Fred Clarke, also known as "Cap," was a 5'10" left fielder from Winterset, IA. The left-batting, right-thrower was born on October 3rd, 1872. He made his first professional appearance in 1893 with the St. Joseph Saints, in the unaffiliated Western Association (20 games, .341). Later that year, he played with the "B" level Montgomery Colts, in the Western Association (34 games, .306). He played with the Savannah Modocs in 1894 (54 games, .311, 21 stolen bases).
On June 30th, he made his major league debut with the Louisville Colonels, hitting four singles and a triple in five at bats. He would ultimately spend six seasons with the organization, hitting a collective .334 (second in team history behind super-utilityman Pete Browning) over 767 contests (Colonels third all-time). He scored 607 runs with 123 doubles, 64 triples, 34 round trippers, 393 RBI, and 248 stolen bases, all totals that ranked him on Louisville's all-time top five leaderboard. He also served as the team's player manager during his last three seasons with the club.
On December 8th, 1899, he joined over half of the Colonels roster on the Pirates roster, as Louisville dissolved itself. Clarke's first season in Pittsburgh, 1900, would see him join the club as a 27 year old manager, a mantle he would hold throughout his major league career until his retirement in 1915. He played in 106 games, hitting .276 with 12 triples (NL ninth), 32 RBI and 21 stolen bases. The team finished 79-60, second place in the National League, four and a half games behind the Brooklyn Superbas.
1901 would see Clarke improve his average to .324 over 129 games, scoring 118 runs (NL fourth) and hitting 24 doubles and 15 triples (NL seventh) for 60 RBI, stealing 23 bases, and drawing 51 walks for a .395 OBP (NL 10th). He ranked eighth in the NL with a 5.0 WAR amongst position players and third amongst all NL outfielders with a .970 fielding percentage. Pittsburgh finished at 90-49, winning their first National League pennant by topping the Philadelphia Phillies by seven and a half games.
In 1902 Clarke played in 113 games, hitting .316 (NL sixth) and scoring 103 runs (NL second) with 27 doubles (NL second), 14 triples (NL fourth), 53 RBI and 29 stolen bases (NL eighth). He also walked 51 times (NL seventh) and led the NL by getting plunked by the pitcher 14 times, helping him to a .401 OBP (NL fourth). He again finished with a 5.0 WAR, this time good enough for fifth best in the league. The 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates set a franchise record by finishing 80 games above .500, winning the pennant by 27.5 games at 116-36 (they already have 36 losses in this "above average" season, think about it).
Clarke hit .351 (NL second) over 103 games in 1903. He led the NL with 32 doubles, a .532 SLG, a .946 OPS, and an OPS+ of 164. He also scored 88 runs (NL 10th), hit 15 triples (NL fourth) with five home runs (NL ninth) and 70 RBI, stole 21 bases and walked 41 times for a .414 OBP (NL seventh). Despite his limited playing time, he ranked ninth in the NL with a 4.3 WAR. The Pirates finished six and a half games ahead of the New York Giants for the NL pennant, at 91-49, earning an invitation to the first ever "Fall Classic," against the Boston Americans. Despite losing the best-of-nine series in eight games, Clarke apprised himself nicely, going nine-for-34 with three extra base hits and two RBI.
1904 would see Clarke hit .306 over only 72 games, slowed by a physical ailment lost to time. He scored 51 runs, hitting 11 triples for 25 RBI, stealing 11 bases and walking 22 times. Spoiled Pirates fans were disappointed with a fourth place finish, as Pittsburgh finished at 87-66.
In 1905, Clarke hit .299 over 141 contests with 95 runs scored (NL ninth), 18 doubles, 15 triples (NL sixth), 51 RBI, 24 stolen bases and 55 bases-on-balls. He posted a .974 fielding percentage, fourth best in the senior circuit. The 96-57 Pirates finished in second place, nine games behind the pennant winning New York Giants.
Clarke hit .309 (NL seventh) in 118 games in 1906, leading the league with 13 triples. He scored 69 runs, knocked in 39, stole 18 bases and earned 40 free passes. He struck out once every 16.7 at bats, a ratio good enough for eighth best in the league. The Pirates finished with a more than respectable 93-60 record, but it was only good enough that season for third in the league, 27.5 games behind the powerhouse Chicago Cubs.
1907 would see Clarke appear in 148 games (the most for him since his time with the Colonels, and 10th in the NL that season). He hit .289 (eighth) and walked 68 times (NL ninth) for an impressive .383 OBP (fifth). He scored 97 runs (NL fourth) and hit 18 doubles, 13 triples (NL fifth), 59 RBI (NL 10th, really), and stole 37 bases (NL sixth), his high while with Pittsburgh. He finished with a 5.2 WAR that was good for ninth in the NL overall (pitchers included). His 298 outfield putouts ranked him third in the NL, while his .987 fielding percentage was second to none. The Buccos were still awesome, at 91-63, but unlucky to share an era with those same Cubbies, who posted a 107-45 record.
In 1908, Clarke hit .265 in 151 games. He scored 83 runs (NL fourth) and hit 18 doubles, 15 triples (NL fifth), 53 RBI, 24 stolen bases and walked 65 times (NL fourth) for an NL 10th best .349 OBP to only 23 strikeouts. His 4.8 WAR was eighth best out of position players, and his 24.0 AB/K rate was fourth. Defensively, his 350 putouts ranked second, and his .973 fielding rate was fifth. Pittsburgh lost out on the NL pennant by one game, finishing 98-56 behind the Cubs (and tied with the Giants). If that were to happen today, all three would make the playoffs, with the Bucs and Giants playing in the one game wildcard. Que sera sera, I guess. But I digress.
Clarke played in a career high 152 games (NL fourth) in 1909, hitting .287 (NL ninth) with an NL leading 80 bases-on-balls, helping him to a .384 OBP (NL fourth). He scored 97 times (NL second), with 16 doubles, 11 triples (NL eighth), 68 RBI (NL seventh), a still impressive 31 stolen bases, and only 36 strikeouts (or a little less than once every fourth game). He ranked fourth in the NL overall with a 5.2 WAR, leading the league by reaching first base 244 times. He also paced the league with 362 outfield putouts and a .987 fielding percentage. It's interesting to note that although he often ranked highly amongst his contemporaries in outfield putouts, he never sniffed the league top 10 in outfield errors. This was perhaps a testament to his legendary attention to detail, and his quest for perfection in every facet of baseball. Even the world-beating Cubs couldn't keep up with the Battling Bucs that year, as Pittsburgh went 110-42 and finished six and a half games ahead of Chicago. Pittsburgh (and Clarke) won the World Championship on their second try, finishing off the Detroit Tigers in seven games. Clarke did his part. Although he only went four-for-19, he hit two home runs with seven RBI and scored seven times (owing to his five walks).
1910 would see Clarke hit .263 in 123 games, scoring 57 runs with 23 doubles, nine triples, and 63 RBI. He walked 53 times to only 23 strikeouts, also pitching in with 29 sacrifice hits (NL eighth). He also ranked eighth in AB/K, striking out once every 18.7 at bats. The Cubs resumed their customary position on top of the NL, with the Bucs in third place, at 86-67.
1911 would be Clarke's last full season in the Pirates lineup, as he enjoyed a resurgence of sorts at the age of 38. He played in 110 games, hitting .324 (NL fourth) with 73 runs scored, 25 doubles, 13 triples (NL eighth), five home runs, 49 RBI and 53 walks for a .407 OBP (NL fourth). He ranked ninth with a 3.8 WAR out of position players. Pittsburgh went 85-69, behind only the Cubs and the Giants.
Clarke spent 1912 entirely on the bench, managing the Bucs to a 93-58 record (10 games behind the Giants). He played sparingly over the next three seasons, going two-for-17 from the plate with one double over 12 appearances. The Pirates posted records of 78-71, 69-85, and 73-81, respectively.
Clarke was very successful on and off the field, both in managing and on his ranch. He owned several patents (including, believe it or not, flip-up sunglasses), became a successful rancher, and eventually became a millionaire (after discovering oil under his land). There's a heck of a bio here, by Angelo Louisa. Check it out if you have time to kill.
All-Time Statline: 15 seasons, 1479 games, 1638-for-5472, .299/.379/.418, 1015 runs, 238 doubles, 156 triples, 33 home runs, 622 RBI, 261 stolen bases, 630 walks, 361 strikeouts, 44.3 wins above replacement.