To learn everything you need to know about idiotic treatment of a pitching prospect, look at what the Texas Rangers did with teenage lefty David Clyde in the early 1970s.
Absurd doesn't come close to describing what the people in charge, including the team owner and later manager Billy Martin, did to ruin the phenom's career.
Officials with the Washington Nationals who are dealing with Stephen Strasburg probably already know Clyde's bizarre story. If not, he would talk their ears off telling them about it if they gave him a call.
A pitcher is not a gimmick. He's not a promotion. He's not a way to make fast money. It's too bad the Rangers didn't realize that.
As a result, Clyde, a pitcher thought to be one of the great young prospects in the history of the game, wound up lasting only five years in the major leagues. He remains bitter about it still today, blaming the Rangers and Martin.
"The things that happened in my career and the way they transpired at the beginning probably - well, no probably about it - definitely were the worst things that could have happened," Clyde said this week from Texas.
Clyde may have been the best high school pitcher of all time. The numbers he put up his senior year at Westchester High in Houston in 1973 are as close to unbelievable as it gets: 18-0 record, 148 innings, 328 strikeouts (out of 444 possible outs) and only three earned runs allowed for a microscopic ERA of 0.18.
The Rangers, coming off a 54-100 season in 1972, had the No. 1 pick in the '73 draft. They selected Clyde and gave him the largest signing bonus in draft history, $125,000.
The Rangers were a disaster at that time, having just moved to Arlington from Washington D.C. in 1972 and struggling to draw fans. When they selected Clyde in the June draft, they were on their way to a 57-105 season.
Owner Bob Short came up with the business-driven yet baseball-ridiculous idea that if he brought Clyde directly to the major leagues, it would generate fan support and sell tickets.
"They were out to turn a fast buck rather than long-term investment," Clyde said. "Bob Short, at the time, was in financial restraints and needed to be able to prove that baseball was a viable business in north Texas and it wasn't just a football state."
Clyde could have said no to the Rangers' offer of bypassing the minor leagues. But really, who in their right mind would ever do that, particularly an 18-year-old kid who wants everything right now?
"You'd be a fool to say no," Clyde said. "If somebody offers you a chance to live your dream, are you going to say no?"
There's one historical element Clyde wants clarified - adamantly.
"What people have to understand is we made no demands to go to the big leagues," he said. "That was offered by the Rangers."
For years, it's been widely spread in recounts of the contract negotiations that Clyde and his agent stipulated he would only sign with the Rangers if he could begin his career in the majors.
"I can assure you until the day I die that we never made that demand, never even made that request," Clyde said. "The only thing we asked for - and we're not going to settle for anything less - was a major league contract."
Getting one didn't mean Clyde had to start in the big leagues. Strasburg, for instance, has a major league contract but is starting in the minors.
"You've got a young talent that has a special talent going to high school just down the road from where your professional franchise is, and your franchise is financially in trouble, you need to make some money quickly," Clyde said. "All those things came together at that point in time in 1973, and I guess we can say the rest is history."
As preposterous as it seems throwing an 18-year-old with no pro experience to the wolves in the big leagues, Short's idea worked. At first.
Clyde made his major league debut on June 27, 1973 against the Minnesota Twins at Arlington Stadium. He allowed two runs on one hit (a two-run homer) in five innings, struck out eight, walked seven and earned the win.
The Rangers sold out a game for the first time, calling it "David Clyde Night," and drew 35,698 fans. The next game, they sold 3,992 tickets.
Not everyone in the organization was on board with Clyde starting in the majors. That included manager Whitey Herzog.
"I've got nothing to do with it," Herzog told the media before the game, according to an archived Sports Illustrated article. "But if I was the director of player personnel here, as I was with the Mets, I tell you I'd be raising hell about this. A young pitcher in his first year should be out where he can dominate."
Clyde didn't dominate, but he held his own as a rookie, going 4-8 with a 5.01 ERA in 18 starts.
"All I'm doing is giving this kid a chance he's earned," Short, who died in 1982, told Sports Illustrated in 1973. "I guarantee you that if he had been signed by any one of the other clubs, he'd be a starter today. Look, I've got a big investment here. I'm not going to risk losing it by ruining Clyde's career for the sake of one big box-office appearance."
Clyde may have done OK on the mound, but as an 18-year-old not long removed from high school, it was stupid for the Rangers to put so much pressure on him.
"Thirty-five years ago there was no infrastructure in place at the major league level for an 18-year-old, and I don't know that it's a whole lot better today," Clyde said. "It's a grown-up world out there with grown-up problems and opportunities, and it's not always the best place for an 18-year-old."
It's also not the best place for a young pitcher to learn the craft. It's the worst place, in fact, and the reason the minor leagues exist.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform, probably a lot of undue pressure," Clyde said. "And by virtue of being such a young age and going up against players the caliber I was going up against, I felt I made this huge jump from high school to the big leagues, well my stuff had to be that much better. In all honesty, it did not have to be any better. It was good enough."
In Clyde's mind, the real culprit for his career downfall is Martin. The anger in Clyde's voice resonates distinctly when he speaks about his former manager, who took over the Rangers after Herzog was fired in 1973.
Clyde never got a chance to express his frustration to Martin, who died in 1989. But would he have even wanted to?
"Probably not because I probably would have done great bodily harm to the man," Clyde said.
Why the hostility?
"Billy didn't want me there in 1974," Clyde said.
The pitcher opened that season 3-0, winning his first three starts, then didn't pitch again for 30 days. Clyde contends Martin felt all along the young pitcher shouldn't have been in the majors, and by him having success, it was showing up the manager.
Out of spite, according to Clyde, Martin benched him. If true - and Martin is not alive to defend himself on the matter - it simply doesn't get more juvenile than that.
"My guess on it is several things," Clyde said. "Number one, Billy didn't want me there. Billy did not like to deal with young players. Billy did not like pitchers. And maybe the biggest thing of all, Billy wanted to be the star of everything.
"I did not ask for all the publicity. I did not ask to be the center of this circus. But by virtue of what transpired, I was the center of that circus. And Billy's ego would not allow that. When I showed in 1974 that I could pitch in the big leagues early on, then I was proving him wrong."
Bitter? Yeah, Clyde is bitter.
"In what way did I merit to be treated the way that man treated me?" he said.
We're talking about a 19-year-old kid who was put into a terrible situation by a person in leadership.
"You've always felt like your teachers, your parents, your coaches had your best interests at heart," Clyde said.
As for Martin, the pitcher said in an interview several years ago that the manager "did everything he could to destroy my career."
"The man never did once talk to me about what the problem was," Clyde said.
Clyde returned from the benching and lost his final nine decisions in 1974, finishing 3-9 with a 4.38 ERA. The Rangers, meanwhile, had a strong season, finishing 84-76 and making Martin look like a genius for turning around the dismal franchise.
Clyde made just one start for the Rangers in 1975 before developing shoulder problems. Injuries plagued him the rest of his career, and he didn't get back to the big leagues until 1978.
"Just throwing a baseball has inherent risk," Clyde said. "Some of us have thousands and thousands of pitches before the arm just gives up. Some of us aren't quite fortunate and the arm gives up fairly early on.
"You can throw 10,000 pitches in a row properly and nothing happens. But 10,001, if you have a slight flaw in your delivery or for whatever reason you're tired that day and try to overthrow, it only takes one pitch to blow your arm out."
The lefty went 8-11 with a 4.28 ERA for Cleveland in 1978, then posted a 3-4 record and 5.91 ERA for the Indians the following year. He called it quits after that, leaving the game with a career record of 18-33 and a 4.63 ERA.
To this day, he wonders how things may have been different had the Rangers not rushed him, not taken advantage of his drawing ability and not let Martin treat him so callously.
"Everybody's got 20-20 hindsight," Clyde said. "It would be wonderful to be able to go back in time and change things, but we all know that's not possible."
Advice for Strasburg
Clyde, 54, is now retired, lives in Tomball, Texas, and coaches an 18-year-old select baseball team called the Houston Miracles. He proudly boasts that more than 100 of his former players have received college scholarships, and he coached current Houston Astros catcher J.R. Towles.
Clyde knows Strasburg is now the great pitching prospect drawing all kinds of attention. Understandably, his best advice is geared toward the Nationals, not the pitcher.
"The main thing on the agenda is hopefully the Nationals realize what they have," Clyde said. "I hope and pray for Stephen Strasburg's health that they don't see the need to rush this young man to the big leagues now just so they can put a few fans in the seats and make a lot of money right now. Because what they could have in their hands is a true gem that's going to do nothing but appreciate in quality and value over the years.
"So what if they can make a couple million dollars extra this year? What happens if they wait and bring him along slowly and let him just ease into it? [It could be] millions of dollars that they could make someday as he becomes the ace of their staff."
All of that, perhaps, could have been Clyde's fate had he been handled properly by the Rangers.
"I would love to have had that opportunity," he said.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.