Clay Hopper: outstanding Minor League Baseball Manager and much more (Part II)

Part I ended with Clay Hopper shaking Jackie Robinson’s hand in April 1947. Strangely enough, the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers and Montreal Royals did their spring training in Havana, Cuba. Hopper and his 1947 Royals, with the exception of Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, and Roy Partlow, were housed at the Havana Military Academy, a prep school attended by the wealthy offspring of government employees. Brooklyn’s players, coaches, manager, and staff stayed at the fancy Hotel Nacional. Jackie Robinson—still on Montreal’s roster—overnighted at the “more mundane” Hotel Boston, in Havana, per Irv Goldfarb, at

So, Hopper managed Robinson during a seven-game match-up between Montreal and Brooklyn, in Havana. Robinson went 15-for-24, a .625 batting average (BA), to impress Branch Rickey, who made the decision for Brooklyn and Montreal to train in Havana. (The Dodgers’ expenses amounted to $50,000, a financial loss.) https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/jackie-robinson/ Hopper also managed Montreal in five games against a Cuban All-Star team and the Havana Cubans. The Royals went 3-1-1, with Robinson going 8-for-19, a .421 BA, per Jorge S. Figueredo. Conversely, Brooklyn won two of three games, in Havana, versus the Boston Braves. Brooklyn also faced the New York Yankees in Havana. Coincidentally, the 1947 New York Yankees did their spring training at Sixto Escobar Stadium, San Juan, Puerto Rico. New York won three of five contests, at Escobar, besting the San Juan Senators, Caguas Criollos, and a Puerto Rico All-Star Team, but losing to the Ponce Lions and the same Puerto Rico All-Star Team. Circling back to Hopper, he also managed Montreal in several 1947 spring training games in Panamá.

Bobby Brown, who starred for the 1946 Newark Bears, International League, was named All-Star shortstop, along with All-Star 2B Jackie Robinson, with Montreal. He recalled that 1947 spring training games in San Juan, Havana, and also Caracas, Venezuela, were “fun and helpful to him, as a rookie trying to make the Yankees ballclub, out of spring training.” (The author interviewed Dr. Brown in 2010, when writing Atley Donald’s SABR bio; Bobby Brown was Atley Donald’s cardiologist, and AL President, 1974-1984.) Dr. Brown found it ironic that the Yankees played the Dodgers in the 1947 World Series, after both trained in the Caribbean. Some more details on Brooklyn’s 1947 spring training are at: https://www.pitcherlist.com/jackie-robinsons-mlb-debut-april-15-1947/

Hopper and Catcher Roy Campanella have Success with 1947 Montreal Royals

Hopper led the 1947 Royals to a 93-60 record, just a half-game behind first-place Jersey City Giants. This rivalry was not as pronounced as the Brooklyn-New York Giants one, but there was still plenty of excitement when the Royals squared off versus Jersey City. Soon after the 1947 International League season began April 17, 1947. Hopper received this commemorative [1946] watch from team officials, honoring him for the Royals’ 100-win championship season in 1946.

Clay Hopper’s 1946 International Baseball League Champions watch, inherited by Webb Franklin, Greenwood, Mississippi. Photo credit: Webster Franklin, Webb’s son.

Roy Campanella had a splendid season for Hopper, in 1947, with a .988 fielding PCT, with nine errors in 734 chances, in 126 games behind the plate. His .273 BA, 13 HR, and 75 RBI contributed to the Royals’ cause. Campanella would be the fourth (eventual) Cooperstown inductee managed by Hopper, following Johnny Mize (1932 Elmira Red Birds); Walter Alston

(1935 Greenwood Chiefs); and Jackie Robinson (1946 Montreal Royals). The other two would be Duke Snider (1948 Montreal Royals) and Bill Mazeroski (1956 Hollywood Stars). Campanella was named catcher on the 1947 International League All-Star Team. Teammates’ Ed Stevens (1B) and hurler Ed Heusser (19-3) were named to this select Squad. Montreal pitcher Jack Banta led the loop with 199 strikeouts.

Campanella was one of many players managed by Hopper who had extensive Winter League experience. He (Campanella) played in Venezuela’s first (1946) professional winter season, and starred in Puerto Rico during the 1940s with three ballclubs: Caguas Criollos, Santurce Crabbers, and San Juan Senators. And he played in the (summer) Mexican League, along with barnstorming in Venezuela, November-December 1945) with a Negro Leagues All-Star Team.

Roy Campanella, 1947 Montreal Royals. Photo credit: Heritage Auctions: www.sports.ha.com.

Brooklyn continued to have the most 1947 minor-league affiliates (24) followed by the New York Yankees (20). The 94-60 Dodgers experienced several managing changes. Leo Durocher was suspended that season due to off-the-field issues, i.e., links to gamblers, and replaced by Clyde Sukeforth. Burt Shotton then took over managerial duties, during the 1947 season. Bobby Brown was one of the 1947 World Series heroes for the Yankees, with key pinch-hits, including a fourth-inning double in Game 7, to tie the contest, 2-2, in New York’s 5-2 series-clinching win.. Jackie Robinson went 7-for-27, in seven games. Shotton used Brooklyn hurler Dan Bankhead just once in this series, as a pinch-runner, but never summoned him to the mound.

Webb Franklin, as a child in Greenwood, Mississippi, had heard conversations about Hopper being a strong candidate to become Brooklyn’s skipper, in the late 1940s, but this never happened. It would have been interesting to see Hopper manage a constellation of stars in Brooklyn, late-1940s through Jackie Robinson’s retirement after the 1956 season.

Duke Snider and Clay Hopper in 1948

Duke Snider, as a 1947 Brooklyn backup outfielder, befriended Jackie Robinson. After striking out 24 times in 83 at-bats, he was farmed out to St. Paul, American Association and slugged 12 homers in 66 games. Then, Branch Rickey and Dodgers’ batting coach George Sisler worked closely with Snider in spring training 1948 to “correct his tendency to lunge and overswing at the plate,” per his SABR bio by Warren Jacobs. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/duke-snider/

Snider played the first-half of the 1948 International League season with Montreal. According to writer Ray Robinson, Snider “once refused to bunt when ordered to do so by manager Clay Hopper.” Snider “angrily swung away” and homered, but apologized to Hopper, who fined him for missing a sign and criticized him for his behavior. (Snider tended to pout with the Dodgers.)

Table I: Contributors (Hitting) to 1948 Montreal Royals

PlayerGABRH2B3BHRRBISBBAOBPSLG
Duke Snider77275679028417778.327.403.644
Sam Jethroe762925294191112518.322.385.473
Chuck Connors1475127915736517889.307.385.496
John Simmons139459641362148835.296.372.412
Al Gionfriddo12543288127186257911.294.392.537
Jim Bloodworth1515578516431624993.294.353.501
Bobby Morgan1515169213728910755.266.380.413
Louis Welaj129444751152315519.259.349.349
Cliff Dapper11232746781127472.239.366.349
Mike Sandlock7920126531100231.264.378.318
Dick Whitman401512641243292.272.321.397
Walter Sessi22751321005110.280.386.480
Marv Rackley20741824423134.324.444.554
OthersNA43248751902324.174NA.231
Totals155474777913122515412773281.276.364.432

Source: https://www.statscrew.com/minorbaseball/stats/t-mr13125/y-1948

Table II:  Contributors (Pitching) to 1948 Montreal Royals

PitcherGGSCGW-LPCTIPHSOBBERAWHIP
Jack Banta33282019-9.6792191841931093.251.34
Don Newcombe37271617-6.7391891511441063.141.36
Bud Podbielan3518913-8.61916816859602.791.36
Frank Laga3313510-7.58813512182873.801.54
Johnny Van Cuyk3219610-7.58813615982595.621.60
Hank Behrman141278-2.8001068757412.551.21
Walt Nothe281536-4.6001199979764.241.47
Chink Zachary12524-3.571474821104.601.23
Paul Minner6543-2.60031311782.901.26
Art Schallock24102-1.667503733403.781.54
Clyde King18612-5.286537915217.471.89
Others10600-5.00035488227.462.00
Totals1551557394-59.614128812127906393.861.44

Source: https://www.statscrew.com/minorbaseball/stats/t-mr13125/y-1948

Montreal won the 1948 International League regular season and post-season titles. They defeated Rochester, four games to three, semis. Montreal bested Syracuse in the finals, four games to one, and defeated St. Paul—managed by Walter Alston—four games to one, in the 1948 Junior World Series. Hopper had now managed the Royals to two Junior World Series titles in three seasons at the helm. Sam Jethroe, Chuck “Rifleman” Connors, and Al Gionfriddo were a trio of Royals’ offensive contributors. Jack Banta (19-9) and Don Newcombe (17-6) spearheaded a fine pitching staff. Connors and Gionfriddo went on to play winter ball with the 1948-49 Almendares Scorpions, Cuban Winter League. Almendares then won the 1949 Caribbean Series.

Another International League Title: 1949 Montreal Royals

Hopper’s fourth and final season at Montreal’s helm was in 1949. His 84-70 Royals finished third in the International League, but copped the league playoffs by sweeping Rochester, four games to none, in the semis, and besting Buffalo, four games to one in the finals. Coincidentally, Rochester was managed by Johnny Keane, who led the St. Louis Cardinals to the 1964 World Series crown over the New York Yankees. By 1949, Hopper had managed a trio of Brooklyn Dodgers’ African-American stars—Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, and Roy Campanella. Robinson (1947) and Newcombe (1949) were National League (NL) Rookies of the Year. The trio won a combined five NL MVP Awards, three by Campanella (1951, 1953, 1955), and one apiece by Robinson (1949) and Newcombe (1956).

L to R: Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, and Roy Campanella, Brooklyn Dodgers. Photo credit: www.dodgers.mlblogs.com.

Hopper was deprived of a third Junior World Series title when Al López’s Indianapolis Indians won the 1949 Series, four games to two. López later experienced MLB success managing the Chicago White Sox, including a 1959 World Series appearance versus the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Clay Hopper (L), Montreal Royals uniform, and Walter Alston (R), St. Paul Saints uniform. Courtesy of Donny Whitehead personal collection, Greenwood, Mississippi. Hopper managed Alston with the 1935 Greenwood Chiefs. This Montreal magazine was published in April 1950.

1949 Montreal Royals Program featuring Babe Ruth on the cover.
1949 Montreal Royals Program featuring Babe Ruth on the cover.

  St. Paul Saints, 1950 and 1951

Hopper was assigned to manage St. Paul in 1950, whereas Alston took over Montreal’s managerial reins, in Branch Rickey’s final year as a Dodgers’ executive. St. Paul (83-69) finished fourth before being swept by Al López’s Indianapolis club in the semis. Perhaps the most colorful 1950 “Saint” was first baseman  Lou Limmer, who led the American Association with 29 homers and 111 RBI. Limmer conversed by phone with the author in 1992 on his pro baseball career which included stops in Puerto Rico and Venezuela. According to Limmer:

“Clay Hopper was a fine manager, very knowledgeable and fair. He (Hopper) knew that Cal Abrams and I were Jewish, and that wasn’t an issue. Clay just wanted his players to do their best at all times. After the 1950 season with St. Paul, I played for the 1950-51 Aguadilla Sharks, in Puerto Rico. After receiving some back pay, I left Aguadilla very early one morning in a “publico” (jitney) to catch a flight out of San Juan. Aguadilla team management was not happy.”

Jack Cassini, St. Paul’s leader with 36 stolen bases in 1950 and 34 in 1951, held Hopper in high regard. “I played second base  in 1950 and 1951,” said Cassini. “Clay was no-nonsense, yet soft-spoken and pleasant. There were times I wondered why he wasn’t managing in the majors…”

Clem Labine experienced success with Montreal in 1950 and 1951, as well as a decade with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. Joe Black pitched effectively for Hopper in 1951 (4-3, 2.25 ERA, 1.13 WHIP) before his outstanding 1952 NL Rookie of the Year season with Brooklyn (15-4, 2.15 ERA, 1.05 WHIP).

1951 St. Paul Saints road jersey.

Brooklyn still had the most minor-league affiliates in 1950 (24), and 1951 (19). St. Paul remained competitive in 1951, with an 85-66 season, second in the American Association. They triumphed over Louisville, four games to one, in the semis, but fell to first-place Milwaukee Brewers, four games to two, in the league finals. The 1951 Brewers were Boston Braves’ top farm club. They went on to win the 1951 Junior World Series over Montreal, managed by Walter Alston, in six games. The Brewers featured a potent line-up with outfielder Luis R. Olmo, George Crowe (1B), Buzz Clarkson (3B), among others. Bert Thiel was a key Brewers’ starter.

L to R: Buzz Clarkson, George Crowe, and Jim Pendleton (Saints), prior to a September 7, 1951 regular season game. Photo credit: https://www.mnhs.org/blog/collectionsupclose/8533.

Olmo first met Hopper during spring training, 1949, in Vero Beach. He (Olmo) was banished from MLB for three seasons (1946-1948), for jumping to the Mexican League in 1946. “I was impressed by Clay Hopper’s demeanor, back in 1949,” said Olmo, to the author. “Jackie Robinson alerted me [in 1949] that Hopper was a decent human being who supported him (Robinson) after some early [1946] hesitation and reluctance. And Hopper did a fine managing job with the 1951 St. Paul Saints—a very focused and tough ballclub.”

Thiel, who had a cup of coffee with the 1952 Boston Braves, recalled Hopper, who managed opposing St. Paul. “As far as I could tell, Hopper was very professional, and good at his [managing] craft,” said Thiel. “It is a shame he did not land a managing job in the majors.”

Table III: Clay Hopper’s Managing Record, Dodgers Affiliates, 1945-1951

YearTeamW-LPCTFinishPlayoffs-Other Details
1945Mobile74-65.5433rdWon semis, 4 games (G) to 2; won finals, 4 G to 1.
1946Montreal100-54.6491stWon semis, 4 G to 2; won finals, 4 G to 1; won Junior World Series, 4 G to 2. All-Star MGR.
1947Montreal93-60.6082ndManaged Roy Campanella. Lost semis, 4 G to 0.
1948Montreal94-59.6141stManaged Duke Snider. Won semis, 4 G to 3; won finals, 4 G to 1; won Junior World Series, 4 G to 1. All-Star MGR.
1949Montreal84-70.5453rdWon semis, 4 G to 0; won finals, 4 G to 1; lost Junior World Series, 4 G to 2.
1950St. Paul83-69.5424thManaged Lou Limmer. Lost semis, 4 G to 0.
1951St. Paul85-66.5632ndWon semis, 4 G to 1; lost finals, 2 G to 4.
 Totals613-443.580 Four championships: 1945, 1946, 1948, 1949.

Source: https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Clay Hopper Hopper: 48-31 in post-season.

Other sources included: https://montrealgazette.com/sponsored/mtl-375th/from-the-archives-babe-and-larrupin-lou-were-big-hits-in-montreal;  

https://usfamily.net/web/trombleyd/SaintsHistory40-60.htm

Post-Script

On May 2, 1951, Lou Limmer, with the Philadelphia A’s, came to the plate to face Saul Rogovin on the mound and Joe Ginsberg behind the dish, for the Detroit Tigers, marking the first instance of an all-Jewish confrontation during a major-league at-bat. He celebrated the occasion by homering. http://jewishbaseballmuseum.com/player/lou-limmer/ Limmer, in 1954, hit the last homer for the Philadelphia A’s, at Yankee Stadium, off Johnny Sain, September 25. He helped 1955-56 Caguas defeat Santurce, managed by Herman Franks, for the Puerto Rico Winter League title. Limmer represented Puerto Rico, 1956 Caribbean Series, and went seven for 20, with three homers and eight RBI. With Venezuela in the 1958 Classic, he was eight for 21, two homers and five RBI.  https://ripbaseball.com/2019/11/26/grave-story-lou-limmer/

Thanks to Dr. Bobby Brown, Jack Cassini, Webb and Webster Franklin—who shared a photo, Herman Franks, Lou Limmer, Luis R. Olmo, Bert Thiel, and Donny Whitehead, who furnished a photo. Jorge Colón Delgado did the editing and photo placements.

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