The calls started coming into McCauley Lumber in Tomball, Texas, in early April, a few days before Jon Peters would face that town's team and collect his 33rd straight win. Reporters wanted David Clyde, a McCauley executive, to recount his glory days of 15 years ago, when he took the mound for the Texas Rangers 19 days after graduating from Houston's Westchester High. "I hadn't spent much time thinking about it until then," says Clyde. "I pulled out all the scrapbooks for my nine-year-old son, Ryan."
The scrapbooks showed that Clyde had been featured in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and on national TV while still in high school. In 1973, his senior year, Clyde had a record of 18-0 and an ERA of 0.18, with 328 strikeouts in 148‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings, and the Rangers made him the first pick in the draft—ahead of Robin Yount and Dave Winfield. When Rangers owner Bob Short sat down to sign the 18-year-old Clyde, his father, Gene, insisted that David make his pro debut in the big leagues. Short called Whitey Herzog, then the Texas manager. "If that's what it takes, fine," said Herzog. "We'll give him two starts, then send him to A ball."
The Rangers were the worst team in baseball and were drawing fewer than 9,000 fans per game. Short, who had bought the team and moved it from Washington, D.C., the previous year, was in financial trouble. Then came June 27, 1973—David Clyde Night at Arlington Stadium. The game, against the Minnesota Twins, attracted a sellout crowd of 35,698. On the field were Polynesian dancers, lion cubs and a papier-m‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¢chè giraffe on wheels. Reporters shadowed Clyde everywhere, even as he warmed in the bullpen. In the first inning he walked Jerry Terrell and Rod Carew and then struck out the side. In the second Clyde gave up a two-run homer to Mike Adams, but he breezed through the next three innings and left with a 4-2 lead—and the win. It was a day, wrote SI's Ron Fimrite, that would "live in infancy."
"He had a great curveball, a great delivery, poise and control," says Herzog, now skipper of the St. Louis Cardinals. "Next to Jim Bibby, he probably was our best pitcher. He should have been sent to the minors, but Short saw what he had. The day after David's debut, we sold more tickets for his next start [25,000] than that night's game [3,992]. David Clyde was sacrificed for the Ranger franchise. If he hadn't come along, Short probably wouldn't have found a local buyer the next year."
"It still doesn't seem real," says Clyde now. A month into his career, Clyde's fiancèe, Cheryl Crawford, predicted that David would pitch the Rangers to the World Series. But it was not to be. "That team had a lot of hard-living, drink-all-night types," says one former Ranger. "David thought he was supposed to be like them, and he became an 18-year-old trying to live like he was 35." The Rangers did everything to accommodate Clyde. One morning in Boston they even had a chartered plane return to the gate to pick him up, as he straggled in late. He went 4-8 his rookie year and 3-9 in 1974.
After that it was all downhill. "I look back and realize that what I experienced was unique," says Clyde. "But there were painful memories, too." His only winning season was in 1975, when he was 12-8 for the Double A Pittsfield Rangers. "He was the worst athlete I've ever seen in pro baseball," says Pittsburgh Pirates coach Rich Donnelly. "All he could do was throw straight ahead." In 1976, Clyde was 0-4 for the Triple A Sacramento Solons and underwent his first arm operation. After going 5-7 for the Triple A Tucson Toros the next year, he returned to the majors, with the Cleveland Indians in 1978 and '79. In the end his big league totals were: 18 wins, 33 losses, two arm operations, two failed marriages and one battle with alcohol.
Clyde is now 33. His third marriage is a happy one, and he coaches Little League. When Peters beat Tomball, Clyde was too busy to get to the game. He says, "I hear people talk about the David Clyde Syndrome and I think, How many people have something named after them? I'm not the first kid who got used, and I won't be the last. I hope Jon is as happy at 33 as I am right now."
Clyde ices his shoulder in that riches-to-rags rookie year of 1973.