Even in my best baseball fantasies, I was never Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle. But as I hit a few hundred rocks over the trees at Perham Street, I was often Clyde Vollmer.
You have to be a certified baseball nut to remember Clyde. He comes to mind every July because the righty slugger owned that month for one long summer when I was a boy.
What did Sox Manager Steve O’Neill think when he put him in the lineup on July 4, 1951? The Dutchman from Cincinnati had six lackluster seasons with several clubs before landing in Boston. He broke in with the Reds in 1942 but had hit only 23 home runs before coming to Boston. The Red Sox traded baseball immortals Merl Combs and Tommy O’Brien to get Vollmer. No one could have foreseen his change into “The Natural” for one magic month.
In a span of 26 games beginning on Independence Day, Vollmer hit 13 homers, one triple, four doubles and 13 singles for a remarkable .731 slugging average. He knocked in 40 runs and scored 25 to account for 40 percent of his team’s run production for the month.
He was the star of my Red Sox scrapbook and I still remember the “Vollmer Likes Westerns” feature story. I liked Westerns, too.
It started on July 4. Vollmer hit a home run in the first day of a doubleheader and singled in the nightcap against Philadelphia (yes, Philadelphia) as the Sox moved to within two games of the White Sox (yes, the White Sox).
He was just warming up. The next day, he doubled and scored.
Then they moved to Yankee Stadium, where every pitch seemed critical.
He slammed a two-run triple off Eddie Lopat to spark a 6-2 Boston win. The next day, Vollmer hit a first-inning grand-slam home run off Allie Reynolds, and the Sox breezed to a 10-4 win to tie the Yankees for second place. During the series finale, his eighth-inning homer off Vic Raschi gave Boston a 4-3 lead. The Red Sox went on to win 6-3 and move ahead of the Yankees, a game back of Chicago.
That’s when I started the scrapbook.
On to Chicago.
Vollmer hit a two-run homer to give Boston the lead. The Sox went on to win 3-2 and tie for first place. In the second game, Vollmer’s long fly in the top of the 17th knocked in the deciding run in a 5-4 victory. It was Boston’s eighth straight win and propelled them into first place, a rare development for the 1950s Red Sox.
Chicago finally halted the Red Sox streak the next night in 19 innings, but they could not stop Vollmer. In the top of the 19th inning, he singled home the go-ahead run, but Chicago battled back to win 5-4. The next day, Boston trailed 2-1 in the ninth when Vollmer came through with a clutch single to win the game 3-2. It was the sixth time in seven games that he had delivered the game-winning hit.
Today he would be leading each “SportsCenter” broadcast and selling more product than the Manning brothers. Boston fans were going nuts. I huddled by my radio for each game, day and night.
Vollmer singled in each of the four games on July 15, 16 and 17 to run his streak to 14, but the Red Sox, with their perennial pitching woes lost three times and fell back into a tie for the lead.
But our boy kept going. He regained his home-run stroke on July 18 in Cleveland, when he started a three-run fifth inning with his sixth homer of the month. In the next inning, Vollmer walked and scored the decisive run.
Vollmer’s consecutive hitting streak reached 16 the next night.
He smacked a two-run homer off Early Wynn (his real name) then the next afternoon against Virgil “Fire” Trucks, Vollmer connected for a two-run homer in the second and doubled home Billy Goodman in the fourth to clinch a 6-3 Boston win. On July 22, Detroit held Vollmer hitless but he still managed to knock in a run as the Red Sox staggered to a 10-9 victory.
Vollmer’s two most powerful performances came on July 26 and 28, when he was a one-man gang in games against the White Sox and Indians. On July 26, he blasted home runs in the first, fifth and sixth innings against Chicago.
On July 28 against Cleveland, with the Indians leading 3-2 in the bottom of the 15th, he came through with a single to pull the Sox even. In the 16th, with Cleveland again a run ahead, Boston battled back to load the bases for Vollmer. Indian Manager Al Lopez made a frantic call for ace Bob Feller to stop Vollmer. Ted Williams often said Feller was the best pitcher in baseball. His first pitch was a ball. The second sailed out of Fenway Park for Vollmer’s second grand slam of the month.
A crowd of 33,000 came out on July 29 to see if Vollmer could do it again. After all, eight times in 21 days his bat had bailed Boston out. As the game came down to Boston’s last turn at bat, Billy Goodman reached first on an error and Vollmer stepped into the batter’s box with his team down 5-4. This time Lopez stayed with his starter, Mike Garcia, who struck out our hero on three straight pitches. Clyde’s July was over.
So was the dream.
Never in an entire season would Vollmer again match his July 1951 home-run total of 13. Although he had boosted his average 20 points during the month, he ended the season hitting only .251, which turned out to be his lifetime average.
An 11-year-old Red Sox fan just assumed this would go on forever. But this was baseball. In early 1953, the Red Sox shipped Vollmer to Washington (yes, Washington). As a Boston executive said, “We just didn’t have a place to play him with Williams in left. The other two outfield spots were too tough for his limited abilities.”
Vollmer closed out his big-league career after the 1954 season and went home to Cincinnati. He had hit only two home runs that year. Clyde Vollmer, who hit only 69 home runs in his 10-year career in the major leagues, died at age 85 on Oct. 2, 2006, in Florence, Ky.
He is long gone, but every July I have to haul out those memories. Clyde Vollmer owned July. And every July I wish I still had those scrapbooks.
Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at firstname.lastname@example.org.