“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”
Clyde Vollmer was born on September 24, 1921 in Cincinnati. He had first starred at age 14 in the Bridgetown Baseball League, where in 1935 he led his team to the Hamilton County Grade School championship. Later, he played American Legion ball as a member of Cincinnati’s Bentley Post. By the time he left Western Hills High School in 1938, he had been well scouted by the Reds. The following year, 1939, the Reds signed the 17-year-old to a Cincinnati contract for $75 a month.
Almost immediately he showed he was a legitimate major-league prospect. Just three years removed from Western Hills High, the young man from Cincinnati was wearing the uniform of his hometown team, the Cincinnati Reds in 1942.
He became one of only 24 major leaguers to hit a home run on the first pitch thrown to him in the major leagues.
It was an auspicious debut. Yet it was the lone highlight of a brief first stay in the major leagues. Over his next 33 at-bats, he struggled mightily, managing just two more hits. A week after his historic home run, the young outfielder was sent to the bench.
In June, after just three hits in 34 at-bats (.088), he was optioned to Birmingham. When the Reds opened their 1943 spring training in Bloomington, Indiana, he was thousands of miles away and wearing a much different uniform. He had joined the Army in October, 1942. He remained in the Army for three years, until he was discharged in the fall of 1945.
By the following spring, he was ready to resume his career. As training got under way in Tampa, Florida, in February 1946, he was one of 52 players in the Reds’ camp.
Though he made the team, his stay was very brief. He played just eight games for Cincinnati, and wound up the season with a .182 average and one RBI. After two failed stints with the Reds, it appeared his chances with his hometown team were dwindling.
The 1947 campaign appeared last best chance. He once again failed to live up to his promise. In the end, he appeared in only 78 games, and finished the season with a .219 batting average. While he opened the 1948 season again on the Reds’ roster, he appeared in only seven more games and was finally released by the Reds to Syracuse in May. Almost six years to the day from when he had homered in his hometown on his first major-league pitch, his Cincinnati career had come to an end.
This time in Syracuse, Clyde turned his career around. For whatever reason, though, in Syracuse, Vollmer finally gave an explosive performance. He proved he could be a productive player and it didn’t take long before he was in the major leagues once again. In September, he learned that he had been traded to the Washington Senators so he packed his bags and headed to the American League.
The ‘49 season was a study in contrasts. On the one hand, he gained the distinction of hitting at least one home run in every stadium in the league, on the other, he never made much of an impression on Senators management.
Platooned for most of the first month, he was then used mainly as the starting center fielder, but ultimately failed to impress as a consistent run producer. By the time the 1950 season opened, he was deemed expendable, and in May, after playing in just six games for the Senators, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox.
If Clyder was expected to play every couple of days and add occasional power to the Red Sox lineup, circumstances soon dictated a larger role for the 28-year-old. First, he realized a singular achievement. In June at Fenway Park, the Red Sox annihilated the St. Louis Browns, 29-4, and the outfielder, batting leadoff, became the only player in history to come to the plate eight times in eight innings. Then in the All-Star Game in Chicago, Ted Williams fractured his elbow. When the Sox resumed their season after the All-Star break, Clyde played in Williams’ spot, starting him in left and batting him third.
In his first game starting in place of Williams, Clyde hit a home run and two doubles in an 8-7 victory over the White Sox. In the 32 games in which he filled in, he batted a respectable .281, with three home runs and 22 RBIs. Returning to a part-time role after Ted returned, Clyde then provided even grander heroics when, as a pinch-hitter, he blasted his first-ever grand slam, at Fenway Park against Cleveland in August. The blast propelled the Red Sox to an 11-9 victory. In all, he appeared in 57 games after the trade from Washington, batted a major-league career-best .284, and hit seven home runs, drove in 37 runs and posted a slugging mark of .467. Acquired to add depth to the Boston outfield, Clyde helped keep the Red Sox in contention in 1950 with his clutch hitting.
And then came 1951 and one of those inexplicable streaks that power hitters sometimes experience. Before the Fourth of July, he got his season off to a good start, but not one that suggested fireworks. As the Red Sox fourth outfielder, he played in 33 games. In July, at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, in the first game of a doubleheader, he hit a solo home run, and over the next 23 days he had one of the most impressive streaks in baseball history.
Consider this performance:
July 6th: a two-run triple in a 6-2 win over New York;
July 7th: a grand slam in the first inning of a 10-4 win over New York;
July 8th: a two-run homer that gave the Sox a 4-3 lead in an eventual 6-3 win over New York;
July 12th: a two-run homer in the first game of a doubleheader against Chicago, won by the Red Sox, 3-2; in the second game drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly in a 6-5 win;
July 13th: a homer in the fifth inning and an RBI single in the 19th in a 5-4 loss to Chicago;
July 14th: a two-run single in the ninth that defeated Chicago, 3-2;
July 18th: a solo home run for the first Sox run in a 4-3 win over Cleveland;
July 19th: two home runs in a 5-4 loss to Cleveland;
July 21st: a home run, double, and single, with four RBIs, in a 6-3 win over Detroit; July 26th: three home runs driving in six runs in a 13-10 win over Chicago;
July 28th: singled in the 15th inning to tie the score, 3-3, against Cleveland, and hit a grand slam in the 16th to give the Red Sox a 8-4 victory.
It was an amazing run. In 24 games, he collected 30 hits in 98 at-bats (.306 BA); totaled 13 home runs and 38 RBIs; and smashed 74 total bases. His 13 home runs contributed to 12 Red Sox victories, and his three-home-run game on July 26 made Clyde only the fourth hitter in history to hit that many in one game at Fenway Park.
It also put money in his pocket. At the start of the season, he was the lowest-paid player on the Red Sox roster, at a salary of $7,500. At midseason, however, it was reported that Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey had rewarded him for his performance by raising his salary to $12,500.
The 1951 season was the pinnacle of Clydes career. After posting a .251 average in 1951, he returned in 1952 and, again in a reserve role, posted solid numbers. That was his final full season with Boston. In 1953, after making one appearance for the Red Sox in April, he was sold back to the Senators. In 1956, at the age of 35, he left the game for good.
Clyde Vollmer lived a full life after baseball. For more than 20 years, he owned the Lark Lounge in Florence, Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, and was a member of the American Legion, the Fraternal Order of Eagles/Cheviot Aerie, and the Delhi Senior Citizens. He died on October 2, 2006 at St. Luke's Hospital in Florence, Kentucky. He was 85 years old.