKSON. -------
John Clarkson, famous as the most phenomenal pitcher of his time, was born in Cambridge, Mass., July 1, 1861. He began as a player with the Webster School of his native city, and in 1882, while pitching for the Boston team of Boston, Clarkson attracted the attention of the management of the Worcester Club, of the National League, and he was at once engaged as an infielder and change pitcher. That was the first professional engagement, but, unfortunately for him, it did not prove a brilliant or lasting one. He was bothered with a bad shoulder, and, after six weeks, was laid off for the remained of the season. In 1883
Clarkson was engaged for the Saginaw Club of the Northwestern League. Arthur Whitney became acquainted with him in 1882, at Worcester, Mass., while visiting that city as a member of the Detroit team. Clarkson pitched for the Worcester against the visitors, and Whitney, seeing he could make a fine pitcher, engaged him for the Saginaw Club when he took charge of that team on the following year. Clarkson, therefore, owes his success, in measure, to Whitney. Although was engaged as a pitcher, he was not put in the box at the outset, because Nichols and McArthur of the same club were in fine form and were both pitching excellent ball. Clarkson was used as a general utility man, and played everywhere excepting behind the bat. He was not steady in the outfield, having a tendency to drop flies, and for a while was being weighed in the balance. The club was going to release him, but Whitney insisted on retaining him, and it was not long after that that the turning point in Clarkson's career as a pitcher came, by pitching his club into the championship. Clarkson remained with the Saginaws until August 14, 1884, when the club disbanded. Then he went to the Chicago Cubs, of the National League, and remained there until 1888, when Boston secured his release by purchase, $10,000 being the consideration. During the next succeeding three years he, with Mike Kelly, formed the famous $20,000 battery. His phenomenal work with Boston even surpased that done by him in Chicago, and his strategic skill was in important factor in the championship standing of the club. In no season did Clarkson pitch with more telling effect than in 1889, and it can safely be said that it was not Clarkson's fault that the Boston Club did not win the National League championship, for he pitched in more championship games than any other man, and, had he been properly supported, the chances are that Boston might have won the pennant. Clarkson remained with Boston until June 3, 1892, when he was unconditionally released owing to an injury to his arm. He was immediately signed by Cleveland, with whom he played until the champion Baltimores exchanged him for Tony Mullane in the spring of 1894. Here he proved a disappointment, and he was release in August, after which he opened a cigar store in Bay City, Mich. In 1895, Johnorganized and managed the Bay City Club of the Michigan State League, but he was forced to give up, owning to the disappointing and discouraging showing of the team.
1909: Death. (Added September 2005)
Bay City Times - Thursday, February 4, 1909.
FAMOUS OLD TIME BASEBALL PITCHER IS DEAD.
BEGAN HIS CAREER IN SAGINAW NORTHWESTERN.
Sold With Mike Kelly to Boston by Chicago For Ten Thousand Dollars.
Waltham, Mass. Feb. 4. – John G. Clarkson, a famous baseball pitcher in the days when ten thousand dollars release prices began to be paid between the National league clubs, died at McLean hospital here today. He had been a patient there for two weeks follow a long illness which began with pneumonia, at his home, in Winthrop. He was 48 years of age and married.
John G. Clarkson began his baseball career as a pitcher for the Saginaw club about 1882 in what was then the Northwestern league. It was this league that turned out so many players for the major leagues. Clarkson was looked upon as the best twirler in the league, but this Bay City would not admit so long as it had on its slab David L. Foutz. Foutz was Bay City’sfavorite and Clarkson was equally well thought of in Saginaw. In many a game were these two masters of the ball pitted against each other, as in those days the rivalry between Bay City and Saginaw was at white heat all of the time.
When the Northwestern league broke up, Foutz was sold to St. Louis of the American association with which he remained for several seasons, then going to Brooklyn where he managed the team until 1896 when he was deposed on account of failing health. He died at his home in Baltimore March 5 the following year.
From the Saginaw teamClarkson went to the National team in Chicago, where he rapidly developed and became what many believed to the champion base ball pitcher of the world. He remained there six or seven seasons, pitching into the mitt of Mike Kelly. The next heard of him was when Chicago sold Clarkson and Kelly to the Boston Nationals for $10,000. By that time Clarkson had seen his best days. He was next a member of the Cleveland team in the American association where he remained until the summer of 1895, when he obtained his release and came to Bay City to purchase in September of that year the cigar store of William Southworth, the latter having received fatal injuries at the crossing of Center and Lincoln avenues while riding his wheel, a horse driven by a boy running into him. Mr. Clarkson branched out into the wholesale business in connection with the retail department, having a store on Fifth avenue in the Marston block, and a retail store in the Phoenix block. In this business Mr. Clarkson remained until 1905, when there were signs of his mind breaking down. He was placed in a retreat and kept for several months, but the physicians gave no hope of his recovery and Mrs. Clarkson there upon took him to the home of his parents in Winthrop, near Boston.
Mr. Clarkson was a member of Bay City lodge, No. 129, F. & A. M. and Bay City commandery, No. 26, K. T.
1909, Feb 5: Article. (Added September 2005)
The Bay City Tribune - Friday, February 5, 1909, Page 5.
JOHN G. CLARKSON IS DEAD.
FORMER WELL-KNOWN BASE BALL PLAYER SUCCUMBS TO ATTACK OF PNEUMONIA.
Played in National League Clubs for Years and Lived in Bay City 1895 to 1905.
A dispatch from Boston, Mass., notes the death there in McLean hospital yesterday of John G. Clarkson, for 10 years previous to 1905 a resident of Bay City where he was engaged in the cigar and tobacco business. Mr. Clarkson had suffered for a long time with an illness that finally developed into pneumonia, and he was removed from his home in Winthrop, Mass., to the hospital. During the later years of his residence here Mr. Clarkson suffered from a general breaking down, and he was sent to a retreat, where he remained for several months. His physicians expressing no hope of his recovery, Mrs. Clarkson took him to the home of his parents near Winthrop.
Mr. Clarkson is survived by his widow and parents, two brothers, Arthur and Walter. He was a member of the Bay City Lodge, No. 239, F & A. M., and Bay City Commandery, No. 25, K.T.
John Clarkson first came into prominence in the base ball world in 1883 and 1884, when he was a member of the Saginaw team in the old Northwestern League, and came to Bay City when the former club played here. His record was such that when the Northwestern League went to pieces in 1884 Captain Anson, of the Chicago National League team, secured him and he remained with the club for three years. He was the main factor in winning the pennant in 1886-7 for the Chicago team with a record of winning more than three-fourths of the games he pitched in 1885 and two-thirds of those of 1886. In the summer of 1887 the management of the Boston National League team began to cast anxious eyes at Clarkson, and as a result secured the services of the pitcher and Mike Kelly, paying therefor the sum of $10,000 which stands as a record for purchase prices in base ball history.
Clarkson remained with Boston for several years, his pitching being a factor in winning for that club the pennant in 1891 and 1892. For a few years thereafter his work was not of the standard of previous years, owing to the terrific strain imposed upon him, and in 1894 he retired from base ball. A year later he come to Bay City, where he embarked in business, purchasing the stock of the late William Southworth and rapidly enlarging the business. For 10 years he successfully conducted the business until failing health compelled his retirement.
In base ball circles, and especially among old-timers, there is still talk of the wonderful work performed by Mr. Clarkson when he was in his prime. He pulled his teams out of some tough holes during games with opponents, and never was found lacking at critical times, being in perfect command of himself and the ball when upon the field. His pitching career ended about the time the distance between the pitcher's box and the home plate was lengthened, so there was not much opportunity for him to demonstrate ability under the conditions surrounding modern base ball. After coming to Bay CityMr. Clarkson maintained his interest in base ball and athletic affairs and was frequently seen upon the diamond officiating in his old capacity for some of the strong amateur organizations of the city.
1909, Feb. 6: Article (Added June, 2004)
The Bay City Tribune - Saturday, February 6, 1909, Page 10.
PAYS TRIBUTE TO CLARKSON.
Detoit Free Press Estimate of Greatest Pitcher, Who Died in Boston Thursday.
The Detroit Free Press yesterday had the following regarding the late John G. Clarkson: John Clarkson, who name will be perpetuated in the baseball hall of fame as long as the game remains America's leading sport is dead. The end came yesterday at McLean hospital, near Boston. Pneumonia was the direct cause though Clarkson had been suffering elsewise for a long time. His mental condition was such that he was taken east from Bay City, his home for a long time two or three years since, to be placed in a sanitarium. He had improved so rapidly that less than a month since his wife said, at Bay City, that she expected to bring him back shortly from the home of his relatives with whom he had been visiting since his discharge from the institution to which he was taken when he left this state.
The dead man was one of the greatest, if not the greatest pitcher baseball has known. A few days since Billy Sunday, himself a former member of the Chicago Colts with whom Clarkson gained his greatest fame, picked John as his favorite pitcher of all time, saying: "Clarkson, I believe, was the game's greatest pitcher. He had terrific speed, greater curves than Mathewson, and his control was perfect. Clarkson, of course, didn't use as much change of pace, but he was a tricky old fox at that. Clean, natty, well groomed, well educated, he was a credit to the game, at home in any parlor or banquet table."
Michigan has cause to remember the dead pitcher. His professional career really started in this state, for it was with Saginaw that he did such work that the Chicago National league club took him in 1884, and it was as a member of the Chicago team that he often dashed Detroit hopes by is magnificent halcyon days of Detroit baseball. From Chicago he went to Boston, which bought him in 1888 for $10,000, a price that was greater than any pitcher's release had been deemed worth and that was more than any club ever paid. With Boston, as with Chicago, he was a great pitcher, and his feats made him one of the foremost figures in baseball. The battery, Clarkson and Kelly was one of the greatest duos in baseball history.
Fans of today, who marvel at the work done by some of the so-called iron men, like Ed Walsh may profit some by glancing at the record of this veteran. Twice he lead the National league, once with Chicago and once with Boston. In 1885 he pitched 70 games for the Colts and had a winning average of .790. His team was champion, with a percentage of .770. In 1889 he pitched 72 games, with a winning average of .736. while the champion team of that year. New York had a percentage of but .659.
Bay City was Clarkson's home after he retired from the game and he had a cigar business there for some years. He is well remembered by townsmen of his adopted home. The Bay City club of South Michigan league some time ago decided to call its new field which will be dedicated this spring, Clarkson park, and had hoped to have Clarkson present on dedication day. Some special note of his passing will be taken when the park is opened.
1909, Feb. 6: Article. (added September 2005)
The Bay City Times - Saturday, February 6, 1909.
A GREAT PITCHER.
BASEBALL AUTHORITIES ON LATE J. G. CLARKSON.
Present Baseball Stars Loyal to the Memory of World’s Greatest Twirler.
Chicago, Feb. 6. – Nowhere in the country with the probably exception of Michigan, was John Clarkson a bigger favorite than in Chicago and the state of Illinois. Everybody knew him liked him, appreciated him and now, the fans of this section of the country will honor his passing.
Remarks concerning the great twirler were frequent here. Complements and appreciations were many. And here are the opinions of the local leading men in balldom:
Capt. A. C. Anson –
Clarkson was a wonderful pitcher, and I am sorry, indeed, to hear the news on his death. As his superior officer on the old White Stockings; I can say for Clarkson that he was loyalty personified. He never objected to anything I required of him and the work he did for the club would surprise some of the present the present day pitchers. It was Clarkson who invented the so-called “spitball,” though it was not known by that name in those days. It was his use of this curve that brought attention to him while he was pitching for the Saginaw club of the old Northwestern league, from which organization the Chicago club bought him.
Fred Pfeffer –
Whatever the fans of today think, in my opinion, there was never a pitcher better than Clarkson, and I don’t believe there ever will be. He did more work than any pitcher of the present time would think of doing. Personally, I never liked a ball player better than I did Clarkson, and the news of his death grieves me very much.
Jimmy Ryan –
Clarkson and Kelly were the greatest battery of their day, and I doubt whether any battery included better men in the history of the game. It was easy to play with Clarkson, for you had confidence in him and knew the main spring of the game would be all right. I regretted his departure from Chicago, and still more do I regret his death.
Charles A. Comiskey –
Clarkson was undoubtedly one of the greatest pitchers that ever lived, and it is doubtful if there will ever be one to equal him. We played against him in the ‘80s, when I was with the old St. Louis team and beside his remarkable pitching I learned to honor him then for his personal qualities. I am sorry to hear of his death.
Charles W. Murphy –
Clarkson’s career was too early for me. However, I have heard of him and from what Ryan and Anson say it must be admitted he was a great pitcher.
Related Notes & Pages
John G. Clarkson played base ball, as it was spelled back then, during a the early development years of major league base ball.
The the diamond that marked the bases was much larger than they are today.
So many details the play of baseball have changed since those early days -- that it is hard to compare statistics of modern players to those who played on yesterday's ball fields.
Before the Louisville Slugger came into being in 1884, the shape of bat were an individual choice and usally shaped like a rod, some were even flat for bunting. Gloves came into being during the 1870s, but they were simply a pad for the palm of the hand to knock the ball down and reduce its sting. During Clarkson's era the ball diamond was much larger than it is today, making pitching more difficult, but making it easier to get batters out at first base because they had to run farther.
John G. Clarkson was finally elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963, nearly seventy years after he last played. His records, which have withstood the test of time, rank him among the best pitchers to have ever played the game.
Comiskey, Charles A.
Foutz, David L.
Murphy, Charles W.
Bay City, MI
Bay City lodge
Detroit Free Press
Hall of fame
Michigan State League
New York team
South Michigan league
St. Louis team
Webster School, Cambridge
[-] Bay City Independents, old time base ball team and local base ball history.
[-] New York Times. -- 1915 article describing Clarkson and his history.
[-] American Memory Collections About Baseball. (www.memory.loc.gov)
[-] Baseball Hall of Fame. (www.baseballhalloffame.org)
[-] History of baseball gloves. (www.baseballgloves.com)
[-] History of baseball bats. (www.baseball-bats.net)