Short Stops, Long Career

Royce Clayton debuts on BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot after starring for 11 teams in 17 seasons

December 11, 2012
2013 BBWAA Hall of Fame Candidate Royce Clayton (NBHOF Library)

Royce Clayton challenged himself to be great.

And after 17 big league seasons, Clayton finds himself on the verge of joining the greatest collection of baseball players ever assembled at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Clayton is one of 37 players on the 2013 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot for the Class of 2013 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Clayton is making his debut on the ballot.

BBWAA members who have at least 10 years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election, and the results will be announced Jan. 9. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all BBWAA votes cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2013. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 28 in Cooperstown.

Born Jan. 2, 1970 in Burbank, Calif., Clayton was drafted with the 15th overall pick in the 1988 MLB Draft out of St. Bernard High School in Playa Del Rey, Calif. He quickly established himself as one of the top prospects in all of baseball and stated that his goal was to be in the major leagues by the time he was 20 years old.

Clayton missed by about a year, debuting in September of 1991 before claiming the Giants’ regular shortstop job midway through the 1992 season.

“We’ve all heard so much about this kid,” said then-Giants manager Roger Craig. “He’s done a lot of things in this organization that have impressed a lot of people.”

Clayton’s skills with the leather were particularly impressive, prompting Dusty Baker – who replaced Craig as manager in 1993 – to install Clayton at shortstop permanently. Clayton responded by hitting .282 with 70 RBI – an impressive total for a shortstop of that era – for a Giants team that won 103 games that season.

Clayton spent two more seasons with the Giants before he was traded to the Cardinals for three prospects prior to the 1996 season. In St. Louis, he was tabbed as the successor to Ozzie Smith, and Clayton spent two-and-a-half seasons with the Redbirds – earning his first All-Star Game berth in 1997 – before being traded to the Rangers in a deadline deal in 1998.

“He had to show his toughness to deal with the pressure of being Ozzie’s successor,” said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

Clayton – who always exhibited confidence on and off the field – thrived on the pressure.

“The whole experience made me a better player and a better person,” Clayton said. “I learned a lot about myself mentally.”

In the last 10 seasons of his career, Clayton bounced to the White Sox, Brewers, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Nationals, Reds, Blue Jays and Red Sox – averaging 139 games a season from 1997-2006 at one of baseball’s most grueling positions.

Clayton retired after the 2007 season with a .258 career batting average and 1,904 hits, including 363 doubles and 231 stolen bases. He led all NL shortstops in assists twice (1995 and 1997) and led his league in putouts among shortstops twice (1995 and 2000).

Craig Muder is the director of communications at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum