Clay Hopper: Outstanding Minor League baseball manager and much more (Part III)

Part II ended with a post-script on Lou Limmer, who starred for Clay Hopper’s 1950 St. Paul Saints team. Part III covers Hopper’s final five seasons as a minor-league manager in the Pacific Coast League (PCL), 1952-1955 Portland Beavers, and 1956 Hollywood Stars. It includes his induction in the Mississippi State M Club Sports Hall of Fame (1970), managing legacy and justification for induction in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, in the capital city of Jackson.

Portland Beavers, 1952-1953 PCL

Hopper’s Beavers posted identical 92-88 marks in 1952 and 1953. Portland was not affiliated with a big league team in Hopper’s four seasons at their helm.  In 1952, Carlos “The Comet” Bernier was one catalyst in the Hollywood Stars (109-71) winning the 1952 PCL pennant by five games over the Oakland Oaks. Bob Boyd of the San Diego Padres led the loop with a .320 batting average (BA). Johnny Lindell (24-9) was the league’s top hurler, with Hollywood. Five years earlier, Lindell was an outfielder with the New York Yankees. Lindell provided two free tickets to friend “Uncle Al” and his nephew, 15-year old Leland Speed, to see Game Five of the 1947 World Series in Brooklyn, against the Yankees. (Leland Speed relayed this story to the author when Leland headed the Mississippi Development Authority.) After Game Five, Leland was allowed to ride on the Yankees’ team bus, back to Brooklyn, where he met Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and other players. Lindell and many other 1952 PCL players were ex-big leaguers.

Clay Hopper, Portland Beavers’ 1952-1955 manager. Photo from personal collection of Donny Whitehead, Greenwood, Mississippi.

The 1953 Beavers finished fourth, as did the 1952 edition. Royce Lint (22-10) was a bright spot with Portland’s 1953 pitching staff, with nine pitchers ages 31-39, compared to two in their 20’s. Lint once pitched for the Aguadilla Sharks, in Puerto Rico’s Winter League (PRWL). The author’s father (Sam J. Van Hyning Jr.) grew up in Portland, Oregon, graduating from Washington High School (1932), and Reed College (1936). He recalled that Portland was affiliated with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s, 1931-1932. As a 19-year old college student at Reed College, and playing with a semi-pro team circa 1933, he got to bat against Lefty Grove in a barnstorming game held in Portland. Sam also recalled that Jim Thorpe played for Portland in 1922. So did Mickey Cochrane two years later. Portland has a rich pro baseball history dating to the 1901 Portland Webfoots (73-35), champions of the Class D Northwest League. Portland was a charter member of the Class A Pacific National League in 1903, renamed the PCL, in 1904.

A Dismal 1954 Season

Portland faltered to a 71-94 last-place finish in 1954. Home attendance dropped 43 percent from 236,762 in 1953, to 135,058 in 1954, 1,004 fewer fans/home game: 1,627 in 1954 versus 2,631 in 1953. In 1954, Portland was no-hit twice—August 3, by Bubba Church of the Los Angeles Angels; and, on September 12, the final day of the regular season, by Roger Bowman, Hollywood Stars. Hopper continued to preach sound baseball fundamentals.          

Clay Hopper illustrating sliding techniques with Portland Beavers. Photo from personal collection of Donny Whitehead, Greenwood, Mississippi.

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A 1955 Rebound

Hopper’s fourth and final season at Portland’s helm showed a 86-86, fifth-place finish. The team’s top four hitters were Luis A. “Canena” Márquez (.312 BA), Ed Mickelson (.308), Artie Wilson (.307, and Dick Whitman (.304). Author Gaylen H. White, in his 2015 book, Singles and Smiles: How Artie Wilson broke baseball’s color barrier, noted that first baseman Mickelson was chosen first in the minor-league draft. The Beavers’ front office, after Hopper encouraged them to do so, acquired Artie Wilson from the Seattle Rainiers for two players and cash. Gaylen H. White wrote: “Hopper wanted a holler guy to liven up the team and admired Artie’s hustling and scrappy all-around play. It reminded him (Hopper)  of the first Black player he managed—Jackie Robinson at Montreal in 1946.”

Artie Wilson, 1955 Portland Beavers. Photo credit: https://trimet.org/celebrate/blackleaders.htm

Canena Márquez and Frankie Austin were the first two to integrate the 1949 Portland Beavers. Canena had a magnificent 20-year career in the PRWL, plus seven fine seasons with Portland. In 1950, he had 775 AB for Portland, in 194 games, with 241 hits, including 41 doubles, 19 triples, nine homers, 86 RBI, 38 RBI, and a .311/.371/.448 slash line, .819 OPS. Six years later, Canena’s 207 hits for Portland resulted in a .344/.385/.547 slash line, .932 OPS. Among his hits were 27 doubles, 10 triples, and 25 homers. He had 122 runs and 110 RBI.

L to R: Eddie Basinski, a classically trained violinist, serenaded 1949 Portland teammates’ Art Pennington, Luis Márquez, and Frankie Austin. Photo credit: https://www.oregonlive.com/sports/2022/01/eddie-basinski-former-portland-beavers-second-baseman-dies-at-99.html

Hopper’s childhood farming skills helped him “defeat” Bobby Bragan, Hollywood Stars manager, pre-game cow milking contest.  

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Bobby Bragan with shin guards (L) and Clay Hopper (R), June 16, 1955 (Hollywood-Portland) cow milking contest, won by Hopper. Photo from personal collection of Donny Whitehead, Greenwood, Mississippi.

Last Go-Around, 1956 Hollywood Stars

Branch Rickey Sr. may have recommended that Hopper “manage the 1956 Hollywood Stars.” Rickey’s five-year contract as Pittsburgh’s VP, GM and limited partner ended by early November 1955. His respect for, and friendship with, Hopper was a determining factor in the latter managing Pittsburgh’s PCL affiliate in 1956. Hollywood was 85-83, fourth in the eight-team PCL It was fitting that Hopper’s last season as a manager came in Hollywood with the Stars. He managed two fellow Mississippians: lefty hurler Fred Waters, from Benton; and RHP Laurin Pepper, from Vaughan. Both starred at Mississippi Southern, now University of Southern Mississippi. Waters and Pepper pitched for the parent Pirates, mid-1950s, with Waters having success in winter ball, Águilas Cibaeñas, Dominican Republic, as Bill Mazeroski’s teammate. (Mazeroski was the final Cooperstown inductee managed by Hopper.) Pepper, an All-American halfback at Mississippi Southern, led them to a 1953 football upset win versus fifth-ranked Alabama and QB Bart Starr, with a 66-yard touchdown run and 45-yard touchdown reception.

Bernier, from Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico, played his only MLB season with the 1953 Pirates. He had a storied PCL and minor-league career, stealing 594 bases, 10th all-time, minor-league history. In 1956, he stole a PCL league-leading 48 bases and hit 15 triples in 159 games. Bernier should be considered Pittsburgh’s first Black player, but that franchise incorrectly lists Curt Roberts, in this category. (Bernier made his MLB debut one year prior to Roberts.)

L to R: Carlos Bernier (1956 Hollywood Stars), appears to be Carlos Ortiz—future World Jr. Lightweight and Lightweight boxing champion, from Ponce, Puerto Rico—and unidentified 1956 Hollywood Stars player. Photo credit: https://www.ebay.com/itm/303733356285

Luis “Tite” Arroyo had a 7-5 record for Hopper in 1956, and was 3-3 with Pirates (4.71 ERA), in 28.2 innings. He was a 1955 NL All-Star with the St. Louis Cardinals, but Frank “Trader” Lane dealt him to Pittsburgh, in exchange for Max Surkont, May 7, 1956. “Clay Hopper encouraged me to throw the screwball, the pitch that I had success with in the PRWL, and later (1960-1961) with the New York Yankees,” said Arroyo. “Hopper gave me encouragement and confidence…I appreciated him, after St. Louis traded me…” Danny Kravitz, one of Hollywood’s catchers, also

appreciated Hopper’s managing skills.

Table I: Contributors (Hitting) to 1956 Hollywood Stars (100+ AB)

PlayerGABRH2B3BHRRBISBBAOBPSLG
Carlos Bernier15962691177221535748.283.351.380
Román Mejías16659476163209157132.2747.414
Dick Smith1465056313624224816.269.358.337
Joe Durham1394495611516213685.256.310.388
R.C. Stevens1254277011215227723.262.358.496
Spook Jacobs81302481031920244.341.415.417
Bill Mazeroski8028447871239364.306.358.465
Jim Baumer10128836761436341.264.316.396
Paul Petit114284396711010451.236.344.380
Gair Allie6921929641114211.292.379.406
Gene Freese68223366110211366.274.321.484
Bill Hall912532150733240.198.248.285
Danny Kravitz391171331525210.265.326.470
Pete Nation3394112120390.223.298.340
OthersNA7698218639611772.242NA.351
Totals1685434718144922752122643123.267.333.395

Source: https://www.statscrew.com/minorbaseball/stats/t-hs12042/y-1956

Table II:  Contributors (Pitching) to 1956 Hollywood Stars (27+ IP)

PitcherGGSCGW-LPCTIPHSOBBERAWHIP
Ben Wade37281313-18.419184.1188106564.051.32
Bob Garber2417711-6.647129.112775513.761.38
George O’Donnell510010-5.66794.19833213.151.26
Cholly Naranjo191658-6.5711189890393.051.16
Tite Arroyo221677-5.583115.111076452.811.34
Roger Sawyer441536-4.600146.114164653.381.41
Bob Purkey201456-8.42911812560233.361.25
Fred Green33525-4.556828553374.721.49
Curt Raydon211445-5.50010010859514.231.59
Fred Waters141124-3.571727429303.251.44
Joe Trimble221964-11.267124.111482524.491.34
Laurin Pepper4432-1.667352712141.801.17
Lino Donoso14312-2.50046.15719115.051.47
Olaf Nelson10301-2.33327.12313134.281.32
Others30301-3.250426816308.142.33
Totals1681685885-83.506143514437875383.811.38

Source: https://www.statscrew.com/minorbaseball/stats/t-hs12042/y-1956

Hopper’s pre-game PCL duties included special events such as the below-mentioned race between brothers’ Gene and George Freese.

L to R: Neil Shauer, AAU official; Clay Hopper, Hollywood Stars’ skipper, kneeling; Gene Freese, Hollywood Stars; his older brother George Freese, Los Angeles Angels; Bob Scheffing, kneeling, Los Angeles Angels skipper; and unidentified. The pre-game race took place at Gilmore Field, Los Angeles, August 8, 1956. George Freese pulled a leg muscle and was replaced in the sixth inning of the Stars-Angels contest. Photo from personal collection of Donny Whitehead, Greenwood, Mississippi.

Spook Jacobs shared second base with Bill Mazeroski before the latter’s promotion to the 1956 Pittsburgh Pirates. “Mazeroski was a prospect, and I was not,” said Jacobs. “I was the regular second baseman with the 1954 Philadelphia A’s and played a lot of winter ball in Cuba. Hopper was a good manager. He just wanted us to play hard and hustle.”

1956 Hollywood Stars home jersey. Photo credit: Ebbets Field Flannels.

Table III includes Hopper’s entire minor-league managing record with three organizations—St. Louis Cardinals (1929-1942), Brooklyn Dodgers (1945-1951), Independent (1952-1955), and Pittsburgh Pirates (1956). Hopper’s 1,916 regular season wins are 19th all-time for minor-league skippers. His 75-54 post-season managing record is impressive.

Table III: Clay Hopper’s Minor-League Managing Record, 1929-1956

YearTeamW-LPCTFinishPlayoffs-Other Details 
1929Laurel59-63.4844th  
1931Scottdale78-55.5864th  
1932Mobile19-13.5941stLeague disbanded, May 21, 1932. 
1932Elmira30-39.4358thManaged Johnny Mize. 
1933Springfield43-70.3815th  
1934Greensburg57-45.5591stAll-Star MGR; won finals, 4 games  (G) to 2. 
1935Greenwood52-84.3828thManaged Walter Alston. 
1936Greensburg64-44.5932ndLost finals, 3 G to 4. 
1937Springfield76-67.5314thWon semis, 3 G to 1; won finals, 4 G to 3. 
1938Springfield79-56.5852ndLost semis, 2 G to 3. 
1939Columbus GA83-55.6011stLost semis, 3 G to 4. 
1940Columbus GA88-63.5832ndWon semis, 4 G to 0; won finals, 4 G to 2. 
1941Columbus GA68-69.4963rdLost semis, 4 G to 0. 
1942Houston81-70.5365th  
SLCSub-Total877-793.525 Three championships: 1934, 1937, 1940. 
YearTeamW-LPCTFinishPlayoffs-Other Details
1945Mobile74-65.5433rdWon semis, 4 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.
BLKTotal613-443.580 Four championships: 1945, 1946, 1948, 1949.
1952Portland92-88.5114thPCL Manager of the Year.
1953Portland92-88.5114th 
1954Portland71-94.4308th 
1955Portland86-86.5005th 
INDSub-Total341-356.489  
PITHollywood85-83.5064thManaged Tite Arroyo, Carlos Bernier, and Bill Mazeroski.
ALLGrand Total1,916-1,675.534 Seven League Championships; two Junior World Series Titles; four-time All-Star MGR; managed six Cooperstown Hall of Famers.

Source: https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Clay Hopper  was 75-54 in post-season play, for a .581 PCT.

Post-Managing Career

Hopper continued to work as a “cotton factor.” The “factor” worked with area farmers in selling cotton. Hopper benefitted from Greenwood’s Staplcotn entity, one of the largest cotton-marketing cooperatives in the U.S. Founded in 1921, Staplcotn is owned and operated by, and for, members that it serves. https://www.staplcotn.com/ Webb Franklin noted that Greenwood’s Cotton Row once had 50-60 cooperatives, with Staplcotn the largest and busiest one.

In 1958, the state’s Legislature renamed Mississippi State College, Mississippi State University. In 1961, the Bulldog became the official mascot, after their 11-0 football win over Ole Miss.

Photo credit: https://www.alumni.msstate.edu/

During three weeks in 1961, Satchel Paige was a member of the Portland Beavers. Three years later, Luis Tiant went 15-1 for Portland, and was called up by the Cleveland Indians.

A promotional poster celebrating Satchel Paige’s days with the Portland Beavers, handed out to fans at PGE Park in 2004. (Courtesy of Ken Rumbaugh) Accessed at https://www.oregonlive.com/history/2015/08/satchel_paige_1961_portland_be.html

In 1970, Hopper was inducted in the First Class, Mississippi State M-Club Sports Hall of Fame, with 13 others including Dudy Noble. Subsequent Bulldogs’ baseball inductees included: Nat “Buck” Showalter (2002), Jeff Brantley and Will Clark, in 2003, Rafael Palmeiro (2008), and Bobby Thigpen (2020). https://msubulldogclub.com/sports/2019/6/6/m-club-hall-of-fame.aspx?id=33 Showalter, current New York Mets manager, had Mississippi State’s highest single-season batting average (BA), .459, in 1977, to lead the Southeastern Conference (SEC). https://static.hailstate.com/pdf/bb/bb_08mg_records.pdf  Clark’s .420 BA (1985) is Mississippi State’s second-best BA. Palmeiro’s .415 BA (1984) is fourth; his .406 (1983) is seventh.   

Clay Hopper passed away in Greenwood, Mississippi, on April 3, 1976. He was 73.

Post-Script

Hopper was inducted in the International League Hall of Fame (2009). He deserves to be inducted in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, to join Dudy Noble, from Learned, Mississippi, and Hugh Critz, ex-big leaguer, who owned a Ford dealership in Greenwood, Mississippi. Greenwood’s baseball web site is https://baseball.aboutgreenwoodmississippi.com/

Thanks to Tite Arroyo, Dr. Bobby Brown, Jack Cassini, Webb and Webster Franklin,  Herman Franks, Spook Jacobs, Danny Kravitz, Lou Limmer, Luis R. Olmo, Henry Riggin, Bert Thiel, and Gaylen H. White. Thanks to Donny Whitehead, for photos. Jorge Colón Delgado, Official Historian, Puerto Rico Professional Baseball League, did the editing and photo placements.

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