Clyde King passed away in North Carolina the other day, and yes, he did do all those things. Managed the Braves. Managed the Giants. Managed the Yankees. Worked at George Steinbrenner’s elbow for the better part of 20 years, managed, general managed, answered to his beck and call.
George liked Clyde, for he could be trusted, a man of his word. Their personalities were as opposite as their wardrobe.
But that’s not why I’m here today. Clyde King passed through Atlanta long before all the above, and he left his mark. You see, there was a team in town called the Atlanta Crackers, and they swung a big stick until the major leagues and television drove them and the Southern Association out of business. That was Clyde’s original connection to Atlanta.
We go back a long way, to the day he attracted attention pitching on the University of North Carolina baseball team. Pardon me, if I butt in here with the story of Clyde’s arrival in the major leagues. He’d been signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers — mind you, just a 20-year-old and as green as a field of turnips — and he walked into the Ebbetts Field clubhouse carrying a satchel with “Beat Dook” on the side. A war was on and major league teams were using any kids who’d been weaned of home and mama’s cooking.
Clyde had an arm. He also had a head and knew how to pitch. He won 14 games his best season, three of them shutouts. He ran out of major league, service in the early ’50s, which was about the time Branch Rickey, then the Dodgers executive, told him, “You man, your head is two years ahead of your arm.”
Yep, he pitched, he managed, he became Steinbrenner’s trusted consultant. In fact, when the Yankee boss decided to fire Yogi Berra, it was King he assigned to be his messenger. He was a pitching coach a few seasons. He did manage the Giants, the Braves, the Yankees and became Steinbrenner’s trusted consultant, of whom George had few.
But what I’m getting at here is, that before all of the above Clyde made tracks through Atlanta. Blushingly, I’ll admit that when I read that he was available, and I thought that he might be helpful to the Crackers, I recommended him to Earl Mann. As Rickey had pointed out, his arm was in recession. When I saw a big first baseman from Mobile hit a home run so far into the night it faded out of sight, I knew his pitching days were done. Mann fired his manager and hired Clyde to take over.
Success didn’t follow immediately, but in 1957 he put together a team of fading talent, aging arms and an improbable centerfielder named Jack Daniels — his name, not his libation — and swept his way through the Southern Association. It was the last hurrah of the old Southern Association, but Clyde King was on his way.
I just wanted you to know that Our Town played a heavy role in Clyde King’s swashbuckling from the bush leagues to the majors, and especially George Steinbrenner’s Yankees. He was 86 years old when he died in Goldsboro the other day, and while he played, managed, counseled and swashbuckled his way through all the levels of baseball, he never outgrew his modest hometown. And, I might add, he never made a habit of picking up too many tabs.
Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.