Bolton, Cliff

Position: Catcher
Birthplace: High Point

First, Last Names: William Clifton    

Date of Birth:  April 10, 1907 Date and Place of Death: April 21, 1979, Lexington
Burial: Holly Hill Memorial Park Cemetery, Thomasville, NC

High School: Undetermined 
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-9, 160
Debut Year: 1931       Final Year: 1941          Years Played: 7
Team(s) and Years: Washington Senators, 1931, 1933-36; Detroit Tigers, 1937; Senators, 1941

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
335   962    280    113      143      6         .291     .366     .398     4.5

Carl Hubbell had been masterful as he took the mound for the 11th inning of the pivotal fourth game of the 1933 World Series. He had limited the Washington Senators to an unearned run and just six hits. His N.Y. Giants had scored in the top of the inning to take a 2-1 lead. Three more outs and they would have a commanding 3-1 advantage in the series, making the final outcome all but certain.

But baseball is rarely so well scripted. The Senators’ first batter, Fred Shulte, singled to left. Joe Kuhel then caught the Giants’ infield napping with a near perfect bunt down the first base line that eluded everyone. After a sacrifice moved the runners to second and third, Hubbell intentionally walked Luke Sewell, who already had two hits in the game. The pitcher Jack Russell was up next, but no one expected him to hit.

Instead, out of the Senators’ dugout stepped an unfamiliar figure. A kid. A rookie.

The Senators’ third-string catcher, Cliff Bolton had played briefly with the team in 1931 but had spent all of the next year in the minors. Used mostly as a pinch hitter during that championship season in ’33, Bolton had caught fire during the pennant drive, hitting better than .500 in September. He had come off the bench to win key games down the stretch.

Bill Terry, the Giants’ manager and first baseman, called time to talk with Hubbell and his catcher Gus Mancuso. The choices were simple. Play the infield back for a double play to end the game or bring the infielders in to cut off the tying run but risk a hard grounder getting through that would score two and give the Senators the game and tie the series.

President Franklin Roosevelt cheers on the Washington Senators during the 1933 World Series. Photo: Washington Post

While Terry was considering the risks of each approach, Chuck Dressen poked his head into the conclave on the mound. He was a reserve third baseman in the final days of his playing career. He had been sitting on the bench and ran out to the mound to offer advice.

Terry wasn’t appreciative. “What the hell are you doing out here, Chuck?” he demanded.[I]

Dressen, who would go on to manage 16 years in the majors, winning two pennants and more than 1,000 games, told his manager that he had played against Bolton in the minors. He couldn’t run fast enough to save his life, Dressen said. Move the shortstop closer the second, he suggested, and set up for the double play.

That’s what Terry did.

Here’s how Henry McLemore, who covered the game for United Press International, described what happened next, in the wonderful, over-the-top prose of the era: “Fought with a ferocity that kept 28,000 spectators on the verge of hysteria, the game reached a crescendo in the 11th when the Senators loaded the bases with but one down. With every Washingtonian, man, woman and child, in the great stadium imploring pinch hitter Cliff Bolton for a single, Hubbell fed the big farm boy a smoking screwball, and Bolton hit into a double play.”[II]

That was started by the shortstop who was positioned perfectly. 6-4-3. Game over. The Giants would win the next day to end the series, and the Senators would embark on decades of futility and losing baseball. The next time they would appear in a World Series would be 1965 when they were the Twins of Minnesota.

As for Bolton, first, the record needs to be corrected. He wasn’t a farm boy. Northern newspaper writers liked to pluck all southern ballplayers off the farm. Bolton, however, did most of his growing in High Point where his father, William, was a factory worker.

He would spend five more years in the majors, compiling a decent record. He best year was 1935 when he hit .304 as one of the Senators’ frontline catchers. Bolton would then play eight years in the minors before retiring in 1952 at age 45.

Bolton and his wife, Pansy, remained in North Carolina, first in Asheboro and then in Lexington, where he died in 1979.

References
[I] Allen, Lee. The Cincinnati Reds. Kent State, MI: Kent State University Press, 2006.
[II] McLemore, Henry. United Press International. “Screwball of Hubbell Lifts Fourth Tilt.” Times-News (Hendersonville, N.C.). October, 7 1933.