November 30, 1901|
|Died: September 3, 2000
|May 23, 1926, for the Cincinnati Reds|
|Last MLB appearance|
|June 7, 1945, for the Brooklyn Dodgers|
|Runs batted in||96|
|Career highlights and awards|
Clyde Leroy Sukeforth (November 30, 1901 – September 3, 2000), nicknamed "Sukey", was a Major League Baseball catcher, coach, scout and manager. He was best known for signing the Major Leagues' first black player in the modern era, Jackie Robinson, after Robinson was scouted by Tom Greenwade in the Negro Leagues.
Eye injury impaired playing career
Sukeforth was born in Washington, Maine. After two years at Georgetown University, followed by a year in the New England League with the Nashua Millionaires and the Manchester Blue Sox, he was signed by the Cincinnati Reds as a catcher in 1926. His best year was 1929 when he batted .354. Two years later he lost partial sight of his right eye from being hit by a shotgun pellet while bird hunting on November 16.
He continued to play, but not as well, and in 1932 was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Sukeforth, who batted left-handed and threw right-handed, appeared in 486 games over all or parts of ten big-league seasons (1926–1934 and 1945 as a fill-in-during the World War II manpower shortage), compiling a batting average of .264 with two home runs and 96 runs batted in.
Witnessed Robinson's historic signing
Sukeforth managed in the Brooklyn farm system from 1937–42 with the Clinton Owls of the Class B Three-I League, the Elmira Pioneers of the Class A Eastern League and the Montreal Royals of the AA International League before his promotion to the Dodger coaching staff in 1943. In late August 1945, Sukeforth was the only other person in the room when Dodger president Branch Rickey told Robinson of his plans to sign him to a contract to play in Montreal in 1946. He had been sent by Rickey to Chicago, where Robinson's team, the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues, was slated to play the Chicago American Giants, with the instruction to urge Robinson to come back with him to Brooklyn for a meeting with Rickey and the Dodgers. Sukeforth was officially listed as a coach on Brooklyn's Major League staff at the time, but also performed scouting duties for the club.
In addition to serving on Leo Durocher's coaching staff and his scouting assignments for Dodgers president Rickey, he worked behind the scenes in 1946 to help create the new Nashua Dodgers of the Class B New England League. Sukeforth helped the Nashua team forge ties with the New Hampshire community, easing the racial integration of the league when Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe were assigned to that club.
Turned down two MLB managerial opportunities
Sukeforth managed the Dodgers for the first two games of the 1947 regular season, replacing Durocher, who was suspended by the league for the season for "conduct detrimental to baseball." In the process, he managed Robinson's first Major League game. But Sukeforth and a fellow coach, Ray Blades, each turned down the opportunity to serve as acting manager for the rest of the season; ultimately, Brooklyn scout and longtime Rickey associate Burt Shotton assumed that role, and Shotton led them to the 1947 National League pennant.
In 1951, when Dodger manager Chuck Dressen needed a reliever to face the New York Giants' Bobby Thomson in the ninth inning of the decisive third game of the National League pennant playoff, Sukeforth, coaching in the Dodger bullpen, passed over Carl Erskine and sent in Ralph Branca, who gave up Thomson's "shot heard 'round the world". Sukeforth resigned as a Dodgers coach, then a few days later signed to be a coach with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where Rickey was executive vice president and general manager, in 1952. There, as a coach and occasional scout, he played a role in the drafting of Roberto Clemente from the Brooklyn organization in the 1954 Rule 5 draft.
Once again passing up a Major League managing assignment after turning down the chance to succeed Pirate skipper Bobby Bragan on August 3, 1957, Sukeforth retired as a coach at the end of the 1957 season.
Sukeforth remained in the Pirates organization as a scout and occasional minor league manager through 1965. He then worked as a scout for the Atlanta Braves. Sukeforth died at the age of ninety-eight at his home in Waldoboro, Maine.
In popular culture
In 42, the 2013 theatrical sports film about Robinson's breaking of the baseball color line, Sukeforth — played by actor Toby Huss — is portrayed as meeting Robinson at a rural filling station where the Monarchs' team bus had stopped (rather than the actual locale, Comiskey Park in Chicago), and urging Robinson to travel with him to Brooklyn for his meeting with Rickey. Another scene has Huss/Sukeforth (hitting fungos right-handed) teaching Robinson how to play first base, an unfamiliar position for the shortstop and second baseman, but the one Robinson played as a rookie in 1947. In addition, the on-screen Sukeforth, wearing uniform #40, is shown in one of the film's last scenes as the Dodgers' third base coach who congratulates Robinson on hitting a dramatic home run.
- "Clyde Sukeforth". Baseball-Reference.Com. Retrieved September 29, 2012.
- "Sukeforth Certain Vision Not Impaired". The Sporting News. December 3, 1931. p. 2.
- Sukeforth quits as Dodgers coach in surprise move
- Sukeforth signed to coach Pirates
- Firing coaches from big leagues will continue
- Clyde Sukeforth, 98, Is Dead; Steered Robinson to Majors
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Clyde Sukeforth.|
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube, or Baseball-Reference (Minors)
- The Deadball Era
- Find a Grave