Grave Story: Clayton Lambert (1917-1981)

Here lies Clayton Lambert, who had a pretty good season in the majors and one short, really not-good, strange season. His MLB career was delayed for several years by World War II. Lambert pitched for the Cincinnati Reds (1946-47).

Clayton Lambert was born in Summit, Ill., on March 26, 1917. He went to Illinois College in his hometown, and he was not only a baseball star but also one of the leading scorers on the football team as a fullback. In 1939, he was the co-captain of the baseball team and led them to the conference title. That June, he signed a contract with the Cincinnati Reds. Lambert remained in the Midwest and played with the Waterloo (Iowa) Red Hawks of the III League. The 22-year-old struggled through the year with a 2-12 record and 5.08 ERA. The following year, he was sent to Ogden, Utah, to join the Reds of the Pioneer League. Not only did it turn his career around, but it introduced him to the place where he would live after his baseball career was over.

Source: Salt Lake Tribune, July 8, 1941.

Lambert rebounded with a solid season for Ogden in 1940, winning 12 games against 9 losses and dropping his ERA to 4.10. That merely set the stage for his 1941 season, when he became the top pitcher in the Pioneer League. Lambert went 21-6 with a tiny 2.21 ERA. Baseball Reference doesn’t list his strikeout totals in the minors, but he had reduced his walks per 9 innings from 4.0 in 1939 to 2.5 in 1941.

Lambert was promoted again to Syracuse of the American Association for 1942. He had a 7-3 record and 1.91 ERA in 37 games. He tossed 7 complete games, 3 of which were shutouts. He only threw 132 innings, as he started the season in the bullpen and didn’t join the rotation until the middle of the season.

Lambert was 26 years old and had just had three excellent seasons in the minor leagues. There was only one logical place for him to go next: the majors. His Syracuse teammate, Bobby Adams (who would have a long MLB career of his own), praised Lambert at the end of the season.

“Clayton will also go up to he Cincinnati Reds next spring. He’ll make the grade. He looks like a big leaguer in every sense of the word,” Adams told the Ogden Standard Examiner.

Unfortunately, it was the year 1942, and most any young man who was available was drafted into the war effort. Lambert was working for the War Department in Ogden during the offseason, but he was commissioned on December 23, 1942 for a three-year stint in the U.S. Army. I can’t tell from newspaper reports if he served overseas, but he was part of the 586th Squadron baseball team in 1942, stationed in Florida. By 1945, Lieutenant Lambert was a pitcher/manager for the Douglas Army Air Field team, considered the best team in the Western U.S. as far as military baseball teams were concerned.

Sure enough, Lambert joined the Reds as soon as his discharge papers came through, and he started 1946 as a part of the team’s bullpen. The Reds ended with a 67-87 record, good for 6th place in the NL, chiefly because they didn’t have anyone who could hit. The player with the highest batting average was utility infielder Benny Zientara (.289), and the pitching staff included Johnny Vander Meer and Ewell Blackwell, as well as past R.I.P. Baseball profiles Ed Heusser and Johnny Hetki.

Lambert pitched in 23 games and earned a 2-2 record with a 4.27 ERA. He started 4 games and completed two of them. His first MLB win came on August 30, 1945 against the Cubs. He scattered 7 hits and struck out 2 in a complete game 6-3 win. It was just his second major-league start.

Lambert’s 1947 was ugly and weird. In his first appearance of the year, he gave up 7 earned runs to Pittsburgh in an inning of work on April 18. He returned to form and held the Cubs scoreless for 2 innings five days later. On April 30, he allowed 3 runs on 5 hits in 2-2/3 innings against the Braves, leaving him with a whopping 15.88 ERA for the season. Unsurprisingly, the Reds sent him to the minors, but rather than report to Syracuse, he retired on May 20. He told the Syracuse Chiefs president that if he couldn’t stay in the majors, he would leave baseball.

Lambert pitched for a semi-pro team in Chicago and won 4 games. The Reds seemed to have had a change of heart and brought him back to the big leagues, but he never appeared in a ballgame. He retired for the second time on June 16.

He wasn’t completely out of baseball, though. Lambert returned to the Odgen Reds for a time in 1948, making 10 appearances. That was his final stint in his pro baseball career. In his time in the majors, he appeared in 26 games, with a 2-2 record and 5.40 ERA. He threw 2 complete games and had 1 save, and he struck out 21 batters while walking 26 in 58-1/3 innings.

Lambert was a youth baseball coach in Ogden following his third and final retirement from the game, and he also advocated for a “sports booster” program to further grow sports programs for Ogden children. For someone who was born in Illinois and didn’t live in the state until he was in his 20s, Lambert turned into a true-blue Utahn who wanted to give Ogden kids the chance to discover sports..

Clayton Lambert died on April 3, 1981, 8 days after his 64th birthday. Baseball Reference says he had been diagnosed with cancer. He is buried in Aultorest Memorial Park in Ogden.

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