They Called Him Dad

Dad Clarke never married. He had no children.

But, baseball fans called him Dad, reporters called him Dad, everyone called him Dad, although his given name, which was given in 1865, was William.

Public Domain

Dad Clarke, circa 1888.

He is the only childless “Dad” I know.

I wonder if that seemed peculiar to him? To be a Dad in name only?

There are a lot of dads in baseball. The lower-case, fathers-with-children kind. Some ballplayers today have kids like other people have Tupperware. Just lots of kids. Preternaturally fertile, these players.

(Full disclosure: I am a kidless writer. I do not know beans about parenting. But, I had a dad, and I called him Dad, so I’m confident that I’m qualified to write this.)

There are only a handful of ballplayers who, over the years, were known primarily as “Dad.” Not as a sometime nickname, but as the name that overrode the name they were given.

Or, were there?

The list of six – culled from Baseball Reference – is sort of strange.

Dad Clarke, pitcher. (1888-1898)

Dad Meek, catcher. (1889-1890)

Dad Lytle, second base/OF. (1890)

Dad Clarkson, pitcher. (1891-1896)

Dad Clark, first base. (1902)

Dad Hale, pitcher. (1902)

Six players, none of whom played after 1902.

All were called Dad at a time when most dads were still called papa. Dads and daddys were new to the father-name game, which makes a Dad rather strange.

Popularity of Dad vs Papa, 1800-2000, via Google.

Dad Clarke played the longest of the six and, indeed, reporters typically called him Dad. But, the Dad thing doesn’t stick as well on the other five. Let’s tidy things up.

William “Dad” Clarke – that Dad who had no children – pitched in seven big league seasons between 1888 and 1898, primarily with the New York Giants. (Minor league stints make up the difference.)

“‘Dad’ Clarke of New York is 29 years of age. He looks like a man of 40,” The Wichita Daily Eagle reported in 1895.  Life expectancy in the 1890s was only in the 40s, and apparently Dad looked to be about at the end of his.

Chanute KS Daily Tribune, 10/19/1895

I dunno. He doesn’t look that old to me.

Indeed, reporters in Omaha, where he played minor league ball, called him Dad or “Old Dad” as early as 1889. They also called him “a pleasant mannered little fellow.”

And, in 1890, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune called him “the only and original Dad,” which makes me wonder, were there other Dads pretending to be that Dad?

Clarke wasn’t called Dad because of his kind and fatherly ways, that’s certain.

He was known for his trash talk, particularly while pitching. “If I had nobody but stiffs like you to pitch to, I’d never lose a game,” he hollered to one batter, according to a wire service story in August 1895. Two swings later, the batter grounded out. “Didn’t I tell you?” Clarke yelled.

“He was a consummate bench jockey,” Terry Bohn writes in Clarke’s SABR bio, “constantly offering wisecracks and insults from the mound, dugout, or as a base coach. Clarke was a headache for his managers and the opposition, but was loved by his teammates and fans.”

He gambled. He drank. Sure, they all did back then, but he did more than most.

His pitching was erratic at times and so was his mood. Once, when a batter got a hit off of him, Clarke angrily chased him around the bases hoping he could stop him from scoring the winning run. (Fun fact: that’s not how baseball works.)

Buffalo Enquirer, 8/14/1895

But, he also won 35 games for the New York Giants over the 1895 and ’96 seasons.

He died of a stroke in 1911.  He was 46.

Omaha Daily Bee, 6/5/1911

His obituaries called him Dad.

Frank “Dad” Meek played two seasons with the St. Louis Browns (1889-1890) and was always called Frank.

There is a Dad Meek, who played around the same time in California and in other minor leagues. But, he is not Frank Meek.

Los Angeles Times, 6/26/1924

“Dad” Meek. Not Frank.

Dad Meek, the minor league one, is beloved in California and nearly always referred to, in quotes, as “Dad.” Frank is not. But, I can see how the two might have gotten confused.

Edward “Dad” Lytle played just one season (1890) in Chicago and Pittsburgh, and is notable mainly for being the first major leaguer to hail from Racine, Wisconsin.

Public Domain

Lytle

Not much was written about Lytle and his one season of big league ball. But, “Dad” Lytle is mentioned from time to time, along with teammate Spitless Willie, a few seasons later when Dad played minor league ball in California. So, “Dad” he was.

Should your dad happen to live in Dad Lytle’s hometown of Racine, I encourage you to treat him today to a Kringle from the O&H Danish Bakery, followed by Racine’s annual Father’s Day Putt Putt Golf Tournament and BBQ.

Father’s Day Kringle — caramel, chocolate, and brownie bits. Yum!

Arthur “Dad” Clarkson, a Harvard man, played five seasons – from 1891-1896 – wandering from New York to Boston to St. Louis and finally in 1895 and ’96, Baltimore. Those were Baltimore’s pennant-winning seasons, and Clarkson’s 20 games in ’95 were strong, but by ’96 other stronger Orioles pitchers had relegated Clarkson to the bench.

Public Domain

Clarkson

He is not called Dad, but is simply “Arthur Clarkson of the championship Orioles,” when in January 1896 he is reported missing and presumed drowned after he and two friends go out on an iceboat on Saginaw Bay and don’t return.

Indianapolis Journal, 1/18/1896

“It is feared by their friends that they have gone through the ice” is reported widely across the country.

Reported far less widely is the discovery a few days later that Clarkson and friends have been found safe and sound on the other side of the Bay.

The Baltimore Sun, 1/22/1896

The Cincinnati Enquirer in May 1896 described the not-dead and not-Dad Clarkson’s pitching style thusly:

“All the way from 25 to 30 seconds were wasted by the elegant Mr. Clarkson on every ball. First he would get in the box and draw up his arm as if he intended to pitch. Just as the crowd was expecting to see him send in the sphere he would drop his hand and take a survey of all the bases. Next he would get out of the box and look at the umpire. Then if everything suited him he would step back in his position. Once more he would survey the bases, and if there happened to be one of the Reds on a base he would make sundry and numerous motions as though he intended to attempt a throw. Then if everything had gone along to Mr. Clarkson’s liking he would raise his pitching arm above his head, lift his left foot, pose for a second or two, and then send the ball in.”

(That’s 1896 speak for, “We need to speed up the pace of the game.”)

He was released by the Orioles in August 1896 and Clarkson complained that his release was timed so that he would have no share in the championship money the team earned that fall.

His death in 1911 was widely reported. He was 45 and no one called him “Dad.”

Washington DC Herald, 2/7/11

He seems to have picked up “Dad” or “Old Dad Clarkson” in later years when sportswriters in the 1920s and ’30s began to write wistfully of how much better baseball was “back in the Gay Old ’90s.”

His older brother John, also a pitcher, won 30+ games six times and is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Younger brother Walter also pitched in the big leagues.

Alfred “Dad” Clark played just 12 games in 1902 for the Chicago Orphans. Was he really called Dad? No clue.

Public Domain

Clark

But, Rufus “Dad” Clark, the “Potato King of Colorado” was definitely known as Dad Clark and occasionally known as “Potato.” In 1859, he started farming on a 160-acre homestead at the location of today’s Highlands Ranch Golf Club, southwest of Denver. His potato crops were legendary.

Dad Clark. Not A Ballplayer.

Today’s Highlands Ranch, Colorado includes a Dad Clark hiking trail and Dad Clark park. Potatoes. Trail. Park. That Dad Clark left a legacy.

He has nothing to do with Alfred Clark the first baseman of 1902. But, as my Dad would agree, you gotta go with what you know.

“Dad” Hale is called Ray Hale and, sometimes, Roy Hale, often by the same newspaper. So, you tell me. He pitched just one season – 1902 – appearing in eight games with the Boston Beaneaters and three with the Baltimore Orioles.

I can’t find a place where anyone referred to him as Dad. (At just 11 games, I can’t find anyone referring to him much at all.) But, I did find a photo of the elusive Ray Roy. You’re welcome.

Boston Post, 1/10/1902

So there you go. Six Dads, but just one, really. Dad Clarke really was called Dad.

There’s a moral to all this, I guess. And, this is what I think it is. There are a lot of dads out there – all kinds of them. But, when it comes down to it, the only ones who matter today are the ones that you call Dad.

Dad.

My Father-in-Law. I called him Pops, which is just another way of saying Dad.

Happy Father’s Day.

9 thoughts on “They Called Him Dad

  1. Happy Father’s Day, Bloggess! Your fascinating tale threw me maybe not a curse, perhaps more of a slider. My preconception was askew, expecting something like baseball dads who had baseball dads (e.g. Boone, Francona, Ripken, etc. ).
    On the other hand, my preconceived notion about foppish “Hahvahd” man Arthur Clarkson was confirmed. 😉
    I also see a lot of sartorial similarities between my dad and yours. My dad also (by necessity) wore a variety of hats; his signature model was a Stetson, reflecting his brief time spent in Texas, which he wore in his traveling sales endeavors. He felt it, along with being 6’5”, created a memory for his customers.

    • Arthur Clarkson’s two big-league brothers were also Harvard men! :)

      Wow, 6’5″ plus a Stetson … he must have been nearly 7 feet tall!

      My dad was mainly a ball cap guy — he had a neatly organized long shelf in his shop that was just cap after cap after cap. He was a farmer, so pretty much every John Deere cap created between 1970 and 1990 was on that shelf. The sporty chapeau in the photo was definitely his fancy cap!

  2. As always, you’re such a treat to read.
    Great job digging to get that photo of Roy/Ray! I quite like his mug. But I must say I’m partial to that Dad Clarke – mainly because he looks like my Grampa, but also because he sounds like a real pip.

    • Thank you! Yup, that’s the perfect word … Dad Clarke was a pip all right. I didn’t have room to get in the story about how he about broke all his teammates in craps games that he set up. Soon after, he was seen wearing a $1,500 “sparkler” which I took to mean either a ring or a fancy watch.

  3. O+H Bakery! OK, I know kringle isn’t the main idea of your great post, but it’s about 20 miles from my home, so I’m feeling a geographical tie that exists only in my brain, sure, but it’s as close to you as I’ll get. Nice work, as always, dear Bloggess.

    • Awww, Hannah … thank you for stopping by! My idea to write a simple story about a player named Dad mushroomed far beyond what I imagined. My own Dad, however, would probably be proud of my unexpected level of detail … he always appreciated when someone was unexpectedly thorough! :)

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