Glancing Back, and Remembering Donn Clendenon
How would the baseball history of the 1960s have been changed if Donn Clendenon had reported to the Houston Astros as traded in January of 1969? Because he refused to report to Houston, Clendenon ended the 1969 season not in the Astrodome but in a New York Mets uniform, playing into October, and winning the Most Valuable Player award for the 1969 World Series.
Clendenon was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1957 and made his rookie debut in 1961. He hit .302 as a part-time player in 1962, and by 1963 had replaced the departed Dick Stuart as the Pirates’ regular first baseman, hitting .275 with 15 home runs and 57 RBIs. The lanky Clendenon also had good speed for a man of his size, and had 28 doubles and 22 stolen bases in 1963.
He hit .282 in 1964, and then had a huge season for the Pirates in 1965, hitting .301 with 32 doubles, 14 home runs and 96 RBIs. He followed up in 1966 by batting .299 with 28 home runs and 98 RBIs.
Clendenon’s average slipped to .249 in 1967. His hitting improved in 1968, batting .257 with 17 home runs and 87 RBIs. But following the 1968 seasons, the Pirates elected not to protect Clendenon in the expansion draft, and he was selected by the Montreal Expos.
Three months later, the Expos traded Clendenon with Jesus Alou to the Houston Astros for Rusty Staub. Clendenon refused to report to the Astros, who were managed by former Pirate manager Harry “The Hat” Walker. Walker and Clendenon had clashed when both were in Pittsburgh, and when it became evident that Clendenon could not be persuaded to join the Astros, the deal was re-worked, allowing Staub to come to Montreal and Clendenon to stay with the Expos … for a short while. Clendenon played in only 38 games with the Expos (hitting .240) when he was traded to the New York Mets for Kevin Collins, Steve Renko and two minor league prospects.
With the Mets, Clendenon hit .252 while splitting first base duties with incumbent Ed Kranepool. He didn’t appear in the League Championship Series, which the Mets swept from the Atlanta Braves. But he did appear in the 1969 World Series between the New York Mets and the Baltimore Orioles … did he ever! Clendenon played in four of the five games and hit .357 with a double, three home runs and four RBIs. His performance earned him the Series MVP award.
Clendenon had a fine season for the Mets in 1970, batting .288 with 22 home runs and 97 RBIs. But now age 34, he would not match that kind of offensive performance again. He hit only .247 for the Mets in 1971, his playing time reduced in favor of Kranepool, and he was released by the Mets at season’s end. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals and hit .191 in a part-time role, retiring after the 1972 season.
Clendenon played 12 major league seasons, hitting .274 for his career.