Horace Clarke Was Better Than New York Yankees' Fans and the "Experts" Thought

Harold FriendChief Writer IFebruary 24, 2012

NEW YORK - JULY 19:  Former New York Yankee Horace Clarke is introduced during the teams 63rd Old Timers Day before the game against the Detroit Tigers on July 19, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

He was a fine player who is almost always overlooked when discussing Yankees second baseman. Horace Clarke was a sure-handed defensive player that first played shortstop before he took over as the Yankees' regular second baseman.

Clarke set a league record by leading second basemen in assists for six consecutive seasons and in putouts for four consecutive seasons.

A durable switch-hitter with good speed, he appeared in at least 143 games every season from 1967-1973 and twice led the American League in at-bats.

In his first full season, he batted 36 points above the league average, and in 1969, at the age of 29, he he hit .285 with 53 walks, only 41 strikeouts and 33 stolen bases.

Imagine what slick fielding 29-year-old second baseman Horace Clarke would command in today’s free agency era.

Sportswriter Phil Pepe, who has covered the Yankees for decades, wrote that Horace Clark  

 "... was reticent, shy and perceived as moody. He seemed uncomfortable with the cultural differences between New York and his native Virgin Islands. We made jokes about him because he wore his hard hat in the field and he took the blows, and suffered the slurs.

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"...he might have thought about repeating the words of his countryman, Joe Christopher, who once told the Mets' beat writers, ‘I'm a better ballplayer than you bleeps think I am.’ Horace Clarke was a better ballplayer than we bleeps thought he was."

Horace Clarke had more career hits than Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek and a higher fielding percentage than Yankees' second basemen Jerry Coleman, Bobby Richardson and Gil McDougald,

Billy Martin, Coleman and Richardson all are rated above Clarke, but fans will never know how being on championship teams would have affected Clarke. He never played on a team that made the playoffs.

Fans tend to tie players to the level of team for which they played.

Ralph Kiner was one of the greatest hitters, not just sluggers, of all time, but because he played for some of the worst teams in history, there is a tendency to rank Kiner too low when rating great hitters.

Other players, such as Jerry Coleman, are rated higher than they deserve because they played on great teams.

Horace Clarke was a good player who was not even close to the inaccurate image many in the media has attempted to create. As Phil Pepe wrote, "Horace Clarke was a better player than we bleeps thought he was."