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Clyde Sukeforth

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Clyde Leroy Sukeforth
(Sukey)

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[edit] Biographical Information

Clyde Sukeforth was a long-time big league catcher and coach, but he is best remembered as a scout who was instrumental in bringing Jackie Robinson to the majors.

After attending Georgetown University, Sukeforth was signed by the Cincinnati Reds. He spent most of 1926 in the minors but got into one game with the Reds to make his major league debut. He made a pinch hitting appearance against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 31st but struck out. He was back in the bigs for good the next year, but he saw relatively little playing time in 1927 and 1928 and struggled at the plate, hitting below .200 in each season. However, in 1929, he split time behind the plate with Johnny Gooch and responded by having his best season in the majors, hitting .354 in 84 games. After platooning with Gooch again in 1930, he played in a career-high 112 games in 1931 and batted .256.

Following the 1931 season, Sukeforth sustained a serious eye injury as the result of a hunting accident. Initially, it was feared he might lose an eye, but he recovered well enough to return to the diamond. However, prior to the 1932 campaign, he was dealt to the Brooklyn Dodgers as part of a six-player trade that brought future Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi to Cincinnati. With Brooklyn, he spent three years as a backup to Al Lopez. He was then sent down to the Toledo Mud Hens, but rather than return to the minors, he opted to go home to Maine instead.

Sukeforth returned to baseball in 1936 as player-manager of the Leaksville-Draper-Spray Triplets of the Bi-State League, leading the team to a third-place finish while hitting .365 with 7 home runs in 51 games. He moved on to the Clinton Owls in 1937 and led the team to a 75-36 record, and then won an Eastern League championship with the Elmira Pioneers in 1938. After three seasons as skipper of the Montreal Royals, he joined the Brooklyn coaching staff in 1943.

During the 1945 season, with many Dodgers serving in World War II, Sukeforth returned to the field as a player, hitting .294 in 18 games for Brooklyn as a 43-year-old. He also served as a scout for the team that year and was sent to check out Jackie Robinson, who was playing for the Kansas City Monarchs at the time. He arranged a meeting between Robinson and Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, and the team signed him after the season.

Just prior to the start of the 1947 season, Dodgers manager Leo Durocher was suspended from baseball by Commissioner Happy Chandler for consorting with gamblers. Sukeforth was offered the job but declined. However, he agreed to fill in until a permanent replacement, Burt Shotton, could join the team. On Opening Day, with Robinson making his major league debut, he became the first manager of an integrated major league team in the 20th Century. Brooklyn won, 1-0, and Sukeforth's club was victorious again two days later. At that point, Shotton took over, and Sukeforth returned to the coaching staff with a perfect 2-0 record.

Sukeforth remained with Brooklyn through 1951 and then moved on to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where Rickey was now GM. One of the reason for the move was that Charlie Dressen, Shotton's replacement as Dodgers manager, blamed him for suggesting he bring Ralph Branca out of the bullpen to relieve Don Newcombe in the 9th inning of the final game of the three-game playoff against the New York Giants; Branca quickly surrendered the "Shot Heard 'Round the World" that gave the Giants the pennant. He served as a Pirates from 1952 to 1957. With the Bucs, he was an instrumental figure in prying future Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente from the Dodgers, as he recommended that Rickey select him in the 1954 Rule V Draft. He had gone to scout the Montreal Royals wanting to get a look at pitcher Joe Black when he noticed the young Puerto Rican with the best outfield arm he had ever seen. After leaving the team's coaching staff, he was a Pittsburgh scout for several years and managed the Gastonia Pirates for part of the 1965 season. He later spent time as an Atlanta Braves scout.

Sukeforth was the uncle of major leaguer Charlie Osgood and minor leaguer Robert Osgood.

Sukeforth was portrayed by actor Toby Huss in the 2013 movie 42.


Preceded by
Leo Durocher
Brooklyn Dodgers Manager
1947
Succeeded by
Burt Shotton

[edit] Further Reading

[edit] Books

  • Paul Green: Forgotten Fields, Parker Publications, Waupaca, WI, 1984, p. 141 (8)
  • Donald Honig: Baseball: When The Grass Was Real, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc., New York, NY, 1975, p. 178 (14) [1]
  • Brent Kelley: In the Shadow Of The Babe: Interviews With Baseball Players Who Played With or Against Babe Ruth, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 1995, p. 35. ISBN 978-0786400683
  • Nick Wilson: Voices from the Pastime: Oral Histories of Surviving Major Leaguers, Negro Leaguers, Cuban Leaguers and Writers, 1920-1934, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2000, p. 32.

[edit] Articles

  • Les Biederman: "Clemente, Early Buc Ace, Says He's Better in Summer: Puerto Rican Thrills Fans With Throws; Sukey first to Glimpse Clemente", The Sporting News, June 29, 1955, p. 26. [2]
  • C.E. Lincoln: "A Conversation With Clyde Sukeforth", The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Number 16 (1987), pp. 72-73. [3]
  • Karl Lindholm: "Clyde Sukeforth: The Dodgers' Yankee and Branch Rickey's Maine Man", The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 43, Number 1 (spring 2014), pp. 33-40.

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