Clifford E. "Red" Pemberton
Bats: Left Throws: Right
Second Base / Third Base
Height: 5'10". Weight: 175 1b
Born: May 16, 1920
Died: September 4, 2000
in Ardmore, Oklahoma
One of the league's most colourful characters, Clifford "Red" Pemberton made his Canadian debut in 1954. But, in the beginning, nobody wanted him very much! He had brought his family to Moose Jaw in July of '54 following a request from a friend that he join the team. However, when he arrived the manager made it clear he had no where to play 'ol Red..
He got into just two games for the Mallards. On July 2nd he played third for a few innings. Of course he got a hit -- a triple -- in his first at bat. His only other action for Moose Jaw was on the hill. In a blowout against Indian Head, Pemberton threw three innings in relief.
Saskatoon came to the rescue. Ralph Mabee, the Gems' general manager, got Pemberton on loan on a look-see basis. Mabee asked, "Where do you play?" Pemberton's reply, "Where do you need me?"
Over his first two weeks in the league he'd play first, second, centre field, left field, third and pitch.
Three hits (including a triple) marked his first game with Saskatoon and he'd keep it up for eight years. Pemberton won his first batting title the following year as he batted .360. He'd win again in 1956 with a .349 average. He followed with .306 in 1957, .364 in 1958, .309 in 1959. Pemberton won his third batting crown in 1960 with a blistering .398. He hit .351 in his final season.
Hitting was never a problem for the Oklahoma kid.
A headline from The Daily Oklahoman, August, 27,1939
Pemberton, still a high school junior, is the leading hitter with the Stillwater Boomers, a semi-pro team. He'd also be All-State in basketball.
"Many old-timers regard him as one of the swiftest runners and the best pure hitter ever to play the game of baseball in Oklahoma."
"Living at the Tulsa YMCA, Pemberton regularly took a street car to the end of the ... line, then hitch-hiked to play baseball for the Stillwater Bombers. Pemberton hit an amazing .481 during the Northern League season, a fast semi-pro league ... Playing for Elk City in 1951 ... he hit .434."
[Glory Days of Summer, the history of baseball in Oklahoma by Burke, Franks and Parr]
Signed by the Dodgers, Pemberton began his pro career in 1941. But, it would be abruptly interrupted by service in the U.S. Navy. He'd lose four crucial years and return to the pros in 1946 at age 26, considered too old to be a prime prospect. With the semi-pro action more lucrative than professional ball, Pemberton signed on with the Golden Coors of Denver. Before a brief return to pro ball, he'd come back home for a couple of seasons with the semi-pro Elk City Elks, and a half season in the Western Minnesota circuit, before heading north in 1954.
AVE G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
1939 Stillwater n/a
1940 Stillwater n/a
1941 Newport .301 96 329 88 99 2 10 2 21 42 38 28
1942 Dayton .500
1942 Military Service
1943 Military Service
1944 Military Service
1945 Military Service
1946 Meridian .325 107 415 75 135 26 7 0 41 44 29 22
1947 Meridian-Pensacola .309 133 531 102 164 23 17 4 69 42 32 23
1948 Golden Coors n/a
1949 Golden Coors (1) n/a
1950 Elks, Elk City (2) n/a
1951 Elks, Elk City (3) n/a
1952 Clovis .356 139 564 138 201 40 8 5 111 76 27 27
West Texas-New Mexico
1953 Port Arthur .313 31 132 29 41 11 2 0 22 10 4 6
1953 Springfield Tigers .366 34 142 33 52 11 4 0 22
1954 Ponca City .288 53 212 41 61 8 4 2 23 26 9 2
1954 Moose Jaw/Saskatoon .291 110 32
1955 Saskatoon .360 62 250 49 90 19 7 1 51 25 13 6
1956 Saskatoon .349 66 258 38 90 12 9 6 52 27 9 8
1957 Saskatoon .306 53 206 46 63 9 0 4 33 31 11 6
1958 Moose Jaw .364 43 165 45 60 13 2 6 43 20 9 5
1959 Regina .309 47 220 37 68 11 5 1 36 20 16 11
1960 Lloydminster .398 50 176 36 70 15 2 1 28 14 8 1
1961 Lloyd/Edmonton (4) .351 57 12 20
(1) U.S. finalists in the National Baseball Congress tournament. Pemberton led the tournament in hits.
Voted to the All-Tournament team.
(2) Pemberton went 3-4 to lead the Elks to the Oklahoma title. Voted to the All-State team.
(3) The leading hitter in the state tournament as the Elks won again. Voted to the All-State team.
(4) Lethbridge Herald, July 14, 1961
Left to right - In 1955 with Saskatoon, 1958 with Moose Jaw, 1959 Regina, and 1960 Lloydminster.
Pemberton suited up for five teams in Canada from 1954 to 1961 -- Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, Regina, Lloydminster and, for a brief time at the end of the shortened '61 season, with Edmonton. He had stints as manager with four of the clubs.
In 1958, Pemberton made a triumphant return to Saskatoon, where he had played for four seasons. As playing-manager of Moose Jaw, Pemberton went 4-5 with two homers, a double and a single as the Mallards won 9-6. (Saskatoon Star Phoenix, June 27, 1958)
He was at the centre of a major rhubarb in Regina in 1955 when he took on the owner of the Regina team.
"A free-for-all nearly broke out among the players in the fifth inning of the first game when Gem third baseman Cliff Pemberton and Denny Evenson, sponsor of the Braves, came to blows.
Evenson, stationed in front of the bleachers just off the playing field back of third base, was heckling Pemberton when Regina came to bat in the bottom of the fifth. Pemberton left the playing field and got involved in a fist fight with Evenson. Players from both sides rushed to the scene and it was some minutes before umpire Scoop Hunter was able to restore order. The umpire ejected Evenson and Pemberton from the park." (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix July 7, 1955)
Pemberton was suspended for one game and fined $15. Evenson was fined $30.
He played in the 1955 Global World Series in Milwaukee and, to no surprise, walked off with the batting title. Pemberton hit .471. He recalled,
"They gave me a big cup, must have been three feet high. I had no idea how to get it home ... it was up on the mantle ... one day my daughter bumped it ... it fell into a hundred pieces."
The batting championship AND a triple play. Yes, Pemberton also was a key on defense. In the fifth inning of the game between Canada and Japan and the Canadians leading 4-2, Japanese centrefielder Atsushi Otsu came to the plate with runners on first and second and none out. Pemberton caught the liner to third, fired to Johnny Ford at second who tagged Teruso Isihara. Ford's throw to Jim Ryan at first was in time to catch Soichi Arakawa before he could get back to the bag.
Roy Taylor, a veteran of prairie baseball, says, "Pemberton was probably the best hitter I ever saw in Canada. He'd just flatten the ball. He'd hit the ball so hard you just weren't fast enough to get in front of it."
In the off-season, Pemberton would return to his beloved Oklahoma to continue teaching, a career which spanned 43 years.
The 1961 season was the end of baseball for Red. He started the season as the playing-manager of the Meridians but, in late June, a fractured hand put him on the sidelines. He wasn't inactive for long, getting back on the field as an umpire. While his stint as an official drew high praise, he was soon back in uniform as playing-manager of the Edmonton Eskimos. The Esks would soon fold and Pemberton packed his bags for his last trip home from Canada.
Later there was seniors' softball ('til he was 75) -- in Oklahoma and California -- and 14 world championships.
As late as 1997, Pemberton continued to collect honours. Under the headline "Local track athletes medal", the August, 1997 Daily Ardmoreite carried the news, "Cliff Pemberton, competing in the master men age 75-79 division won the silver medal in the shot put with a throw of 22-9".
Pemberton died in September, 2000. Baseball America noted the passing:
Cliff Pemberton, a speedy minor league second baseman and outfielder for seven seasons spread across 14 years, died Sept. 4 in Ardmore, Okla. He was 80.
Pemberton led the Northeast Arkansas League with 10 triples in his first pro season in 1941, before joining the Navy during World War II. In his second year back from the service in 1947, he led the Southeastern League with 17 triples while playing for two clubs.
He then retired for four years before coming back to lead the West Texas-New Mexico League with 27 stolen bases for Clovis.
(Presented at Tucson, Arizona, Nine’s Eighth Annual Spring Training Conference, March 9-11, 2001)
RED - AN OKLAHOMA AND WESTERN CANADA BASEBALL LEGEND
By Jay-Dell Mah and Royse Parr
Mickey Mantle, Johnny Bench, Paul and Lloyd Waner, all of whom are hitters enshrined in Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame, are revered products of the sandlots of the great baseball state of Oklahoma. But the award winning Glory Days of Summer: The History of Baseball in Oklahoma (1) lauds Clifford E. “Cliff” or “Red” Pemberton, a career school teacher, as “one of the swiftest runners and the best pure hitter ever to play the game of baseball in Oklahoma.” (2)
With Red Pemberton you not only got speed and a quick bat but also, as a Canadian columnist noted, “a chief dictator, a knight in shining armor who is an expert at the sport he’s dealing with, a favorite with the youngsters, a proven teacher, and most of all, a relentless promoter.” (3) He was characterized as “a guy who oozes more color than a Bapco factory.” (4) Initially as a player and later as a playing manager, Red’s credo was that “the object of any game is to win. But you’ve got to cater to the paying customer, too, or you may not have a chance to win next time because you can’t field a team.” (5)
In a baseball career that stretched across four decades from 1938 to 1961, Red was a legend first in the United States and then in Western Canada. As teenagers, the authors of this article were privileged to watch our red-haired, freckled-faced hero play baseball between his spring and fall school terms in our hometowns of Elk City, Oklahoma and Lloydminster, Saskatchewan.
Red is perhaps the only player in baseball history who won league batting titles in his first and last full seasons—twenty-two years apart. But his early life wasn’t easy. He was born in Fort Worth, Texas on May 16, 1920. When he was four years old, his mother died. His dad, a roughneck in the oil fields of Texas and Oklahoma, regretfully placed Red in an orphanage. After his release from the orphanage, he lived with his grandparents in Oklahoma. (6)
By 1937, Red was living in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s downtown YMCA, a few blocks from Tulsa Central High School. There, he starred in baseball, basketball and track. In the spring of 1938, his spectacular play as a sophomore for his championship high school baseball team attracted the attention of the Stillwater, Oklahoma Boomers, a semi-pro baseball team located at the home of Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Oklahoma State University) nearly 80 miles west of Tulsa. (7)
The Stillwater Boomers were members of the Northern Oklahoma League, a six-team semi-pro league that was sanctioned by the National Semi-Pro (changed in the 1940s from “Semi-Pro” to “Non-Pro” or “Non-Professional”) Baseball Congress (“NBC”) headquartered in Wichita, Kansas. (8) Red was the only non-collegian on the Boomer team that competed against teams that usually had some or all ex-professional baseball players. Over 100 Oklahoma teams had their rosters, limited to sixteen players, registered with the NBC. Red’s pay for playing the 1938 season was $150 per month, a princely sum to a lad who took a Tulsa street car to the end of the line and then hitch-hiked to and from most games. (9)
One of Red’s Boomer teammates was a college junior with a sore arm, Allie Reynolds, the later Super Chief of New York Yankee pitching fame. Red emerged as the league’s leading hitter with an amazing .481 batting average. (10)
During the 1938 season, the defending NBC champion Enid Eason Oilers were recognized as Oklahoma’s best baseball team and perhaps the best team in semi-pro or professional baseball in the entire southwest United States. (11) The Stillwater Boomers most cherished victory of the season was a non-league 15-4 defeat of Enid in Stillwater on the Fourth of July. (12) An earlier win by Enid halted a 14-game Boomer winning streak. (13)
For the 1939 season, Red got a pay raise to $200 per month. (14) When the Boomers entered the state semi-pro tournament, they boasted a 41-15 record with Red as their leading hitter at .341. (15) The Boomers finished third in the tournament behind two teams they were unable to beat during the season, Enid and Duncan. The Duncan team advanced to win the NBC title at Wichita. The tournament’s first prize included a trip to Puerto Rico to meet their local champions who defeated Duncan in a seven-game series in mid-September 1939. Enid won the NBC championship in 1940, and avenged the defeat of Duncan in Puerto Rico. (16)
Red graduated from high school in the spring of 1940 during his third and last season as a member of the Stillwater Boomers. Duncan offered him $200 per month and a job during the offseason. Red declined partially because he was assured of an athletic scholarship at Stillwater’s Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College where he planned to play basketball and baseball. (17) Primarily, he was a much coveted basketball recruit at a college that was in the process of forming national championship basketball teams, a goal that was accomplished in 1945 and 1946.
In 1940 Red again led the Boomers hitting parade with a .341 average. Filling the spot of an absent state champion, the Boomers were invited to the NBC tournament in Wichita. (18) In his first trip to the tournament, Red hit a respectable .333 in the two losing games played by the Boomers. (19) Of his three seasons with the Boomers, Red would later say:
”Baseball then was great to play, no helmets. If they threw at you, there was a fistfight. When you went into bases, you didn’t care if your cleats were up. We tried to schedule the Oklahoma City Indians (i.e. minor league Class 1A Texas League). They would not play us. Their owner, Mr. Holland, knew that we would whip their butts.” (20)
After college basketball practice began in the fall of 1940, freshman Red was subjected to lengthy daily drills in a very disciplined, defense-oriented system. This slow, non-contact version of the game was just not for him. After college was out in the spring of 1941, he inked a contract with the baseball Brooklyn Dodgers and headed for their Newport farm team in northeast Arkansas. (21)
DODGER AND NAVY BLUES
Red played his first professional baseball with the league champion Newport Dodgers in the Class D Northeast Arkansas League. (22) As a fiery second baseman and outfielder, he led the league in runs (88), triples (10), and was among the league leaders in stolen bases (28) and batting average (.301). (23) Red’s base pay was $45 per month, a substantial cut from $200 per month in Stillwater. Additionally, he received 75 cents per day for meal money and all the free pancakes he could eat in the team owner’s restaurant. (24)
In his second year at third base for the Newport Dodgers was George Kell, an Arkansas native. In 1941, Kell improved his batting average to .310 after hitting only .160 in his maiden season. (25) The parent Brooklyn Dodgers assigned Pemberton and Kell to the Durham, North Carolina Bulls of the Class B Piedmont League for the 1942 season. But when they arrived, the team was already set. As Red disgustedly remembered, “If we had hit .900, we still would not have made that ball club.” (26) Kell finished the season with the Lancaster, Pennsylvania Red Roses on his way to a major league debut in 1943, the start of a Baseball Hall of Fame career. (27)
Meanwhile, Red started the 1942 season with the Dayton, Ohio Ducks of the Class C Middle Atlantic League. After playing only three games and batting .500, (28) Red got his draft notice. He did not play another baseball game until 1946. He promptly enlisted in the U. S. Navy with whom he served in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In the pivotal Coral Sea battle in the Pacific, his oil tanker was bombed, torpedoed, and machine gunned, but did not sink. Once on a Pacific island, Red got to play shortstop in a softball game. Playing first base for the other Navy team was Bob Feller of the U.S.S. Alabama. Red survived the war unscathed, but a casualty was his extensive baseball card collection that was stolen at sea. (29)
BASEBALL’S GOLDEN AGE
The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball states of the years, 1946-1951:
The years following World War II were a heady time for minor league baseball. There was little competition other than movies for the entertainment dollar, and the United States was emerging as an affluent nation…. After the war, servicemen were home with money in their pockets, and the nation’s economy was booming. People had money to spend and what better place than the ballpark. (30)
Red was eager to advance from the minor leagues to the major leagues. In spring training 1946, he tried out at second base with the parent Brooklyn Dodgers. Red believed that he outplayed Eddie “The Brat” Stanky who led the National League in runs in 1945. (31) Also, Red could outrun any Dodger regular or farm hand in camp. However, the Dodgers’ brass did not agree with Red’s assessment of his baseball skills. After a heated discussion with the Dodgers general manager, Branch Rickey, Red was told that he would be blackballed if he did not accept a minor league contract at $300 per month. (32)
The Dodgers’ were grooming many talented players on their twenty-one minor league teams. One of them, a second basemen who struggled at the plate during his first spring training, would make history on April 18, 1946 when he debuted with the Dodgers-owned Montreal Royals—Jackie Robinson. (33)
Red swallowed his pride and played the 1946 season for the cellar dwelling Meridian, Mississippi Peps of the Class B Southeastern League. He hit .325 and had 22 stolen bases. (34) In 1947, he started the season with Meridian and then finished with the Pensacola Fliers of the same league. Red hit .309, led the league in triples with 17, and had 23 stolen bases. (35) After Pensacola, Red attended Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. He completed his second year of college in the spring of 1948 and played briefly for the Hamline baseball team until an injury ended his season. (36)
With the intention of continuing his college education at nearby Denver University, Red in the summer of 1948 joined the semi-pro Coors Brewery team of Golden, Colorado. (37) The Coors team, composed entirely of ex-professional baseball players, may have been the best baseball team in the Rocky Mountain area for a few years after World War II.
In helping the Coors team win the 1948 prestigious Denver Post semi-pro baseball tournament, Red hit .455 in six games. (38) Later that August, Coors won their first three games in the NBC tournament in Wichita, Kansas. Coors lost the fourth game 4-3 to the defending national champion Fort Wayne, Indiana team and then were eliminated by Elkin, North Carolina, 9-6. Second baseman Pemberton batted .250 in the tournament. (39)
Near his completion of a college degree at Denver University, Red returned for a second season in 1949 with Coors. Coors again qualified for the NBC tournament. Red batted .346 with an on base percentage of .452 in six NBC tournament games. Ft. Wayne, then sponsored by the General Electric Company, claimed their third consecutive national semi-pro championship by defeating Coors 5-4 in the title game. (40)
Life was good as the Pemberton family left Denver in the spring of 1950. Red had a college degree and his first teaching job as head coach and a teacher at Merritt High School, a rural school near Elk City, Oklahoma. First born son Michael was born in Denver to his mother, Carol, a Chicago native who wed Red in 1944. The Pembertons had three children born in the 1950s—Brock, Ruth Ann, and Cathy. (41) Michael would play in the NBC tournament in 1966 as a teenage catcher for a Kansas team. (42) Brock, a first baseman, would achieve his father’s dream by playing in the major leagues for the New York Mets in 1974 and 1975. (43)
It was an easy fit for Red to join the Elk City Elks semi-pro baseball team, the defending state champions who had been defeated 2-0 by Coors at the 1949 NBC tournament and finished third. Playing first base for the Elks was Joe Bauman, Red’s teammate in 1941 at Newport, Arkansas. Bauman, who hit the record-setting 72 home runs in 1954 for Roswell, New Mexico of the Class C Longhorn League, was named in the spring of 1999 as the minor league player of the century by the readers of Baseball America newspaper. For the 1950 season, Red hit .358 in 71 games. (44) With the Elks, Red made his fourth and last trip to the NBC tournament in Wichita where the Elks lost the NBC championship in the tournament’s final game to Ft. Wayne. (45)
In 1950, the Elks won the Oklahoma semi-pro league. By 1951, all of the league teams except the Elks had folded. The Elks then helped form a Red River Valley semi-pro league consisting primarily of Texas teams. In 51 games against lesser competition, Red hit .434. (46) Again, the Elks qualified for another run at the NBC championship in Wichita. But the Elks declined their bid to the tournament. Reflecting in 1998, Oklahoma’s 1951 state semi-pro commissioner George Stack said, “Semi-pro baseball died off. It just cost too much to maintain a ball club and for transportation and expenses at Wichita.” (47)
In 1951, changes in baseball were not just in Oklahoma. Attendance in the United States was down at all levels of adult baseball, from the major leagues down to the sandlots. Many reasons have been provided for the decline of the national game—multiple choices after the war of recreational activities for Americans, baseball games were too readily available on radio and then on television, air conditioning in the homes, deteriorating ballparks that were not attractive for family entertainment, and increasing popularity of other sports. Non-professional town baseball, which had been the main entertainment in many towns and cities for the many decades, quickly disappeared. (48)
WANDERING RETURN TO TULSA
With semi-pro baseball essentially gone from Oklahoma, Red joined the Class C Clovis, New Mexico Pioneers of the West Texas-New Mexico League for the 1952 season. He batted .356 for the regular season league champions, led the league in stolen bases with 27, and was selected as the second baseman on the league all-star team. (49) Red’s son, Michael, served a brief stint as a batboy in the Clovis dugout. Since he was learning some new words that should not be in a pre-schoolers’ vocabulary, he soon joined his mother in the grandstand. After the Clovis Pioneers’ season was over, Red taught physical education in the Clovis public schools during the 1952-1953 school year. (50)
In 1953, Red began the season with the Class B Port Arthur, Texas Seahawks of the Gulf Coast League where he hit .313 in 3l games. (51) He finished the season with the semi-pro Springfield, Minnesota Tigers of the Western Minnesota League. (52) Red led his team in batting with a .366 average. In the league’s playoffs, Red was thumbed out of a game for “losing his temper when umpire Cisco called a questionable strike on him.” (53) The umpire and Red “went down in a heap near the plate. The wrestling match was brief and no damaging blows were landed as cooler heads quickly untangled them and Pemberton was induced to leave the park." (54)
In 1953, Red moved his growing family to Tulsa where he taught physical education in the public schools until he and his family moved to southern California in 1968. There, he continued teaching physical education in the public schools until his retirement in 1991. After his baseball playing days ended, Red coached summer baseball teams that some seasons included his sons as outstanding players. (55) Red also made a reputation as a fair and colorful basketball referee with his own style. He often instructed the players during games with little whistle blowing. One of his refereeing partners once exasperatingly said to him during one such non-whistling interlude, “Red, I just can’t follow you.” Red’s quick response was, “Young man, I will take care of you.” (56)
HELLO, MOOSE JAW, GOODBYE
In 1954, Red batted .288 in 53 early-season games for the Ponca City, Oklahoma Jets of the floundering Class C Western Association, the end of his baseball playing days in the United States. (57) Heading north looking for another team to complete the season, Pemberton's baseball beginning in Canada -- quiet and unwanted -- was not remotely like the career that would follow.
Red arrived in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, fifteen hundred miles from home, in early July, 1954. "It was too damn hot and dusty," said Pemberton who came to Moose Jaw on the invitation of a friend. (58) Unfortunately, the friend wasn't the manager. He was told the club didn't have a spot for him and Red got into just two games (belting a triple in his first at bat on the prairies). (59)
However, the league-leading Saskatoon Gems were in town and their wily manager arranged to acquire Pemberton on a "look-see basis". "Where do you play?" asked manager Ralph Mabee. Pemberton's quick reply, "Where do you need me?" (60) Over his first two weeks in the league he played first base, second base, centre field, left field, third base, and took a turn on the hill.
From the newspaper headline the day after his Saskatoon debut, "Newcomer Shines In Gems' Win", (61) it was obvious Mabee liked what he saw. Pemberton, with a flair for the dramatic, had three hits, including a triple, as the Gems beat his former team.
It was the start of an eight-year odyssey that saw Pemberton suit up for five teams in Western Canada during a period of remarkable change in North America.
TIME FOR CHANGE
On the day after the 1954 season opener of the new Saskatchewan Baseball League, the United States Supreme Court announced a decision, Brown v. Board of Education, that "was just the beginning of a startling new period of change, not just in the area of civil rights, but in all aspects of social behavior." (62) The impact of the decision was profound. “It not only legally ended segregation, it deprived segregationist practices of their moral legitimacy as well. It was therefore perhaps the single most important moment in the decade, the moment that separated the old order from the new and helped create the tumultuous era just arriving. (63)
A suburban housing development in Levittown, New York (64) and a "planned community" in Don Mills, Ontario (65) would be among the first signals of a major shift in the way Canadians and Americans would live, shop and play. The explosion in automobile sales and expansion of highway systems (66) would accelerate the pace of change, as would the introduction of television.
“Cars began to sell like ice-cream cones at a July picnic,” and, with better roads, people had more entertainment options than a day at the ball park, “they could take up fishing, boating, or simply relaxing at the beach or the lake.” (67)
Thankfully, for baseball on the prairies, the transformation was uneven across North America, and the cities and towns of Western Canada were relatively slow to accommodate the changes. While families in major American urban centres had been watching television since the late 1940s, Lloydminster, one of the key cities in Western Canada baseball, didn't have its own television station until 1960. A radio station had come just three years previous. The local press was a weekly paper. (68)
Two major forces combined to help prolong semi-pro baseball on the prairies -- the decline of the Negro Leagues and the availability of American college players.
Willie "Curly" Williams, who was a long-time star in Western Canada and one of the refugees from the Negro Leagues and a stint in professional baseball, lamented:
It was awful. I cried so much when I was in professional baseball I tell you. We were treated so well up there. That's why I stayed so long. That's the only place we could go. It was wonderful. We had so much fun, Everybody was accepted and we could go into any place we wanted to eat. (69)
Pete Beiden, the legendary Fresno State baseball coach, sparked an influx of college players to the prairies with his California Mohawks barnstorming teams of 1949 and 1950. Over the next decade, nearly ninety Fresno State players suited up in Western Canada. When Edmonton met Williston in the summer of 1958 it must have seemed like an intra-squad game. Williston had eight players off the University of Southern California campus. Edmonton had five. (70)
Into this scenario of change stepped Clifford “Red” Pemberton, 34-years-old, having his worst season -- just .288 in his final half-season of professional baseball. He did slightly better after he came north to Canada, .291 or .297, depending upon which paper published the final statistics. He would not finish below .300 again, winning the batting title three times. (71) As remarked by Willie “Curly” Williams, “Man he wore that Canadian League out. I knew him as a friend, a wonderful guy. Man, he could hit.” (72)
He also had quite an introduction to baseball on the prairies. Red's Saskatoon club likely set a record for the most baseball in the shortest period. In late August 1954, Saskatoon split up the team so that it could play double-headers in two different cities. As if four games in one day wasn't good enough, the following day the Gems wrapped up the regular season with five games, although three were the completion of earlier tied matches. Still, nine games in two days must have been an eye-opener even to a veteran such as Pemberton. (73)
ONE OF THE BEST
"He was one of the best hitters I've ever seen," said Jim Lester, one of the many Fresno State products to play in Canada. "He had such bat control it was unbelievable. He'd look at me (down at third) and just kind of laugh, then knock it by me." (74)
Pemberton made up for a below par season, in his first taste of semi-pro action in Canada, by having perhaps his best over-all campaign in 1955 as captain of the Gems. He led Saskatoon to the pennant hitting .360 to capture his first batting title. (75) The highlight of his season, however, came later in Milwaukee at the inaugural Global World Series which featured teams from the United States, Canada, Hawaii, Japan, Colombia, Mexico, Spain and Puerto Rico. Pemberton was the tournament's leading hitter with a .471 average. And, he was instrumental in the defensive highlight of the tournament starting a triple play. (76)
Red didn't make headlines just for his hitting. In early July, Pemberton was ejected from a game in Regina after leaving his third base position to belt Denny Evenson, the owner of the Regina club. The newspaper account (77) didn't offer much explanation for the outburst, other than to report Evenson had been heckling Pemberton. Teammate Len Breckner recalled there was more to the story:
We're playing in Regina. Pemberton is playing third base, and I'm playing first. Denny Evenson, who liked to drink a little, was leaning over sort of a snow fence along the third base line. He's bugging Cliff Pemberton, making racial comments about some of our players. Cliff says, "You do that once more." And, he did. All of a sudden I heard this crack and I look over and Cliff had hit Evenson on the nose. Blood is running all over the place and Evenson is trying to get over the fence to get at Pemberton. When I went over there, Pemberton had his two fists up, bouncing up and down, waiting for this guy to come across. He never did." (78)
Pemberton was suspended for one game and fined $15. Evenson, to his dismay, was fined $30. (79)
A .349 mark in 1956 was good enough for Pemberton's second straight batting crown. And, he came second in the league in runs batted in with fifty-two in sixty-six games. He struck out just nine times, about once every seven games. (80)
In his fourth season in Western Canada, 1957, Pemberton took over as the field manager of Saskatoon. It wasn't his happiest summer as he batted just .306 (81) and quit as playing manager in early August following the resignation of the team president. It came a week after the club's general manager had announced major changes and slighted Pemberton in a newspaper interview. (82)
After four seasons with Saskatoon, and the unpleasant ending to the 1957 season, Pemberton accepted an offer to be playing manager of the Moose Jaw Mallards for 1958. He came roaring back with a .364 mark, but finished well back of Williston's Jerry Adair who hit over .400 and was in the Baltimore Orioles lineup two days after his last game in Canada. (83)
One of Red's highlights was his new club's first game in his old ballpark in Saskatoon. Pemberton celebrated the occasion with a four-for-five day, including two home runs, a double, four runs scored and three runs batted in. (84)
"Pemberton was one of the best players I ever saw," said Roy Taylor, long-time head coach at the College of the Sequoias. Taylor, who managed and played for nine years in Western Canada, said, "He was mean with that bat. You just couldn't get him out. He hit the heck out of the ball. Just a born hitter." (85)
THE CLOWN PRINCE
After Moose Jaw folded at the end of the 1958 season, Pemberton moved on to Regina for the 1959 campaign in a reconstructed loop, the Canadian-American League.
The clown prince, Clifford Pemberton goes on and on, which makes it good for the Can-Am … One of the top drawing cards around the circuit, the irrepressible Pemberton has cast his lot with the jazzed-up Regina Senators this time around as Wayne Tucker's lieutenant. (86)
By now, the veteran of 17 years in professional and semi-pro baseball, Pemberton had settled down at third base. "That's the old man's corner, and that's okay with me," he slow-drawled, Texas-like . . . which figures because he is a native Texan, even though he teaches school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the off-season. "You either get 'em or you don't. It's a one shot deal. There's no moving around, which suits me just fine." (87)
Pemberton finished with a .309 batting mark in 1959, fifth best in the circuit. At age 39, he even managed eleven stolen bases to finish among the leaders. (88)
He would be enticed to take the managerial reins of the Lloydminster Meridians for the 1960 season. It wasn't a job which offered much security -- in six seasons the Meridians had had six different managers. Only twice had the club finished about .500. The Meridians' futility ended as Pemberton led Lloydminster to its first-ever pennant, and he added another trophy for his mantle with his third batting title finishing with a Canadian career-best .398 mark. (89)
His skills as a leader also attracted attention. “Pemberton was unique in that he was so much superior to his managerial counterparts in Saskatoon, Lethbridge and Calgary. His players showed a marked improvement as the season wore on. The credit has to go to him. By mid-season his aggregation was a redoubtable one, and by far the class of the circuit.” (90)
Not only did Pemberton take the Meridians to the top of the standings, more importantly, he also brought home the money. Red led the Meridians into the two major prairie tournaments, Lacombe and Lethbridge, and the club took first prize money in both events. It was something they repeated the following season. (91)
END OF THE LINE
A look at the final numbers for 1961 would suggest Pemberton had yet another superb summer, in what turned out to be his final season in baseball. A .351 average would have been good enough to finish second in the batting race, if he had accumulated enough at bats. (92) But, a broken finger and a broken league would, after sixteen teams over twenty-four years, keep Pemberton off the base paths.
Pemberton started the season as the playing manager of the Meridians but, in late June, his fractured finger put him on the sidelines. He wasn't inactive for long, getting back on the field as an umpire.
Cliff Pemberton, one of the most colorful performers the Western Canada Baseball League has seen … may be back to work as a regular umpire in the WCBL … Cliff said he would really like to handle some games at Cairns Field (in Saskatoon). "I think the fans would like it too," he added with a grin. "My friends would have a wonderful chance to work me over." Pemberton had to quit playing about 10 days ago because of a fractured finger. He turned to umpiring at Lloyd and his work has drawn praise from all sides. (93)
But, the playing field beckoned once more. The floundering Edmonton Eskimos enticed Pemberton to take over as manager. He played in just a couple of games before the club folded. Typically, he went out with a flourish -- three hits in his final day on the baseball diamond. (94)
Cliff Pemberton packed his bags for his final trip home from the prairies.
One of his teammates that final season was long-time University of California coach, Bob Milano.
What an amazing guy. He was a guy who was just a leader through example by the way he hit. Very cocky. When he asked us to bunt, we god damn well did it because we knew he could do it. He was funny. Full of hell. He was trying to be twenty-five again with us. (95)
Twenty-five? Maybe Pemberton believed it as he returned to a smaller diamond but with the same desire to win as a softball player. His elite teams won the national senior softball world series in their age group for 14 consecutive seasons. Red's string was ended in 1998 when he was benched because of heart by-pass surgery. (96) Unable to outhit a recurrence of cancer, Red died on September 4, 2000 in Ardmore, Oklahoma. (97)
.01 Bob Burke, Kenny A. Franks, and Royse Parr, Glory Days of Summer: The History of Baseball
..... in Oklahoma (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Heritage Association, 1999), p. 39.
.03 Calgary Herald, May 19, 1961.
.04 Ibid. A “Bapco” factory is a paint factory.
.06 Interview, Carol Pemberton, widow of Clifford Pemberton, January 6, 2001.
.07 Interview, Clifford Pemberton, December 13, 1997.
.08 Official Guide National Semi-Pro Baseball for 1939 (Wichita, Kansas: National
..... Semi-Pro Baseball Congress, 1939) p. 22-S.
.09 Interview, Clifford Pemberton, December 13, 1997.
.10 Stillwater (Oklahoma) Daily Press, August 14, 1938.
.11 Burke, Glory Days of Summer: The History of Baseball in Oklahoma, p. 38.
.12 Stillwater Daily Press, July 5, 1938.
.14 Interview, Clifford Pemberton, December 13, 1997.
.15 Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), August 27, 1939.
.16 Burke, Glory Days of Summer: The History of Baseball in Oklahoma, p. 40-41.
.17 Interview, Clifford Pemberton, December 13, 1997.
.18 Daily Oklahoman, August 10, 1940.
.19 Official Guide National Semi-Pro Baseball 1941, (Wichita, Kansas: National
..... Semi-Pro Baseball Congress, 1941) pp. 67 and 70.
.20 Interview, Clifford Pemberton, January 27, 1998.
.22 Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball
..... (Durham, North Carolina; Baseball America, Inc., 1997) p. 434.
.23 Raymond Nemec, unpublished statistics of organized baseball played by Clifford Pemberton.
.24 Interview, Clifford Pemberton, December 13, 1997.
.25 Bob Hoie and Carlos Bauer, The Historical Register, (San Diego: Baseball
..... Press Books, 1998), p. 153.
.27 Hoie, The Historical Register, p. 153.
.28 Nemec, unpublished statistics, Clifford Pemberton.
.29 Interview, Clifford Pemberton, December 13, 1997.
.30 Johnson, The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, p. 347.
.31 Joseph L. Reichler, The Baseball Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, (New York: Macmillan
..... Publishing Company, 1985) p., 1421.
.32 Brock Pemberton, son of Clifford Pemberton, interview, December 11, 1997 and
..... Clifford Pemberton, interview, December 13, 1997.
.33 Johnson, The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, p. 355.
.34 Johnson, The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, p. 346 and Nemec, unpublished statistics
..... compilation by year of organzied baseball played by Clifford Pemberton, 1998.
.35 Johnson, The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, p. 359, and Nemec,
..... unpublished statistics, Clifford Pemberton.
.36 Interview, Carol Pemberton, March 3, 2001.
.37 Interview, Clifford Pemberton, December 13, 1997.
.38 Denver Post, August 2-13, 1948.
.39 Ibid., August 15-31, 1948, and Wichita (Kansas) Eagle, August 31, 1948.
.40 Wichita Eagle, August 24-September 4, 1949, and Denver Post, September 5-9, 1949.
.41 Interview, Michael Pemberton, son of Clifford Pemberton, January 9, 200l.
.43 Interview, Brock Pemberton, December 11, 1997.
.44 Statistics compiled by author Royse Parr from articles in the Elk City Daily News (Oklahoma)
..... and the Wichita Eagle in August and September 1950.
.45 Official Baseball Annual Non-Pro 1951(Wichita, Kansas: National Semi-Pro Baseball
..... Congress of America, 1951) p. 1.
.46 Burke, Glory Days of Summer: The History of Baseball in Oklahoma, p. 39.
.47 Ibid., pp. 57.
.48 Ibid., pp. 57-58.
.49 Nemec, unpublished statistics, Clifford Pemberton and Johnson, The Encyclopedia of
..... Minor League Baseball, p. 416.
.50 Interview, Carol Pemberton, January 6, 2001.
.51 Nemec, unpublished statistics, Clifford Pemberton.
.52 Springfield (Minnesota) Advance Press, September 3, 1953.
.55 Interview, Clifford Pemberton, December 13, 1997.
.56 Interview, Don Gasaway, January 9, 2001.
.57 Nemec, unpublished statistics, Clifford Pemberton.
.58 Interview, Clifford Pemberton, March 15, 2000.
.59 Saskatoon (Saskatchewan) Star-Phoenix, July 3, 1954.
.60 Interview, Clifford Pemberton, March 15, 2000.
.61 Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, July 7, 1954.
.62 David Halberstam, The Fifties (New York, Villard Books, 1993) p. 423.
.63 Ibid.,p. 423.
.64 Ibid., p. 142.
.65 John Sewell, The Shape of the City (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1993) pp. 79-96.
.66 Doug Owram, Born at the Right Time (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1996) pp. 69-72.
.67 Paul Hack and Dave Shury, Wheat Province Diamonds (Regina, Saskatchewan Sports
..... Hall of Fame and Museum, 1997) p. 197.
.68 The Lloydminster History of Recreation and Cultural Activities Committee, 75 Years of
..... Sport and Culture in Lloydminster (Lloydminster, The Lloydminster Times, 1979) p. XII.
.69 Interview, Willie “Curly” Williams, February 9, 2001.
.70 Western Canada Baseball, www.attheplate.com/wcbl/,college.htm.
.71 Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, September 4, 1954; Moose Jaw (Saskatchewan) Times Herald,
..... September 4, 1954.
.72 Interview, Willie “Curly” Williams, February 9, 2001.
.73 Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, August 23-24, 1954.
.74 Interview, Jim Lester, February 8, 2001.
.75 Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, September 3, 1955.
.76 Official Baseball Annual, 1956 Non-Pro, National Baseball Congress of America (Wichita, Kansas:
..... The National Baseball Congress of America Non-Professional) p. 17.
.77 Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, June 27, 1955.
.78 Interview, Len Breckner, February 6, 2001.
.79 Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, July 9, 1955.
.80 Official Western Canada League Records, Season 1956, Howe News Bureau.
.81 Official Western Canada League Records, Season 1957, Howe News Bureau.
.82 Don Fleming, Edmonton Journal, July 28, 1957.
.83 Official Western Canada League Records, Season 1958, Howe New Bureau.
.84 Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, June 17, 1958.
.85 Interview, Roy Taylor, January 20, 200l.
.86 Don Fleming, Edmonton Journal, June 15, 1959.
.88Official Western Canada League Records, Season 1959, Howe News Bureau.
.89 Calgary Herald, August 31, 1960.
.90 Larry Wood, Calgary Herald, May 19, 1961.
.91 Calgary Herald, August 1, 1960: Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, July 28, July 31, 196l.
.92 Lethbridge (Alberta) Herald, July 14, 1961.
.93 Cam McKenzie, Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, July 11, 1961.
.94 Lethbridge (Alberta) Herald, July 28, 1961.
.95 Interview, Bob Milano, February 12, 2001.
.96 Interview, Clifford Pemberton, March 15, 2000.
.97 Baseball America (Durham, North Carolina), October 16-26, 2000, p. 25.
About the Authors:
Royse Parr is a retired oil company legal executive living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is the co-author of the Oklahoma Heritage Association’s award winning book released in 1999, Glory Days of Summer: The History of Baseball in Oklahoma. He will be a co-author of Allie Reynolds: Superchief planned for release in 2001.
Jay-Dell Mah is a retired radio and television reporter and general manager residing in Toronto, Ontario. His major research effort into semi-pro baseball on the Canadian prairies is on-line at www.attheplate.com.
(Don Fleming, The Sports Mill, Edmonton Journal, June 15, 1959)
The clown prince, Clifford Pemberton goes on and on, which makes it good for the Can-Am.
One of the top drawing cards around the circuit, the irrepressible Pemberton has cast his lot with the jazzed-up Regina Senators this time around as Wayne Tucker's lieutenant.
Matter of fact, Cliff moves up to the head of the class for tonight's opener of Eskimos' homecoming series, because Tucker has been called home to Utah by a fatality in the family.
"It looks like a rough year," observed Pemberton when he herded his charges into the Mac last night. "Not that we won't have a good club, because we will," he hastened to add. "It's that schedule I'm talking about. We don't get a single day off for the first two weeks. That's really socking it to you at the start, with the cool weather and all. Rough on the arms and muscles.
"And Wayne tells me that we have to travel 2,000 more miles than anyone else in the league. I haven't checked his figures, but I'm a believer. So far it sure feels like it.
"Heck, after playing Saturday night in Regina, we travelled all night by bus to get to Lloydminster. Kudron, our starter, is a real good junker, but he was so tired, he just didn't have a thing. "Then it was Darrell Read's turn. We've been using him in relief regularly, because he can get the ball over. he did plenty of that against the Combines. Only stickler was trying to throw the ball through to the catcher."
"But against these Eskimos now . . . I tell my guy, Bob Theiss, to throw his best pitch, then get on his horse and back up third."
Pemberton, who had an impressive run with the Montreal Royals of the International when his current teammates were in rompers, is patrolling third base as he appears with his third club in this prairie league.
"That's the old man's corner, and that's okay with me,: he slow-drawled, Texas-like . . . which figures because he is a native Texan, even though he teaches school in Tulsa, Okla., in the off-season. "You either get 'em or you don't. It's a one shot deal. There's no moving around, which suits me just fine."
(Larry Wood, Calgary Herald, May 19, 1961)
What the Calgary Boys' Baseball Association needs is a chief dictator; a knight in shining armor who is an expert at the sport he's dealing with, a favorite with the youngsters, a proven teacher, and most of all, a relentless promoter.
If you're thinking a gent with these qualifications is hard to find these days, you'd be right. Ands the CBBA would definitely have to part with a few bills to acquire such an individual.
But the organization is now too large for efficient operation on a part time, unpaid help basis. With the right man, I think the payoff would be handsome and, in the long run, the Calgary ball picture would expand and improve.
The fellow I'm thinking of would come fairly cheap considering the job he's capable of doing. He's one of the bright spots in an otherwise gloomy set of memories left by Calgary's most recent excursion into semi-pro baseball company. The man is Cliff Pemberton.
In case you came in late, Pemberton is manager of the Lloydminster Meridians of the ever-changing Western Canada Baseball League. Regular patrons of Buffalo Stadium last season can't help but remember this little guy who oozes more color than a Bapco factory. It's no secret Calgary manager Vic Stasiuk looked forward to scheduled dates with Pemberton's crew. When the captain of the good ship Meridian dropped anchor at Buffalo, it was Stasiuk's best opportunity to lure fans past the ticket window.
Pemberton was unique in that he was so much superior to his counterparts in Saskatoon, Lethbridge and Calgary. His players showed a marked improvement as the season wore on and the credit for it has to go to him. By mid-season his aggregation was a redoubtable one, and by far the class of the circuit.
Yet, despite his club's winning ways, Pemberton didn't mind sacrificing a few runs for the sake of color and excitement if they were lacking. These are two commodities the game of baseball desperately needs to keep the fans headed in the direction of the park.
"Sure the main object of any game is to win," Cliff opined last year during a pre-game bull session. "But you've got to cater to the paying customers too, or you may not have a chance to win next time because you can't field a team."
It struck me at the time that the man was hitting on the big reason for the apparent failure of semi-pro ball in Calgary.
Pemberton is a learned baseball man but he also has the ability to teach. He has been knocking around the WCBL for three or four years now, spending his summers playing the game he loves, with a group of young fellows he can instruct. His teaching ability isn't restricted to baseball either. He is an educator in his home town, Tulsa, Okla., and the ball season is only his vacation time.
During stopovers in Calgary last season, he was rarely out of character. When word got around the Meridians were in town, many a young local ball enthusiast would hightail it for Buffalo the afternoon before a game, and always find Pemberton there, ready to offer a few tips and partake in an infield drill.
I'm told the CBBA has already thrashed out the possibility of a paid administrator. The move would life much of the burden off a few of the officials who are now putting more than their share of voluntary time and effort into the program.
It wouldn't be a matter of outbidding the Lloydminster club for his services. He is known to have shown great interest in the Calgary ball program during his visits. With a moderate salary -- enough to handle travelling and living expenses for the summer -- it's likely he'd jump at such an offer.
Next season, if the financial picture allows, and such a move is considered, Pemberton would be the logical choice.