Bill “Boileryard” Clarke
Born: October 18, 1868
Died: July 29, 1959
William Jones Clarke was born October 18, 1868 in New York City and moved with his parents, John and Mary, and his nine siblings, to St. Louis as a boy, and to New Mexico. It was in New Mexico that he first began playing baseball, while attending a Catholic school in Santa Fe. A solidly built catcher with a strong arm and quick mind, he made his way to the major leagues at the age of 24 with the Baltimore Orioles—one of several teams interested in signing him. There he split time with Wilbert Robinson.
Bill picked up the nickname “Boileryard” because he was constantly making noise behind the plate. The Orioles won the National League pennant in 1894, Bill’s second season, and the two years following. He was the primary catcher on the 1896 club, batting .297 with 71 RBIs.
Bill established his New Jersey connection the following season, when he agreed to work with the Princeton baseball team (left) while recovering from an injury. He returned to share his knowledge with the young players each spring from 1899 to 1901, as a member of the Boston Beaneaters and Washington Senators. Bill played his final major-league season in 1905 and played four more years in the minors. In his final season, 1909, he was the player-manager of the Albany Senators.
He returned to Princeton the following spring as the school’s first official full-time paid on-field manager. His leading player was shortstop Sammy White, who also starred for the Tigers basketball and football squads. Another star of Bill’s early teams was Charles “King” Lear, who later pitched for the Reds. Bill’s teams won with pitching, defense and heads-up baseball. The 1923 team, captained by shortstop Moe Berg, may have been his best. The Tigers reeled off 19 straight victories on the way to a 21–4 season. In 1918, Bill traveled to Europe to coach a YMCA team during the war. In 1922, he and his wife moved to Princeton permanently and opened a small antiques shop to supplement his baseball income.
Bill took a six-year break from coaching in the late 1920s and then returned to Princeton in the mid-1930s. In his absence, future Hall of Famer Harry Hooper coached the squad for a couple of seasons. Hooper left after his salary was cut by $2000 during the Depression. Bill coached the Tigers until 1944. His later teams featured some robust hitting, including his dream player, Roy Talcott. Talcott was the league batting champion in 1943 and also Princeton’s pitching ace, winning 21 games in a row over two seasons.
In 1939, Bill and the Tigers traveled to upper Manhattan, where they defeated Columbia at Baker Field in the first televised baseball game. That same season, Princeton named the annual MVP award in Bill’s honor.
Bill’s teams went 564–322–10. He continued to live in Princeton in retirement and was a frequent spectator in the stands. He passed away in 1959 at the age of 90 following a fall. In 1961, Princeton renamed its baseball diamond Bill Clarke Field. In his old age, Bill often said that the fractured thumb he suffered in 1897 which gave him the opportunity to coach at Princeton was the “luckiest break” of his career.