It's high time the Memphis Redbirds retire Stubby Clapp's uniform number 10. Is he the greatest player in the franchise's nine-year history? No. But does Clapp represent the virtues this kind of honor has come to symbolize? Herewith are 10 reasons the answer to that question is a resounding yes.
1) His name. Having toiled for a franchise that counts Ducky Medwick, Pepper Martin, and Dizzy Dean among its pantheon of greats, Stubby Clapp is a once-in-a-millennium moniker that would be unforgettable had the player been planted at the end of the bench for a month or two. But in the starting lineup for four seasons? His name is already retired.
2) The flip. Had Clapp performed his pregame backflip for any other franchise, it would have been seen as a derivative imitation of Cardinal Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. But with a cardinal on his own chest, Clapp became a tumbling tribute for Memphis fans more than a little familiar with acrobatics on a baseball infield.
3) Longevity. Albert Pujols played in 14 games as a Redbird. Rick Ankiel pitched in 20 games. Kevin Witt won a Pacific Coast League home-run title, but played only one season. Stubby Clapp played 425 games for Memphis over four years. Only this season -- four years after Clapp last suited up as a Redbird -- has a player approached his service (John Gall).
4) His era. Stubby played in an era when "brawny" would have been a more descriptive adjective for his sport. While Clapp was hitting all of 22 home runs as a Redbird (14 of them at Tim McCarver Stadium in 1999), the Steroid Age was destroying, once and for all, the image of what makes a big-league slugger. While 1999-2002 will be remembered for the inflated exploits of McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds, it's refreshing to recall a 5'8" middle infielder carrying the banner for Memphis baseball.
5) The record book. Baseball is a game that loves its numbers, and the Redbird record book loves Stubby Clapp. The team's media guide lists the career leaders in 12 offensive categories. Clapp is first or second in ten of them (everything but home runs and stolen bases).
6) Two parks, one player. The transition from Tim McCarver Stadium to AutoZone Park is the most significant shift in eras in more than 100 years of Memphis baseball. Local fans were introduced to Clapp at the old yard, and watched him become a regional folk hero at the downtown diamond. He may be short
1, but Stubby Clapp bridges Memphis baseball history.
7) Big league stripes. Clapp did make it to the major leagues. He hit .200 in 23 games for the 2001 St. Louis Cardinals, a team that tied Houston atop the National League Central. But significantly, Clapp's glory days were at the Triple-A level, here in Memphis. He was, and remains, a Memphis baseball hero.
8) Follow the Cardinals' example. St. Louis takes the retiring of numbers very seriously. Just consider the names who have NOT been honored by the Cardinals: Curt Flood, Ted Simmons, Willie McGee, and Hall of Famers Medwick, Frankie Frisch, and Bruce Sutter. Stan the Man, Dizzy, Red, Gibby, Lou, and the Wizard have been honored, no surname required. Stubby fits the mold here in Memphis.
9) Merchandising. Yes, professional baseball is a money-making venture, even here in the minors. Retire Clapp's number and you have an instant seller in the team store. Better yet, one jersey can feature "Stubby," another "Clapp." Two souvenirs for the price of one number!
10) The 2000 PCL champs. It''s number ten (appropriately) on this list, but may be the single most important reason to retire Clapp's number. Walk into AutoZone Park this summer and you'd have no idea the team was once champion of the Pacific Coast League, that they won their lone title in the ballpark's inaugural season. Well, Stubby Clapp was the face of that team. Ernie Young was terrific, but playing in the Olympics when the playoffs rolled around. Young's replacement (Pujols) won the championship with a walk-off homer. But who led the 2000 team in hits, runs, and games played? Stubby Clapp.