2 weeks ago
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Great Names in Baseball: William 'Boileryard' Clarke
In the Deadball Era, ballplayers were men, men were scoundrels, and nicknames were not derivative combinations of letters from first and last names. Each turn-of-the-century team was obliged to have a Red, a Doc, a Kid, a Silent John (or Jack)1, and a Rube. But along with that cast could be found gems like Boileryard Clarke.
One might fancy that Clarke earned his moniker from a train-like build or from his mighty and lengthy home runs. Rather, Boileryard earned the nickname from his "terrible voice," which apparently sounded like a cacophony of steam engines2.
Clarke's offensive numbers don't truly stand out. He spent most of the 1890s as a backup catcher on the great Baltimore Orioles squad, who won National League titles from 1894-1896. In Baltimore, he first played with Hall of Famer/Renowned Asshole John McGraw, as well legends/scalawags Wee Willie Keeler, Kid Gleason, and Hughie "Ee-Yah" Jennings. By the numbers, Boileryard was a replacement-level player in Baltimore, though he hit .297 in 330 plate appearances in 1896. Behind the plate, he was at least competent and possessed a strong arm, which threw out 42% of baserunners in his career.
After Baltimore, Clarke split time as the Boston Beaneaters'3 backstop in 1899 and 1900 before moving to the newly-formed American League and the truly terrible Washington Senators, who made him their starting catcher from 1901-1904. Boileryard was a mediocre player on a Senators squad that could hit but had a hopeless pitching staff. Boileryard contributed to a team effort that led the team to a mighty 38-113 record in 1904.
Clarke finished his big-league career as an unproductive backup catcher on the World Champion 1905 New York Giants under the guidance of former Baltimore teammate McGraw. Clarke had the pleasure of not only catching Superstud-of-All-Time Christy Mathewson, but also the crudely nicknamed wonder Dummy Taylor4.
In 1910, Boileryard Clarke took the helm of the baseball squad at Princeton University, where he coached for 34 years until he finally retired from baseball in 1944.
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1 Part of me thinks that any player nicknamed "Silent John" probably had a stack of trunks filled with prostitute bodies that he took on road trips. Baseball players weren't known to be particularly agreeable fellows during this time, and there's something sinister about being "Silent" amidst such chaos. Or it's just my imagination.
2 It's difficult to imagine an equivalent nickname today. The closest equivalents we have to a boileryard are probably airports or highways. But "Road Noise" Clarke or "Taxiway" Clarke doesn't really have the same ring to it, does it?
3 Actual team name.
4 He was deaf and therefore nicknamed "Dummy." More on this in a later post.