By IAN WILSON
It was a dizzying time in the career and life of Stubby Clapp.
And that wasn’t just the result of the infielder’s penchant for doing backflips at the diamond.
By the time he entered the 2005 season, the Windsor, Ontario product had logged over 550 games at the Triple-A level, as well as 23 games in “The Show” for the St. Louis Cardinals. Clapp was so popular with the Pacific Coast League (PCL) Redbirds in the early 2000s that he earned the nickname “Mayor of Memphis.”
The 5-foot-8 sparkplug had also established himself as a star on the international stage.
In 1991, Clapp helped Canada win its first World Junior Championship in Brandon, Manitoba. That team was later inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
In addition, he delivered a bases-loaded, game-winning hit in extra innings at the 1999 Pan-American Games in Winnipeg that secured a 7-6 upset victory for Canada over the United States. Canada won a bronze medal at that tournament.
“Stubby had that little flare to shallow left to beat Team U.S.A. and became a household name,” recalled John Haar, the head coach of the 1991 junior Canadian team, in Bob Elliott’s book The Northern Game: Baseball the Canadian Way.
“Stubby had so much energy. When he was doing his flips, the crowd loved him.”
Clapp was also a part of the Canadian squad that finished fourth at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.
In Edmonton, the city was still coping with the loss of the Trappers, a PCL club that had offered Alberta’s capital high-calibre baseball for more than two decades. Their final season occurred in 2004 and an independent league team entered the fray to help fill the void the following year.
The Edmonton Cracker-Cats of the 12-team Northern League circuit needed a respected figure to help prove they were a worthy addition to the city’s sports scene. Richard Keith Clapp, better known as Stubby Clapp, was the face of the franchise that the Cracker-Cats called upon. Already familiar with playing in Edmonton during his time with the Memphis Redbirds, he was up for the task.
When news broke of Clapp joining the Cracker-Cats in March of 2005, he was praised as an “Olympic hero” and for his “on-field intensity and hustle” on the front page of the Edmonton Journal sports section.
The 36th-round pick from the 1996 Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft remained a Team Canada regular despite his first foray into indy ball. Clapp blasted a two-run homer at a world qualifier matchup against the U.S. during tournament play in April. The long ball capped a five-run eighth inning for Canada and helped seal a 9-4 triumph over the Americans.
INDY BALL IN EDMONTON
Later that month, he flew to Edmonton and was introduced as the marquee addition to the Cracker-Cats roster.
“With Stubby’s face out front, we’ve done well,” general manager Mel Kowalchuk said in the April 22nd, 2005 edition of the Journal.
“Stubby will help us immensely. The fans in Edmonton will be happy.”
Clapp, who attended the Telus Field press conference alongside pitcher Mike Kusiewicz, embraced his top billing on the club.
“If that’s my responsibility, I fully accept it,” he told reporter Dan Barnes.
“People see I’m just as human as the next guy. I’m not this big, tall, overpowering person. I’m your average Joe but I give it all I have and then some.”
As much as the Cracker-Cats wanted the 32-year-old to be a hit with baseball fans, Clapp also earned the admiration of his teammates.
“This is my first year in professional baseball … I’m just trying to win a roster spot, the backup position or even the utility role and then learn from Stubby and some of the other guys,” said Dan Marshall, who suited up in 32 games at second base and in the outfield for the Cracker-Cats.
“I watched Stubby play, watched how he fielded, watched how he turned double plays, watched how he hit a little, kind of molded myself a bit towards that. So he and I going up against each other at second base, who better to go up against than Stubby? He’s the guy I grew up idolizing. I learned a lot of my mechanics from the way he played … he’s a great guy, had a heck of a career and I just hope I can follow in the same footsteps as him one day.”
Scott Richmond – who pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays between 2008 and 2012 – was a teammate of Clapp’s in Edmonton, and someone who suited up for Canada with the spunky infielder.
“A couple things about Stubby that I remember was how friendly and welcoming he was. When I first joined the team straight out of my senior year at Oklahoma State he was the face of the franchise. It was the Cracker-Cats first year and I thought they did a remarkable job marketing Stubby as the captain. He played harder than anybody, led by example and always motivated his teammates to be the best. I know that playing with Stubby and seeing how he went about his business, on and off the field, was instrumental in shaping me as a professional player,” Richmond told Alberta Dugout Stories.
“He always motivated me and reminded me of the potential in my game where I had a chance to play at the highest level as long as I kept working hard. Coming from independent baseball I had no idea how that was going to happen, but having a veteran who’d been there before tell me these things motivated me beyond words. From the on field backflips, head first slides into home, and hustle all over the field he was a true testament to how the game should be played when people come to watch you play. A man of the people and one hell of a competitor.”
BASEBALL IS JOB ONE
During training camp, Clapp mused about some of the odd jobs he’d taken on to help maintain his pursuit of his baseball dreams.
“What haven’t I done? I worked in the restaurant/bar business. I was a supervisor at Ford. I worked in sports stores. I’ve done camps and private lessons. You name it, I’ve pretty much done it to make ends meet,” he told Barnes of the Journal.
“Right now I’m in a little bit different situation than most of the guys. My wife has a great, stable job. Because of that I’m able to chase the dream a little longer.”
The Cracker-Cats opened their inaugural season on the road with a May 20th tilt against the Kansas City T-Bones before finding their way back to Edmonton for a May 27th home opener against the Sioux Falls Canaries.
It was a tough opening series in Edmonton, with the Cracker-Cats dropping their first contest 9-7 on Friday night with 7,849 fans in attendance.
The team was still working out the kinks for the second game at Telus Field on Saturday. Over 1,400 people who purchased tickets were no shows and the sprinklers unexpectedly came to life in the fifth inning. To add injury to insult, Clapp was beaned in consecutive innings, prompting the Cracker-Cats dugout and bullpen to empty onto the field. Starting pitcher Reggie Rivard seemed to be the only aspect of the game that went well for the home side – he lasted seven innings and only gave up two runs, but his effort was not enough as the Cracker-Cats dropped a 6-5 decision.
“I really believe we will replace the Trappers image-wise and whatever else the Trappers did in the community, but I think it’s going to take a while,” Kowalchuk told the Journal during the opening weekend.
“It’s still tough for us because Triple-A just left here and this is a whole new thing. So, we’re giving ourselves some time. We’re not egotistical enough to think we can overcome that overnight.”
FIRST HOME WIN
The Cracker-Cats responded with a 7-0 victory in the Sunday matinee to snap a four-game losing skid and improve their record to three wins and seven losses on the season.
By mid-June, the team was clawing their way up the standings while turning in scrappy performances on the field. On some occasions, they did so in a literal sense.
On June 10th at Telus Field, the Goldeyes traded fisticuffs with the Cracker-Cats following a three-run homer from Winnipeg’s Jorge Moreno in the fifth inning. The next pitch from Edmonton’s Trevor Marcotte caught the brim of Russ Jacobson’s helmet, causing the benches and bullpens to empty. Clapp pulled the jacket of reliever Carlos Torres over the pitcher’s head and landed some shots during the brawl.
“That just comes from my hockey days … but I’m not proud of what happened,” said Clapp, who had a bandage on his left hand after the donnybrook.
Eight players were ejected from the game and seven received suspensions, including 10 games for Marcotte, two for Rivard and one for Clapp.
When the calendar flipped to July, the Cracker-Cats and Calgary Vipers were duking it out for provincial and Canadian bragging rights in the North Division. The Vipers had the edge with a 20-17 record while the Cracker-Cats sported a 19-21 record.
“When he came into the league it was pretty cool to be able to play against him,” Drew Miller, an outfielder with the Calgary Vipers, told Alberta Dugout Stories.
“I remember he would stand in the box and take like two strikes, barely taking his bat off his shoulder until he got to two strikes, then would line a double into the gap like clockwork … he always played the game hard.”
For his part, Clapp was living up to the hype he received when he signed on to play in Edmonton. The leadoff hitter for the Cracker-Cats was selected to play in the Northern League All-Star Game in Gary, Indiana.
“Anytime you’re in an all-star game, it’s an honour … and I get to see my parents who are driving from Windsor for the game,” Clapp told the Journal in the July 18th edition of the newspaper.
“It’s a lot of fun – you can play baseball for the love of the game without anything on the line. And you can see how different players play and how the managers do things, which can help you when you get back to your own team.”
Upon his return to the Cracker-Cats, Clapp offered consistent effort and results, both at the plate and in the field. He ended up playing 87 games and in his 350 at bats, the middle infielder led the club in runs (60), doubles (29) and the hit-by-pitch category (7). In addition, Clapp swatted five long balls, generated 42 runs batted in (RBI), stole 14 bases and recorded a .373 on-base percentage.
It wasn’t enough to lead Edmonton past Calgary, or punch a ticket to the postseason, but it did result in Clapp being named the most valuable player on the Cracker-Cats.
The “Earl of Edmonton” didn’t have much time to soak in the accolades. Canada came calling once more, and Clapp responded. During a mid-November Olympic qualifying game in Phoenix, he went 5-for-5 with three RBI to help Canada belt Panama 15-5.
What was normally the off-season for baseball players – or more shifts at the restaurant or car dealership – was additional time spent at the ball diamond for Clapp.
In January of 2006, he was summoned yet again for international duty, this time for the first edition of the World Baseball Classic (WBC).
“I’m just ecstatic to be on this team,” Clapp told the Journal from his home in Savannah, Tennessee.
“This is the best of the best in this tournament.”
Added Clapp: “I think this will be my seventh time (representing Canada). The only time I said no was the tournament in Holland (last fall). I had been away from home all year playing ball and my son’s birthday fell in the middle of the tourney, so I decided to stay at home.”
The Cracker-Cats supported their star player by inviting baseball fans to Home Plate Lounge at Telus Field to watch Clapp and his Canadian teammates make their WBC debut in March.
It was a rollercoaster tournament for the Canucks, whose roster included pitchers Erik Bedard, Rheal Cormier, Jeff Francis, Adam Loewen, Paul Quantrill and Chris Reitsma, along with hitters Corey Koskie, Justin Morneau, Jason Bay, Ryan Radmanovich and Matt Stairs.
Canada came out on top of South Africa by an 11-8 score in their March 7th opener at Scottsdale Stadium in Arizona. The Canadians needed four runs in the ninth inning to get by their opponents.
A more inspiring effort resulted in a massive upset the next day, when Canada topped the United States in front of 16,993 fans at Chase Field. Canada scored eight runs by the fifth frame and then held on for an 8-6 victory. It was an embarrassing loss for the Americans and pure elation for their northern neighbours.
“It’s cutthroat baseball, it’s the way baseball should be played and if you lose you go home, that’s an important factor,” Clapp said in the Journal.
“Anything can happen in international baseball.”
Canada learned just how cutthroat it was on March 9th. At the same diamond where they stunned the players in stars and stripes less than 24 hours previously, Canada fell 9-1 to Mexico and were eliminated from the WBC based on run differential.
It was a cruel end to a captivating tournament for Canada.
“It’s very disappointing. Coming into this game we were confident,” said Francis, the losing pitcher who surrendered six runs in an inning and a third.
“I don’t think we’ll walk away from this with our heads down. We can still be proud of what we did here.”
After catching his breath from the WBC excitement, Clapp decided to return to the Northern League for another season.
He had been a flexible player during his career, both in terms of acrobatics and where he was stationed on the diamond. You could normally find him in the infield at shortstop, second base or third base, but Clapp also roamed the outfield on occasion and he even climbed atop the mound and suited up behind the dish a few times.
When he reported to Telus Field for another summer with the Cracker-Cats, Clapp sought to add one more position to his repertoire: player coach.
“I’ve always thought about being a manager, so this opportunity will be great,” Clapp told Journal columnist Cam Tait of the club’s move to let him assume coaching responsibilities.
“I hopefully will be able to gain more of an insight of what goes on when a manager makes certain decisions.”
Terry Bevington, the field manager of the Cracker-Cats, saw the move as a natural evolution for Clapp.
“Stubby has been in the game a long time, and it’s good that he will be able to stay in the game,” stated Bevington.
“If we were a hockey team, Stubby would be our captain.”
Added Bevington: “I’m not going to be in Edmonton for many years longer, so Stubby might manage this ball club one day … I think it would be good for Stubby, being a Canadian.”
Clapp was one of 11 returning players who reported to training camp on May 3rd. A series of exhibition matchups were scheduled for Lethbridge, Red Deer, Westlock and Camrose and the season opener against the Fargo-Moorehead RedHawks was set for May 18th.
The Cracker-Cats closed out their first home stand with a pair of double-header victories over the Gary RailCats to move to a record of 4-3 in late May. The team had some unexpected competition in the form of the Edmonton Oilers, who went on a deep National Hockey League (NHL) playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final that year. The success of the Oilers made it more difficult to entice fans to Telus Field on nights when the hockey club was in action.
“If we can get them (fans) to all trickle down here afterwards, we’ll all be happy,” noted Clapp.
Baseball fans may have thought they inadvertently attended a hockey game when they watched the Cracker-Cats play the Calgary Vipers at Foothills Stadium on June 13th. A series of bean balls sparked a vicious brawl between the clubs, one of the most fierce diamond dust ups in the province’s professional baseball history.
READ MORE: Fisticuffs at Foothills
The Northern League responded swiftly and harshly, issuing 76 games in suspensions to nine players and coaches with both Alberta teams. Clapp was among the participants slapped with a suspension – he got three games for his role in the fracas.
The Cracker-Cats appealed to the family vibes in July, with Canada Day festivities to kick off the month, followed by a three-day baseball camp that was hosted by Clapp.
“I want to give back the love of the game to young people in Edmonton,” Clapp told Tait of the Telus Field instructional sessions for players between the ages of eight and 15 years old.
“I love the game of baseball. But I also love Canada, and hopefully the kids will learn something.”
Clapp remained steady during Northern League play, as well, and put together a team-record hitting streak of a dozen games. Such play punched his ticket to the mid-summer classic for a second consecutive season. Clapp didn’t just sit back at the July 18th All-Star Game at Kansas City either. He went 3-for-3 with a walk, a run and four RBI, earning MVP honours along the way.
Accolades were rolling in for Clapp’s work as both a player and a skipper, as well.
“We’re really seeing a difference with Stubby working on hitting,” Edmonton manager John Barlowe told the Journal.
“We’ve been turning some great double plays with Stubby at shortstop and Chris Becker at second base. I think they’re the best two infielders in the league.”
Clapp was modest about his coaching abilities, saying he considered himself more of a “mentor to the young guys” than a coach.
With Clapp firing on all cylinders with the Cracker-Cats, it was no surprise that another team coveted his services.
The familiar red-and-white reached out in August to see if Clapp would consider cutting his Northern League season short and joining Team Canada for a training camp in Florida, followed by an Olympic qualifying tournament in Cuba.
Through 79 games with the Cracker-Cats in 2006, Clapp had little left to prove in terms of individual accomplishments. He led the squad in stolen bases (32), walks (63), batting average (.323) and on-base percentage (.447). His other stats were solid, too, including 61 runs, 19 doubles and 34 RBI.
The Cracker-Cats were, however, making a push for the postseason.
“It’s tough to leave because we’re in a playoff hunt,” Clapp confessed to Tait.
“But it’s great to play for Team Canada at a competitive level because, at my age, chances for me to get back in affiliated ball are slim to none. Being able to play for Team Canada is one of the things that keeps me in baseball.”
Joining Clapp from the Cracker-Cats were lefty pitcher Mike Kusiewicz and outfielder Jeremy Ware.
“This is the last time baseball will be in the Olympic games so it’s important for us to go,” said Clapp.
“There’s a core group of guys who have been together since 1991 on Team Canada so we’re committed to one another.”
Not surprisingly, Clapp came up clutch for his teammates in Cuba. He smacked a two-run double in the bottom of the ninth inning to lead Canada to a 6-5 comeback win over Puerto Rico.
Canada ultimately failed to secure an Olympic berth, but Clapp did everything he could to get them there.
That year was Clapp’s final season with the Cracker-Cats, but he wasn’t done representing the maple leaf. He returned for his final playing appearance with Canada at the 2009 World Baseball Classic, a decade after making his mark on the international stage with a walk-off strike against the U.S.
Relief pitcher Chris Begg, who played alongside on a number of Canuck teams, referred to Clapp as “Mr. Baseball Canada” in The Northern Game: Baseball the Canadian Way.
“I say that part facetiously and part seriously,” said Begg.
“He’s Mr. Baseball and he plays with great talent, a great abandon. He’s well liked by everyone. What he does most of all is exemplify what Canadian baseball is all about. We call him Mr. President.”
Those years in Edmonton were pivotal to Clapp’s baseball evolution. He indulged his coaching interest in Alberta and that helped set him on a new career path.
He joined the Houston Astros organization in 2007 and worked as a hitting coach at the Single-A and Rookie levels through 2010. The next two years, he served as a manager of the Tri-City ValleyCats.
Minor-league hitting coach assignments followed with the Toronto Blue Jays, where he worked with batters on Single-A and Double-A squads.
Clapp kept climbing. In 2017, he returned to the Memphis Redbirds as a manager and led the team to back-to-back PCL championships.
The next stop took him to the majors, where he has worked as the first base coach of the St. Louis Cardinals since 2019.
It’s no surprise that Clapp landed on his feet. But it might surprise a few baseball observers to see who he’s able to knock off of theirs.
In 2022, after a brawl broke out between the Mets and the Cardinals, Clapp took down first baseman Pete Alonso, a move which upset the former MLB Home Run Derby champ.
Call him scrappy. Call him the Mayor of Memphis or the Earl of Edmonton. Call him Mr. Baseball or Mr. President.
Nah, call him Stubby.