Clay Dalrymple

By Kevin Braun

August 12 , 2009

Mention the name Clay Dalrymple to baseball fans of a certain age and the image comes to mind of a strong defensive catcher who was behind the plate for the Philadelphia Phillies for much of the 1960s on a series of mostly bad teams.

But Dalrymple’s offensive skills can get overlooked. For example: Which major leaguer has a career World Series batting average of 1.000, with all hits against future Hall of Famers? You guessed it.

Dalrymple went 2-for-2 for the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 World Series, with hits off Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver of the New York Mets.

Want another example? Who got the game-winning hit to help the Phillies beat the Milwaukee Braves in the second game of a doubleheader and end the infamous 23-game losing streak in 1961? The same Clay Dalrymple. Incidentally, Dalrymple went 3-for-3 that game to raise his average to .193.
That victory ended a road trip, and when the team arrived at the Philadelphia airport, a crowd was waiting for them. “Jim Owens and Dick Farrell, when the airplane door opened up, they backed up and said, ‘I don’t know if we should go out there’,” recalled Dalrymple, who now lives in Gold Beach, Oregon.

But the crowd that day – unlike the common depiction of Philadelphia sports fans – was welcoming, said Dalrymple. He’s well aware of the reputation of fans who were even known to boo Santa Claus. “(Former teammate and fellow catcher) Bob Uecker swears that if an unwed mother walked across the field, they’d boo her,” he joked.

Dalrymple, 72, has come through several bouts of cancer. “My health now is all right,” he said. “I weigh 270. I should be down around 200.”
He’s not involved with baseball nowadays, other than to do autograph sessions occasionally with Red Sox great Bobby Doerr, who lives about 15 miles away. A devoted fan of Rush Limbaugh and staunch conservative, he has three daughters, six grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

The former catcher is proud of his defensive accomplishments. He broke the National League record with 628 errorless chances (over 99 games) in 1966-67. “I had the glove bronzed. I still have it,” he said.

His catching skills included the ability to gun down would-be base stealers. “I had a real quick release,” he said.

Dalrymple had the opportunity to work with some great pitchers, including another future Hall of Famer, Jim Bunning, with the Phillies. “Jim fought real hard every inning,” he said. “You really wanted to make the game easy for him, call the right pitch in the right spot.”

One of the highlights of Bunning’s career was his perfect game against the Mets in 1964. Gus Triandos, not Dalrymple, was behind the plate as Bunning pitched the first game of a doubleheader. “A rookie, Rick Wise, was starting the second game,” said Dalrymple. “(Manager) Gene Mauch wanted me to catch Rick Wise. Gene wanted to call the game from the dugout. Gene knew he could work with me.”

Phillies fans still bear the emotional scars of the collapse that ended that 1964 season. The team dropped 10 straight games down the stretch and ended up blowing the pennant to the St. Louis Cardinals, who then beat the Yankees in the World Series.

Dalrymple doesn’t lay all the blame at Mauch’s feet, but the manager known as “The Little General” gets a lot of it. “He started (Chris) Short and Bunning, Short and Bunning, Short and Bunning. He shouldn’t have put that kind of pressure on those two guys. But he hung with them, and we paid the price.

“When it came to pitching, Gene had no clue,” said Dalrymple, “He didn’t like pitchers, for some reason, and he made that very clear. He would get (Art) Mahaffey mad. He completely benched Ray Culp. Culp should have been one of the starters.”

Besides Mauch, another lightning rod on those Phillies teams was Dick Allen. But Dalrymple speaks fondly of his former teammate. “He was a nice guy to be around. The only weakness he had is he didn’t realize he was a leader. I don’t mean a leader like ‘rah, rah.’ I mean a leader by setting an example, especially for the younger teammates. Dick wasn’t very good at that.”

If he had a vote, Dalrymple said, Allen would be in the Hall of Fame.
After the 1968 season, the Phillies traded Dalrymple to the Orioles, where he played for another high-profile manager, Earl Weaver. “Out of the two managers, Gene Mauch probably had a better feel for the game itself, how to manage and get the most out of his players,” he said.

He was one of three catchers on the Orioles, with Elrod Hendricks and Andy Etchebarren. “That was par for the course with most teams. Mauch always liked to carry two.”

The 1969 World Series, when Dalrymple got his two hits, is probably best remembered for the victory of the “Miracle Mets” over the Orioles. “I thought we’d beat the Mets without any problem,” he said. “But when you have a team that played together like those guys did that year, they were on a roll.”

The Orioles beat the Cincinnati Reds to win the World Series in 1970, but Dalrymple was inactive because of a broken ankle. The 1971 season brought another World Series loss, this time to Pittsburgh; Dalrymple had no at-bats but got as far as the on-deck circle before the previous batter made the third out.

That season marked the end of Dalrymple’s career. His wife, Celia, died of cancer at age 31 that year. “I had three girls, so I had to step out of baseball,” he said.

Dalrymple is now on his fifth wife. “I had a couple bad marriages and had another wife pass away. I go through wives like water through a sieve.”

Kevin Braun, a lifelong baseball fan, is a freelance writer in Atlanta, GA.


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