Courtney in about 1953.
March 16, 1927|
Hall Summit, Louisiana
|Died: June 16, 1975
Rochester, New York
|September 29, 1951, for the New York Yankees|
|Last MLB appearance|
|June 24, 1961, for the Baltimore Orioles|
|Runs batted in||313|
Clinton Dawdson Courtney (March 16, 1927 – June 16, 1975) was an American catcher in Major League Baseball who played for the New York Yankees (1951), St. Louis Browns (1952-1953), Baltimore Orioles (1954, 1960, 1961), Chicago White Sox (1955), Washington Senators (1955-1959) and Kansas City Athletics (1961). Courtney batted left-handed and threw right-handed. He was born in Hall Summit, a village in tiny Red River Parish, Louisiana.
Listed at 5' 8" and 180 pounds, Courtney was an American League catcher whose pugnacity and timely base hits made headlines in the 1950s. Fiercely combative, he played his position under unusual handicaps. A natural left-hander, he taught himself to use his right arm, and he also was myopic, being widely considered as the first Major League catcher to wear eyeglasses.
Courtney appeared in one game for the New York Yankees in 1951 before being traded to the St. Louis Browns at the end of the season. He was obtained by the Browns at the request of manager Rogers Hornsby, who had managed him at Beaumont of the Texas League. In 1952, he won the TSN American League Rookie of the Year award after hitting .286 with five home runs and 50 runs batted in from 116 games.
Nicknamed "Scrap Iron", Courtney was frequently embroiled in fights. Two of his more celebrated brawls involved the Yankees. The first came in 1952, when he spiked Billy Martin and then slugged him when Martin hit Courtney between the eyes. A year later, he touched off a free-for-all by spiking Phil Rizzuto in trying to stretch a single into a double. Then Martin jumped on Courtney in a wild melee that produced a then American League record $850 in fines. The episode cost Courtney $250. Off the field, his temperament was reportedly more genial and affable.
On July 16, 1953, Courtney entered the record books when the Browns tied, by then, a Major League mark with three successive home runs during the first inning of an 8–6 victory over the Yankees. Courtney started the feat, followed by solo shots of Dick Kryhoski and Jim Dyck. In 1954, Courtney remained with the team, which had moved to Baltimore and was in its first season as the Orioles. On Opening Day, he hit the first home run in Memorial Stadium history. He finished with a .270 average in 397 at bats, and struck out a league-low seven times, the lowest since Joe Sewell in 1933.
Courtney split the 1955 season between the White Sox and the Washington Senators, batting a combined .309 in 94 games. In 1956 he hit .300 for the Senators and was back in Baltimore in 1960. That season, he became the first catcher to wear an oversize mitt to handle the knuckleballs of Hoyt Wilhelm. The mitt, designed by Baltimore manager Paul Richards to combat the passed-ball problem while catching Wilhelm, was half again as large as the standard glove and 40 ounces heavier.
Courtney appeared briefly with the Kansas City Athletics in 1961 and returned for a third stint with the Orioles for the rest of the year, his last Major League season as a player.
In an 11-season career, Courtney was a .268 hitter with 38 home runs and 313 RBI in 946 games. As a catcher, he recorded 3,556 putouts with 379 assists and only 50 errors in 3,985 chances for a .987 fielding percentage.
In 1965, Courtney worked as the bullpen coach for the Houston Astros. He later managed the Atlanta Braves' Triple-A Richmond affiliate between 1973 and 1975. In 1974, he was prominently mentioned as a possible successor to Eddie Mathews to manage the Braves, but the job instead went to Clyde King and Courtney continued to manage Richmond. On June 16, 1975, he was playing ping pong with one of his players during a road trip in Rochester, New York, when he was stricken with a fatal heart attack at the age of 48.