Though he appeared in only nine games for the Cardinals, Doug Clarey is a part of franchise lore because of an improbable home run.
On April 28, 1976, Clarey produced the only hit of his big-league career, a two-run home run in the 16th inning that gave the Cardinals a 4-2 victory over the Giants.
The storybook feat occurred on a Wednesday afternoon at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, just north of Clarey’s boyhood home in Los Altos. Among the 4,193 in attendance were Clarey’s parents and friends.
“It’s something you always dream about ever since I was a little boy watching the Giants play and just wishing I could be one of them,” Clarey told The Sporting News.
Just a few days before his dramatic home run, Clarey had been playing in the Class A Florida State League.
Called by Cards
Clarey, a second baseman, began his professional career in the Twins organization. The Cardinals claimed him in the December 1974 minor-league draft.
After hitting .206 in 130 games for the Cardinals’ Class AA Arkansas club in 1975, Clarey was demoted to Class A St. Petersburg in 1976.
He got a break when Cardinals second baseman Mike Tyson suffered a knee injury in early April 1976.
Though Vic Harris came off the bench to replace Tyson as the starting second baseman, the Cardinals wanted someone who could fill in as a reserve fielder for a few weeks. Clarey, known more for his glove than his bat, fit the need.
On April 20, 1976, his 22nd birthday, Clarey made his big-league debut. Pinch-hitting in the sixth inning for reliever Mike Wallace, Clarey faced Jon Matlack of the Mets and struck out. Boxscore
Eight days later, at San Francisco, Clarey got his second at-bat.
In the 16th inning, with the score tied at 2-2, the Cardinals’ Don Kessinger was on first base with two outs. Reliever Mike Proly was due to bat. Clarey was the lone position player available to pinch-hit. Manager Red Schoendienst sent Clarey, a right-handed batter, to face Giants left-hander Mike Caldwell.
With the count at 1-and-1, Caldwell delivered a pitch low and inside. Clarey swung and lifted the ball over the left-field fence.
“At first, I thought it was going to hook foul,” Clarey told the Oakland Tribune. “I kept saying to myself, ‘Stay fair, stay fair.’ ”
Danny Frisella retired the Giants in order in the bottom half of the 16th, saving the victory and securing Clarey’s place in Cardinals legend. Boxscore
Clarey: “That’s the greatest experience of my life right there. I just wanted to get a piece of the ball.”
Caldwell: “That was the lowest point of my career.”
Bill Rigney, Giants manager: “Mike got it inside and his game is away. He made a bad pitch.”
(After the season, the Giants traded Caldwell to the Cardinals.)
Hailing a hero
In the Oakland Tribune, Ed Schoenfeld wrote of Clarey, “He’s a virtual unknown, even to his own teammates.”
The Sporting News referred to Clarey as the Cardinals’ “Cinderella Man.”
When the Cardinals returned to St. Louis, the club rewarded Clarey for his achievement by presenting him with a watch in a pre-game ceremony, according to a Society for American Baseball Research biography.
Clarey appeared in one more game, May 4 vs. the Braves, before being returned to the minor leagues. He hit .228 in 63 games for manager Ken Boyer’s Class AAA Tulsa team.
In July, Tyson got hurt again, breaking a finger. The Cardinals called back Clarey.
Tyson to Clarey: “I’m keeping you in the big leagues. You ought to give me half your pay.”
Clarey: “I guess I’d better buy Mike a dinner.”
In his second stint with the 1976 Cardinals, Clarey appeared in five games but didn’t get a hit.
End of the line
In March 1977, the Cardinals traded Clarey to the Mets for outfielder Benny Ayala. The Mets assigned Clarey to Class AAA Tidewater.
Clarey batted .125 in 28 games for Tidewater before the Mets released him. Clarey signed with the Brewers and was assigned to Class AA Holyoke.
In 1978, Clarey joined the Orioles’ organization. He hit .226 in 138 games for Class AA Charlotte. It was his last season as a player.
According to SABR, Clarey sold commercial real estate in California until 1993. He then opened a gourmet pizza restaurant near Dodger Stadium.
His final big-league numbers for the Cardinals: 9 games, 4 at-bats, 1 hit.
Previously: Don Kessinger kept seat warm for Garry Templeton