Teams: Worcester Ruby Legs, 1882; Chicago White Stockings, 1884-1887; Boston Beaneaters, 1888-1892; Cleveland Spiders, 1892-1894
John Clarkson debuted at the major
league level in 1882.
In almost every respect, John Gibson Clarkson (1861-1909) was an anomaly. He was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of a wealthy jewelry manufacturer. He was badly out of step with the rough-and-tumble era in which he played. The miracle is not so much that he won 326 games but that he played 12 seasons in the majors before his mental makeup overcame him.
Even Clarkson’s introduction to the professional game was atypical. He debuted at the major-league level, with Worcester of the National League in 1882.
When the club disbanded at the close of the season, Clarkson didn’t join his teammates in scrambling for a place on another major-league team but instead headed for the minors. In 1884, while in the midst of winning 31 games for Saginaw in the Northwestern League, he was scouted by Cap Anson of the Chicago White Stockings, who desperately needed another pitcher.
Signed by Chicago, Clarkson won 10 games before the season was out. The following year, when the overworked Larry Corcoran fell prey to arm trouble, Clarkson inherited the workhorse’s job.
Only age 23 when the season began, he fashioned a 53-16 record (the second-highest number of victories in history) to vault the White Stockings to the pennant. Proving that he was not just a one-year wonder, Clarkson followed up on his mammoth season by logging 35 victories in 1886 and 38 in 1887.
His league-leading record in 1887 notwithstanding, Clarkson was sold to Boston for $10,000 before the 1888 season. Chicago fans were up in arms over the deal that followed on the heels of the sale of Clarkson’s battery mate, King Kelly, to Boston. Manager Anson defended the transactions by claiming that both men were detrimental to his team: Kelly because of his undisciplined nature, and Clarkson because of his overly sensitive one.
In any case, Clarkson was hardly shattered by the move. He won 82 games during his first two seasons in Boston, giving him a record 209 wins over a five-year period. Failing to beat Pittsburgh on the final day of the 1889 season, however, he helped cost Boston the pennant.
Although Clarkson remained loyal to the Beaneaters during the Players League insurrection in 1890, he was nevertheless shipped to Cleveland two years later. He retired after the 1894 season, in part because he was unable to adapt to the increased 60960 pitching distance put into effect the previous year. Clarkson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1963.
Here are John Clarkson's major league totals:
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