MASON COUNTY — September 11th brings about somber memories for many, but 70 years ago, it meant the beginning of a big league baseball career for a Mason County native.
Mel Clark, who was 26 years old when he made his debut for the Philadelphia Phillies, started in right field. Before his baseball career, Clark had served in the United States Navy during World War II.
According to an interview conducted with Clark by John Wickline of Society for American Baseball Research, he served in the Pacific Theater on LSD 2. After serving in World War 2, Clark would attend Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, playing baseball there. According to an article by John Wickline of SABR, Clark would play for the Ohio Valley Association, a league that research in the Gallipolis newspaper records show included teams like the Hartford Tigers, for which Clark would play for, and the Point Pleasant Shawnee.
The Phillies came calling in 1947, signing Clark and sending him to their minor league system, where, over the course of four years, Clark excelled. The Phillies team that Clark would join in 1951 featured a strong roster, with the likes of future Hall of Famers, Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn listed on their roster, but a record that did not show the power of two future Hall of Famers or that the team had previously gone to the World Series.
The Phillies, a year before Clark made his debut won the National League Pennant and were known as the “Whiz Kids.” By the September day at Forbes Field when Clark would make his debut, the Phillies were 66-73, a far cry from the record that would send them to the World Series the year before.
Baseball Reference, a database for baseball research on game logs and statistics, showed that 8,152 people saw Clark’s debut at Forbes Field. According to the log of the game found on baseball-reference.com, Clark went two for four against the Pittsburgh Pirates at old Forbes Field. Wickline of Society for American Baseball Research points out that this debut made Clark a celebrity in Mason County and local residents had started a “Mel Clark Fan Club” to celebrate Clark’s debut and arrival for the Philadelphia Phillies.
According to an article from Society for American Baseball Research, he would hit .323 in the last month of the season after he debuted. It had seemed that Clark had made it, had made good for a Mason County boy playing in the big leagues.
The next year, he went to spring training with the Phillies but would break his hand meaning that he would not go north with the Phillies to Philadelphia However, Wickline would also point out, Clark would it .335 over 155 at-bats, a very respectable number for someone coming off of an injury. According to statistics found at Baseball Reference, Mel would play 47 games in 1952, appear in 63 in 1953, but would appear in a career high 83 in 1954. However, by 1955, Clark’s last year with the Phillies, he would appear in only 10 games.
Clark had no Major League Baseball statistics in 1956 and would play the last five games of his Major League Baseball career with the Detroit Tigers. Baseball Reference shows that he would appear as a Charleston Senator in 1957 and would play for the Birmingham club in 1958, after that season, Clark would retire from professional baseball.
It was after baseball, however, that many Mason County residents would know him as the friendly insurance salesman. He attended Faith Baptist Church in Mason, West Virginia and would frequently encourage young boys to play baseball, not for the glory, but for fun and to just enjoy playing. This was typical for Clark, who, on the back of his 1955 Bowman baseball card, encouraged “youngsters” to “keep a ball, bat, and glove available at all times.” Typical of the way, Clark was, he also encouraged those “youngsters” to “Be a hustler. Give your best at all times. Be a good sport.”
It was this attitude that many Mason County residents remember Clark for. Mel Clark died on May 1, 2014 in West Columbia, West Virginia. He was 89.
Jamin Layton lives in Point Pleasant and is a graduate of Marshall University. He is currently employed at Hope for Tomorrow in Point Pleasant.