Grave Story: Otis Clymer (1876-1926)

Here lies Otis Clymer, a speedy outfielder who played for four teams in the majors and several championship teams in the minors. He played for the Pittsburgh Pirates (1905-07), Washington Senators (1907-09), Chicago Cubs (1913) and Boston Braves (1913).

Otis Edgar Clymer was born in Pine Grove, Pa., on January 27, 1876. His professional debut came in 1902 with Newark of the Eastern League when he was 26 years old, but Clymer was active in baseball well before then. There were actually several Clymers in baseball at the time, all of whom were from Pennsylvania. Along with Otis, there was a Clymer (no first name available) who played in 1898 for a team in Lock Haven, Pa. Bill Clymer, who was born in Philadelphia, played shortstop briefly for the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association in 1891. I don’t know if they are related to Otis in any way, but the point is that it gets difficult to determine which Clymer is which in newspaper reports of the time, particularly since newspapers in the late 1890s and early 1900s didn’t use first names of ballplayers all that often.

The first time an Otis E. Clymer appears in the papers was when he was arrested on October 10, 1897, in connection with a mail fraud case against Jacob A. Hyle. Clymer, 21, and another youth were alleged to have written letters for Hyle, ordering items like butcher paper and Encyclopedia Brittanica sets and not paying for them. Clymer, who received a couple of dollars for his part in the scheme, testified for the prosecution and was acquitted. Hyle was found guilty of fraud. Since the middle initial and the age line up with the ballplayer, I’m inclined to believe that this is our future ballplayer and that he made some questionable life choices in his youth.

Clymer stayed in Pennsylvania and moved from Altoona to Saxton in 1899. He caught on as a shortstop with a Huntington baseball club. By 1901, he was playing for Punxsutawney and “holding down short in a clever manner.” By the time he was reserved by Newark in 1902, he already had a good amount of baseball experience.

Source: Hennepin County Library

The first year where we have statistics for Clymer is 1904 with Buffalo of the Eastern League – the team where Bill Clymer made a name for himself in the 1890s. In 126 games, Otis hit .294 with 18 doubles and 8 triples. There are no records of how many stolen bases he had, but he did lead the league in the category and once stole second, third and home in succession.

“How do I run bases successfully? I take a chance. It’s risky business, that of diving for second after you have succeeded in reaching first; a hard point to gain,” he explained to the Buffalo Courier. “I can run fairly fast, and always keep my head. Then you know you have to run the chance of being spiked in sliding, but it’s all in the game.”

Clymer was acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates for 1905, after some wheeling and dealing that saw Clymer briefly as property of the Brooklyn Superbas and Philadelphia Phillies in the offseason. He performed very well while he was in the lineup, with a .296/.332/.353 slash line in 96 games. He also had 23 RBIs and 23 stolen bases. The papers loved him and compared him favorably to the team’s star player/manager, Fred Clarke.

However, Clymer, who had been well-behaved since his earlier brush with the law, ran into problems in Pittsburgh. He was suspended for three games on May 6 for getting into a fight with Jack Warner of St. Louis. His teammates and the sympathetic Pittsburgh press denied that he ever raised a hand against Warner; Clymer offered instead to meet the Cardinal in the clubhouse after the game. He returned from that ban only to get a 10-game suspension for stepping on the foot of Cincinnati first baseman Cliff Blankenship. Again, he denied any wrongdoing, and the resulting argument between Pirates president Barney Dreyfuss and NL President Harry Pulliam put another dagger in the relationship between the Pirates owner and his one-time right-hand man. Dreyfuss paid Clymer’s fines for both infractions, as a way of protesting the injustice and protecting his player. Once Clymer got back in the lineup, he missed playing time, and it was rumored that he was planning on deserting the team altogether. He denied the rumors and explained the missed time was due to stomach problems.

Clymer got into other scrapes during the season. It was rumored that he had been placed on a blacklist – unofficially, of course. While playing with Buffalo, Clymer jumped to the defense of an umpire who was struck down by outfielder Jack Thoney and gave Thoney a good beating. “Clymer is a marked athlete, because he once befriended an umpire,” wrote The Buffalo Times.

Clymer’s 1906 season came to an early end, on April 27. He walked in a game against St. Louis and then dashed to second base to break up a double play. He slid awkwardly into second and broke his ankle. He hit .244 in 11 games. Clymer was healthy by December, only to find himself subject to various trade rumors. “I’m going to have a little say about where I go if the Pittsburghs decide to dispose of me,” said the outfielder, who swore he’d play in an outlaw league if the Pirates tried to send him to Boston, Brooklyn or St. Louis.

The ankle continued to be a problem for Clymer into 1907, and the outfielder even talked about quitting the team. “Clarke wants me to continue, but I do not see what good that can do,” he said of his manager/teammate. Clymer and Clarke had some kind of alternation (physical or verbal, I can’t determine) and he was acquired by the Washington Senators shortly afterward. There, the batting returned in a big way. He hit .442 in his first 12 games as a Senator, with 4 doubles, 3 triples, 1 home run and 6 stolen bases. He tailed off from there but still ended the season hitting .313 for Washington (in 57 games) and .294 overall.

Source: Chicago Tribune, March 11, 1913.

Clymer played in a career-high 110 games in 1908, which was the only time he topped the century mark in a season. He missed playing time here and there, once because of an unexplained “retirement” (possibly an injury) and once because of a suspension for using foul language at the expense of umpire Silk O’Laughlin. His .253 batting average was low for him, but he had a couple of noteworthy highlights. On October 2, the Senators bashed the Yankees 12-2, and Clymer hit for the cycle as part of a 4-for-4 day. He also helped to knock Cleveland out of the ’08 pennant race – as a second baseman. Senators manager Joe Cantillon tried Clymer at second in a series against the Naps, when Cleveland was trying to win the pennant. Cleveland was threatening to score with the bases loaded and one out. Clymer, a novice second baseman with sore legs, was playing extremely close to second base so he could get a throw from shortstop. Instead, the Naps’ Bill Bradley hit a screaming liner right up the middle – and right where Clymer was playing. What could have been an easy extra-base hit turned into a double play. Cleveland lost the game and lost the pennant to the Tigers by a half-game.

“Had second base been my regular position or had my legs been right, I supposed I would have played where a second baseman normally does,” Clymer mused. “So you see there sure is such a thing as luck in baseball.”

Clymer ran out of luck himself in 1909. He struggled at the plate and injured his left ankle by sliding into home plate. He appeared in just 45 games for Washington and hit .196. He was sent to the minor leagues on August 10 to join the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association, managed and owned by former Senators skipper Cantillon. He failed to hit for the Millers in ’09 either, but from 1910-1914, he would have some great seasons for some championship Millers teams.

I’ve written a little about these Millers teams in the past. They featured timely hitting by veteran Jimmy Williams, a strong catching duo with Wib Smith and Yip Owens, and even a late-career renaissance from Rube Waddell. The Millers were the American Association champions from 1910-1912. Clymer hit over .300 with each of those teams, including a .342 mark in 1911. He also clobbered 48 doubles and 10 triples that year, with a total of 216 hits. He started off 1911 with a 28-game hitting streak, setting an American Association record. He ended it with a broken collarbone after diving for a catch – proof that his bad luck hadn’t completely vanished.

Source: Hennepin County Library

After three brilliant seasons, Clymer was drafted back into the majors by the Chicago Cubs. However, despite claiming that he was 33, he was now 37 years old and hit just .229 in 30 games. He managed 9 stolen bases in 14 attempts. He was put on waivers and claimed by the Boston Braves. For 14 games, Clymer hit like his old self again, with a .324 average, including 3 doubles and a triple. He was reacquired by the Millers and played well in the remaining 40 games of the season, but he hit a mere .228 in 1914. He announced his retirement on August 10 after 16 years in baseball.

“I know I am getting old. I would prefer to quit now than to go ahead, fall down hard and have to quit with the fans hooting at me,” he said.

He didn’t exactly end on great terms with the Millers. He sued the team for $240 in back wages, which he did not get, and was released in early 1915. Team president Mike Cantillon (Joe’s brother) dismissed the one-time Millers star by saying, “Clymer has slowed up to such an extent that he is no longer a valuable man to our team.”

During the course of his baseball career, Clymer acquired the nickname of “Grump.” Considering how many bridges he burned, it’s not exactly a surprise. He fished off the 1915 season by working as an umpire in the Northern League and playing with a team in Fargo. He retired – again – that December.

In six years in the major leagues, Clymer slashed .267/.322/.332 in 385 games. He had 355 hits, including 42 doubles, 19 triples and 2 home runs. There can’t be too many players in MLB history to have hit so few home runs and still have hit for the cycle. He also stole 83 bases, drove in 98 runs and scored 182 times.

When he didn’t have a bat in his hands, Clymer could be found frequently with a rifle. He was a first-class marksman and won numerous shooting competitions, both at live birds and clay pigeons.

After his retirement from baseball, Clymer worked in the auto business in Hudson, Wis. On February 27, 1926, Clymer had completed some business in the Twin Cities and was headed back home to his wife and children. While driving across the Sixth Street bridge in St. Paul, he attempted to pass another car on the road. He clipped the front end of the other car, which caused his own vehicle to spin around, crash through a guard rail and off the bridge, falling 90 feet to the railroad tracks below. Clymer died as he was being loaded onto the ambulance. He was 50 years old. He is buried in Willow River Cemetery in Hudson, Wis.

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