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Donn Clendenon

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Donn Alvin Clendenon

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First baseman Donn Clendenon was a solid player for the Pittsburgh Pirates for nearly a decade. Later, while with the New York Mets in 1969, he hit three home runs in the 1969 World Series and was named World Series MVP.

Donn had no plans to play baseball as a child, preferring basketball and football. He opted for baseball because his stepfather Nish Williams (who had raised him after his biological father died when he was six months old) was a former Negro League catcher and manager who loved the game. Williams arranged for Clendenon to face Satchel Paige and Sad Sam Jones as a youth.

After finishing second in his high school class, he earned 12 letters in sports at Morehouse College. He got a job teaching in Atlanta, GA and considered offers from the NFL's Cleveland Browns and NBA's New York Knicks and Harlem Globetrotters. Branch Rickey offered Clendenon a $500 signing bonus and he accepted it, picking the game his stepfather loved over ones where Donn could have earned more immediately. He is the only major leaguer to come from Morehouse College through 2014.

Clendenon was signed as an amateur free agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1957. He played for the Pirates from 1961 through 1968. Selected by the Montreal Expos in the 1969 NL Expansion Draft, Clendenon immediately found himself embroiled in controversy. Traded to the Houston Astros in January 1969 along with Jesus Alou in return for Rusty Staub, he refused to report to his new team and said he would retire instead (he had been offered a job as an executive with a company manufacturing pens). The Expos urged new Commissioner Bowie Kuhn not to cancel the trade, and agreed to send two other players to Houston in compensation; they also persuaded Clendenon to put off retirement and play for them. Later in the season, Clendenon did accept a trade, to the New York Mets. This trade brought the Mets much-needed power and was one of the key events in their successful pennant run, with Clendenon hitting 7 home runs during the last 32 regular season games (the Mets won 24 of those games). He was the hero of the Mets' stunning surprise victory over the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, batting .357 with 3 home runs and being named the Series MVP.

Clendenon would play two more seasons in New York before closing out his career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1972. He had another good year in 1970, hitting .288 with 22 homers and 97 RBI, before age caught up with him.

Clendenon, who played virtually all his career during the second deadball era, had a decent career batting average of .274. He had a lot of power, although playing 8 seasons with the Pirates in Forbes Field depressed his home run totals considerably.

After retiring from baseball, he earned a law degree. He died on September 17, 2005 at age 70 after a long fight with leukemia.

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