Short and stocky, John Clapp was one of the first great catchers in baseball history. Commonly employed as a player/manager throughout his career, Clapp never really got settled in with any team. He had a three-year tenure with the Philadelphia A’s but spent six years as a player/manager with six different teams.
Clapp began his career as player/manager of the Middletown Mansfields in the old National Association at the tender age of 20. He was the only everyday player to hit a homerun for Middletown but he did have a little talent on the team with first baseman Tim Murnane, shortstop Jimmy O’Rourke and pitcher Asa Brainerd. The Mansfields failed to field a team in 1873 and their skipper began his three-year stretch with the A’s.
Teaming with Hall of Famer Cap Anson and ex-Mansfields crony Murnane, Clapp had a fine year for the A’s. He hit .304 and finished second on the team in two-baggers. Clapp finished second in the league in the homerun department in 1874 and seventh in slugging percentage. A top-flight defender, Clapp was used by skipper Dick McBride in the outfield on the days he didn’t start behind the dish. The A’s finished 33-22 in ’74 with skipper McBride doing the bulk of the pitching and Clapp, Anson, Wes Fisler and John McMullin wielding the lumber.
The A’s jumped up to second place in 1875 with Clapp scoring 65 runs in 60 games but he left McBride’s charges after the season and signed on with the St. Louis Brown Stockings of the National League. He finished second on the team, behind Lip Pike, with a .305 batting average and topped the club with 60 runs scored in 64 games. Despite a 45-19 finish, the Brown Stockings came in third in the NL.
John had his highwater mark for batting average in 1877 when he led St. Louis with a .318 mark. He and Mike Dorgan were the only players on the roster with batting averages and on-base percentages above .300. Due to the lack of offense, St. Louis fell below .500 in 1877 and Clapp left the team after the season to serve as player/manager of the Indianapolis Blues. Clapp the manager used Clapp the player predominately in left field in 1878 as he had Silver Flint behind the plate. But skipper Clapp liked to get player Clapp into the game as much as possible and he paced the league with 63 games played (schedules were much shorter in Clapp’s day).
After a losing season as player/manager for the Blues, Clapp left the club and served in the same capacity with the Buffalo Bisons in 1879. Without Silver Flint to rely on, Clapp returned to the catching duties in Buffalo and finished second on the team in runs scored. Clapp’s Bisons were a much better team than his Indianapolis Blues, thanks to Hall of Fame hurler Pud Galvin, and he managed a third place finish in the lakeside city.
The following year he took over as player/manager for the crippled Cincinnati Reds and finished with an unflattering record of 21-59. Clapp the player did his part with a .282 batting average but of his remaining players, only Deacon White and Blondie Purcell hit above .240. He took over as manager of the Cleveland Blues early in the 1881 season and led the league in walks drawn, but it was his last good season. He spent one last year in the Majors as player/manager of the New York Gothams.
G 588/R 459/H 713/2B 92/3B 35/ HR 7/RBI 279/BA .283/SA .355/OBP .313