April 6 – Happy Birthday Ken Clay

clayKenny Clay’s most famous moment in pinstripes was not a positive one. He had started a home game against the Royals in September of 1979 and was quickly staked to a 5-0 lead. By the time Billy Martin pulled him in the third inning, the lead had shrunk to one run and the Yankees ended up losing that contest 9-8. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was livid after the loss and when reporters asked him what he thought about Clay’s performance, the Boss told them that his once-prized pitching prospect had “spit the bit.”

Just four years earlier, Kenny Clay had been considered a can’t miss future member of the team’s starting rotation. The hard-throwing right-hander had put together a 28-18 record at the Triple A level of the minors but he could never duplicate that success in the big leagues. In three separate trials in the Bronx he was 6-14. After blowing that game in Kansas City and finishing the ’79 season with a horrible 1-7 record, Steinbrenner had seen enough and he traded Clay to Texas for Gaylord Perry during the 1980 season. Old Gaylord went 4-4 for New York the rest of that year while Clay was going 2-3 for the Rangers. Clay’s failure at the big league level gave the Boss even more impetus to turn to free agency and trades instead of his own farm system when the Yankees needed pitching talent.

Turns out that Clay had a bad habit of disappointing his employers. In 1986, he was convicted for stealing $30,000 from Jostens Inc. The company makes class rings for high schools and colleges and had hired Clay as a salesman. He escaped jail by making restitution and doing community service. In 1992 he stole a car from the car dealership he worked for and served hard time for that crime. In 1999 he went back to jail for forgery. Six years later, he forged the sale of a copier in an attempt to obtain a $7,500 commission check and ended up back in the slammer.

Clay is not the only one-time Yankee prospect to be born on April 6th. This first baseman and this Hawaiian-born outfielder both were considered top Yankee prospects in the first decade of the 21st century, but like Clay, neither made much of an impact as a Yankee or as a big leaguer.

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