John Clarkson’s pitching statistics belong to his era: Baseball’s infancy during the 1880s.
His dominance on the mound, however, has stood the test of time.
Born July 1, 1861 in Cambridge, Mass., Clarkson began his big league journey at the age of 20 with the Worcester Ruby Legs of the National League. After only three games, however, shoulder problems forced the 5-foot-10, 155-pound right-hander back home to Cambridge.
Two years later, Clarkson emerged from the minors with Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings. This time, thanks to a strong curveball and a unique “drop” that would now be called a sinker, Clarkson found regular work – posting a 10-3 record in 14 games.
The next year, 1885, Clarkson improved his win total by 43 games – winning an astounding 53 contests against only 16 losses. He completed 68 of the 70 games he started, logged 623 innings pitched, struck out 308 batters and pitched a no-hitter against the Providence Grays on July 27, 1885.
He went 36-17 in 1886, then led the National League in victories for a second time in 1887 with a mark of 38-21.
“I have stood behind him day-in and day-out and watched his magnificent control,” said White Stockings second baseman Fred Pfeffer. “I believe he could put a ball where he wanted it nine times out of 10.”
Apparently, the other clubs in the National League believed Pfeffer’s assessment. Before the 1888 season, Clarkson was sold to the Boston Beaneaters for the then-astronomical sum of $10,000. He spent the next four full seasons in Boston, averaging better than 35 wins per season. In 1889, he went 49-19 with a league-best 2.73 earned-run average in 620 innings of work.
The Beaneaters released Clarkson midway through the 1892 season, but he hooked on with the Cleveland Spiders for another three years before retiring after the 1894 season. His final totals: a 328-178 record, a 2.81 ERA and 485 complete games in 518 starts.
For eight seasons from 1885 through 1892, Clarkson averaged better than 36 victories per year.
Clarkson had two brothers, Dad Clarkson and Walter Clarkson, who also pitched in the big leagues.
Clarkson passed away on Feb. 4, 1909. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1963.