Grave Story: Fred “Dad” Clark (1873-1956)

Here lies Fred “Dad” Clark, a first baseman who played in 12 games for the 1902 Chicago Orphans (aka the Colts aka the Cubs). You’re going to have to trust me that this is the right grave marker, even though most of it is covered up by grass and weeds. I tried to remove as much as I could, but a horde of ants poured out through a crack in the gravestone and let me know that my clean-up efforts were not appreciated. Clark’s career was short, but even as it ended, a famed Cubs dynasty began. More on that below.

There was something about the nickname “Dad” that was going around in baseball at the time, particularly among people with a similar last name. First came William “Dad” Clarke, a pitcher from 1888-1898 but who also mounted a comeback in 1902. Then you had Arthur “Dad” Clarkson, a pitcher who followed in the footsteps of his Hall of Fame brother, John. Finally, we have this Dad: Alfred Robert “Dad” Clark, born on July 16, 1873 in San Francisco, Calif., but he spent most of his life in his adopted home of Utah.

Clark’s first professional playing experience came in 1901 with the Ogden Lobsters of the Inter-Mountain League. He was 27 at the time, and THANK GOODNESS the Salt Lake Tribune decided to fill in his back story in a 1902 profile — the same profile where his picture below can be found. Clark had played with Portland and Tacoma in the Northwest League in 1896 and Santa Cruz in 1897 and 1898. He passed through Ogden in 1899 on the way to a team in Pocatello, Idaho when Ogden’s manager/captain/executive (it’s not clear exactly what his title was) Frank Gimlin convinced him to stay. Clark manned third base for Ogden for a couple of seasons before moving over to first base, becoming one of the most popular players on the team in the process.

The first instance I can find of him in a newspaper was his wedding notice on February 27, 1901. The Salt Lake Herald reported that “Fred R. Clark, a well known member of the Ogden baseball team, was married last night to Miss Bertha L.W. Taylor. The ceremony was performed by Rev. W. Evans, at the home of the bride in Wilson.”

From the stats that are available from 1901, Clark batted .289 for Ogden in 35 games, with 7 doubles and a homer among his 41 hits. It would seem that his fame eventually moved beyond Ogden, as he signed a contract to play with Chicago for $250/month on June 25, 1902.

Source: Salt Lake Tribune, April 20, 1902.

“While the loss of Fred Clark will be regretted by every fan in Ogden and by every player on the Ogden team, which whom he has always been a favorite, yet all are pleased at his good fortune,” reported the Tribune. “His friends here do not doubt that he will be able to hold his own in the Windy City and predict for him a brilliant future in fast company.”

Clark joined the club just in time for a July 3 doubleheader against the Cardinals and served as the leadoff man in both games. He got three hits in a total of 9 at-bats and fielded 23 chances flawlessly over the 18 innings, though the Colts were swept in the doubleheader.

“His style of hitting is free and promising, and he has the reach and strength requisite in a first baseman,” enthused the Chicago Tribune.

The team was technically called the Colts, though the name “Cubs” was starting to appear more regularly. They also had the nickname of the “Orphans” since 1898, when long time manager Cap Anson left the team. If you look through newspaper articles from 1902, you’ll see any of those team names, or sometimes all three, used to describe them. The Colts cycled through eight first basemen in 1902. Frank Chance got the most starts with 38, so Clark had the chance to insert himself into the starting lineup.

Unfortunately, he split a finger on his left hand on the first play of the game on July 6 while taking a throw from pitcher Jack Taylor. The injury to his left hand was originally supposed to keep him out of the lineup for a couple of days, but he missed most of the month of July and was eventually sent to Kansas City of the Western League. Manager Frank Selee didn’t want to give up on the rookie so soon, but he needed healthy players on the roster. The Colts were so riddled with injuries that he was having to use pitchers in the infield and outfield just to fill out the lineup.

Clark was recalled at the end of August and put back at first base, but the results were less than impressive. He didn’t hit well and angered manager Selee with a perceived lack of hustle at first base. Clark played his last game in the majors on August 28, 1902. The same Chicago Tribune article that said Selee might send Clark to Peoria also noted that he was impressed with reports of infielder Johnny Evers, who was playing in the minors for Troy at the time.

On September 1, the Cubs debuted a new infield look, with Chance at first base, Joe Tinker at third base and Evers making his MLB debut at shortstop. Tinker would eventually move to shortstop and Evers to second base, and the Cubs legendary Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance infield would become a part of baseball lore.

While I couldn’t find any specific announcements, it seems that Evers’ call to the majors necessitated Clark’s demotion to Peoria. In 12 MLB games, Clark managed 8 hits for a .186 average. He had 1 double, scored a run, stole a base and knocked in 2 runs. He had 8 errors at first base for a low .938 fielding percentage. Considering fielding was a strong suit for him in the minors, one has to wonder how many of those errors were due to nerves or his injured hand.

Clark went on to a long career in the minor leagues, sticking mostly to the West Coast or the Midwest. He played in Salt Lake City and Ogden, but he also spent time in Los Angeles, Helena, Portland and Shreveport, La. His statistics are incomplete, but from what we do have, he was a career .272 hitter in the minors. He stopped playing professionally after the 1914 season, when he was 40 years old.

After his baseball career was over, Fred Clark was the station master for Ogden’s Union Station up until his retirement in 1943. According to an anecdote posted by a family member on Ancestry, he walked with a cane in his later years. He stayed interested in baseball throughout his life and made frequent trips to the ballpark to watch the Ogden Reds play. He was referred to as Dad Clark at the games and had a reserved box behind home plate. That means it’s quite likely that he was in the stands when a rookie named Frank Robinson became one of the first African Americans to play for the Ogden Reds. The Future Hall of Famer, who just passed away, joined the Reds in 1953 to start his professional career.

Fred “Dad” Clark died on July 26, 1956 at the age of 83. He was survived by his wife and sister and is buried in Ogden City Cemetery. His son, Daryal Clark, was said to be an outstanding athlete in his own right. He became a captain in the U.S. Army and died in a Japanese prison camp in 1943. His ashes were returned home to be interred with his parents.

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