Obituary: Cloyd Boyer (1927-2021)

RIP to Cloyd Boyer, the last surviving brother of the three baseball-playing Boyers. He died on September 20 in the St. Luke’s Care Center in Carthage, Mo. He was 94 years old. Boyer pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals (1949-52) and Kansas City Athletics (1955). He also coached at the major league level for the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Royals.

Cloyd Victor Boyer was born on September 1, 1927. Per his family-placed obituary, he was born in Cossville, located in Jasper County, Mo. He was the second-oldest of 14 children and one of three brothers that reached the major leagues. Both Ken Boyer and Clete Boyer started their major-league careers in 1955 — Ken with the Cardinals and Clete with the Athletics to join his big brother.

Source: The Kaplan Times (Kaplan, Mo.), May 29, 1948.

Cloyd Boyer attended Alba High School and played in the outfield until one day when none of the Alba pitchers were having much luck stopping a rally by a team from Pittsburg, Kan. Coach Buford Cooper, who also acted as a St. Louis Cardinals scout, brought Boyer in from the outfield and let him pitch. He walked the first two batters, cutting Alba’s lead to 1 run, but then he struck out the next three on nine pitches to seal the win. Cooper tried to get his new pitcher to attend a Cardinals baseball camp in the summer of 1944, but Boyer decided to stay in Alba and work at his summer job of baling hay for a local farmer. It took some encouragement from his father, Vernon, to convince him to go to the camp.

Boyer said that, growing up with so many brothers and sisters, there wasn’t much money to go around. If the kids got spending money, it was a nickel or a dime at a time. The boys got 50-cent baseball gloves for Christmas and learned to play catch in the snow. Still, the elder Boyer did everything he could to support his family, holding down a number of jobs that included blacksmith, grocer and rock quarry worker. “I’ll never forget when my daddy took me to Carthage to the train, when I was going away with the Cardinals for the first time, he gave me 25 dollars,” Boyer later recalled. “I don’t know where he got it. There never was that much money in the house as long as I could remember.”

Boyer signed with the Cardinals after his graduation in 1945, without any bonus money. “I haven’t regretted it though,” he said after he reached the majors, “because I wanted to play ball more than anything else, anyway, and I figure I’ll do all right.” He was first Boyer to enter into professional baseball; all six of his brothers would get there as well, even if it was just for a couple of seasons in the minors.

Boyer spent his first season in pro ball playing for the Lynchburg Cardinals and Johnson City Cardinals. From what stats are available, he struggled at first, with an ERA approaching 7.00 for the two teams. He then joined the Navy and served for a year, coming back to baseball in August of 1946. He was assigned to the Carthage Cardinals of the KOM (Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri) League and had a 3-1 record in 5 starts. The 18-year-old right-hander struck out 35 batters in 26 innings but also walked 24.

Boyer’s minor-league career took a turn for the better, starting with the Duluth Dukes, in 1947. He won 16 games and struck out 239 batters in 228 innings. He was a unanimous Northern League All-Star, took a no-hitter into the 9th inning against Sioux Falls and had one of the league’s best ERAs at 2.45. The Northern League teams traveled by bus most of the time, but when the team took a charter flight from Duluth to Aberdeen, Boyer stayed behind and rode with the umpires. The reason was that he’d never been in an airplane and didn’t want to start. Presumably he got over his fear, because pitchers can only rely on the kindness of an umpire for so long.

With that kind of season, the Cardinals invited Boyer to spring training in 1948 as a batting practice pitcher. He didn’t make the team but instead was assigned to the Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League. There, the pitcher known as “Killer Cloyd” or “Blazing Boyer” won 16 games again, leading the league in strikeouts with 188. At the end of the season, the Cardinals officially added him to their roster.

Boyer debuted as a Cardinal on April 23, 1949, and threw 2 scoreless innings against the Chicago Cubs. He was lit up in two other appearances, including a start, and was sent back to the minor leagues in early May with a 10.80 ERA in 3-1/3 innings. He went to the Rochester Red Wings and helped the team into the International League playoffs by winning 15 games with a 3.13 ERA. He returned to the Cardinals in 1950 and became a valuable swingman. He appeared in 36 games, including 14 starts, and had a 7-7 record and 3.52 ERA. He completed 6 of his starts, with 1 shutout, and he added 1 save for good measure. His control, which had been problematic in the minors, was much improved. He struck out 82 and walked just 49 in 120-1/3 innings.

Boyer served notice that he wouldn’t be sent to the minors by not allowing a run in his first five appearances, totaling 6-1/3 innings. His first major-league win came on May 1 with a scoreless inning of work against the Dodgers. He won when the Cardinals scored 3 runs in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 3-2 victory. Red Schoendienst and Bill Howerton had RBI singles, and Schoendienst scored the winning run on a wild pitch by reliever Willie Ramsdell. Boyer then threw 7-2/3 scoreless innings in relief to pick up a win over the New York Giants, after starter Max Lanier tweaked his back in the second inning. Boyer walked 6 but also fanned 6 and allowed just 2 hits.

Boyer came down with a sore arm near the end of the 1950 season, and Cards manager Eddie Dyer kept him mainly on the bench. Out of necessity, Boyer started a game against the Boston Braves on September 20 and shut them out 1-0, allowing 4 hits and striking out 7. He tried to start against the Cubs on September 29 but was removed after one batter, leadoff hitter Randy Jackson, doubled. It was his last appearance of the season.

The sore arm stuck with Boyer in 1951, and he had an up-and-down year with St. Louis as a result. He began the season as a starter but never made it past the fifth inning — he had another start against the Cubs end in the first inning after giving up home runs to Hank Sauer and Andy Pafko on successive pitches. He struggled in the bullpen, was sent to the minor leagues for a month or so, and ended the season with a 2-5 record and 5.26 ERA. He struck out 40 and walked 46.

Boyer’s arm troubles were reportedly over by the spring of 1952, and at times, he looked like the pitcher he was in his rookie season. He shut down the Boston Braves 6-0 on June 4 on 4 hits — and zero walks. He allowed just one batter to reach second base and struck out 7. But that old injury came back to cut into his playing time, and his strikeout totals dropped precipitously — 44 in 110-1/3 innings. He ended the season with a 6-6 record and 4.24 ERA, with an ERA+ of 87.

Boyer was optioned back to the minor leagues in 1953 and did not pitch again in a Cardinals uniform. His teams used him mainly as a reliever, and he was pretty effective over the next two seasons. However, he only appeared in a total of 50 games between 1953 and ’54 due to continued arm soreness. During the offseason, Boyer continued to pitch for semipro teams in Missouri, even though he probably needed to rest his arm. He frequently played with his brothers during this time. A game in October of 1954 had the Purcell All-Stars, with Cloyd, Clete and Lynn Boyer, playing against the Tri-State Miners, which featured Max, Roy and Ray Mantle — and Mickey Mantle as a pitcher!

Cardinals teammates Jackie Collum and Wilmer Mizell Meet Cloyd Boyer and son Ken during training camp in 1953. Source: Tampa Bay Times, February 18, 1953.

The Kansas City Athletics acquired Boyer in November of 1954 in the major-league draft. Future Cardinals and Yankees skipper Johnny Keane, who managed Boyer in the minors, vouched for the pitcher. “When I had Boyer here at Houston he just rared back and threw the ball by everybody. He was still doing it when he first went up to the Cards but after he hurt his arm he had to learn how to pitch,” Keane said. “He’s a great competitor and a fine boy to boot. I think the Athletics got a real bargain.”

Boyer’s sore arm did not in fact make him a better pitcher, and overuse on the part of A’s manager Lou Boudreau didn’t help. In his first outing for the A’s on April 19, 1955, he pitched 8-1/3 innings against Cleveland, allowing 7 earned runs on 12 hits and 9 walks. The pitch count is lost to history but must have been stratospheric. Boyer had some good starts for Kansas City, and at one point his record was 5-1. He then dropped his next four decisions and finished the season with a 5-5 record and 6.22 ERA. He had a WHIP of 1.790, thanks to 107 hits allowed and 69 walks in 98-1/3 innings. He did not return to the major leagues.

In five seasons, Boyer had a record of 20-23 in 111 games, which included 48 starts. He threw 13 complete games and 3 shutouts and recorded 2 saves. He struck out 198 batters and walked 218, with a WHIP of 1.544 and an ERA+ of 86.

Boyer as the manager of the Fort Lauderdale Yankees. Source: The Miami Herald, July 18, 1963.

Boyer continued to pitch in the minor leagues, starting with Sacramento in 1956. He moved to the Indianapolis Indians in 1957 and was a part of their staff until 1961. He worked primarily as a starter, as his arm had recovered enough for him to go deep into ballgames. He had some pretty effective years for Indianapolis, winning 13 games in 1958 and 12 in 1960. In his final season of 1961, he worked as a pitching coach as well as a pitcher, and he decided to get into coaching full-time after that year. He had a record of 117-97 in 14 seasons in the minor leagues.

Boyer spent the next three decades in baseball as a manager in the minors or a pitching coach. His first managerial job came with the Yankees in 1963, as he led a couple of their Class-A teams. His last assignment as manager was for the Idaho Falls Braves of the Pioneer League in 1989, when he was 61 years old. In between, he reached the majors as a pitching coach with the Yankees (1975, 1977), Braves (1978-81) and Royals (1982-83). When Bobby Cox was first hired by the Braves as manager in 1978, his was given the chance to assemble his own coaching staff. Team owner Ted Turner suggested he retain the renowned pitching coach Johnny Sain, but Cox knew just who he wanted — Cloyd Boyer. Boyer was responsible for the pitching staff that led the Yankees to a 1977 World Series victory, but he was forced out when Yankees manager Billy Martin wanted his friend Art Fowler as pitching coach.

“Ted is a Johnny Sain man. I’m a Cloyd Boyer man,” Cox explained.

Boyer based his teachings on his own past experience. “There used to be (and still is) an old saying that you don’t become a pitcher until you hurt your arm,” Boyer said, echoing something that Johnny Keane said a few paragraphs above. “And I got to thinking, well, why can’t these kids learn to be pitchers before they hurt their arms? And that’s kind of a big thing with me, emphasizing how important control is, not trying to strike everybody out.”

Boyer retired from baseball in 1992. He had married his high school sweetheart, Nadine, and they were married for 72 years. He is survived by Nadine, three children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well as six siblings.

For more information: Hedge-Lewis Goodwin Funeral Home

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