Herman Earl "Flea" Clifton (December 12, 1909 – December 22, 1997), was a Major League Baseball infielder who played four seasons with the Detroit Tigers from 1934 to 1937.
Clifton was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father died in World War I when he was eight years old, and his mother was killed when he was 15 after a family friend strangled her with one of Clifton's ties. His stepfather then kicked him out, and Clifton lived for the next year behind a garage in Ludlow, Kentucky.
Clifton played semi-pro baseball in Cincinnati before signing with the Detroit Tigers in 1929. Clifton spent the 1929 season playing in Raleigh, North Carolina. Clifton met future Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg when they played together in Raleigh. The two remained friends and teammates through the remainder of Clifton's career. Clifton appeared in the 1998 documentary about Greenberg, "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg."
In his autobiography, Greenberg recalled Clifton as a "tough little guy" who used a gray bat made of Cuban wood that he soaked in water every night, supposedly "to keep it from cracking or chipping." Greenberg also joked about Clifton's unusual diet: "On the road, he used to eat nothing but dougnuts and bananas. He said they were cheap and filling and stretched his meal money. Flea was the only ballplayer who could show a profit on $1-a-day meal money."
In 1932, Clifton played for the Beaumont, Texas team that won the Texas League championship. His teammates in Beaumont that year included Greenberg, Schoolboy Rowe, Pete Fox, and Elden Auker. Each of these players would play together on Detroit's 1934-1935 Detroit pennant teams.
Clifton later recalled that he frequently got into "fracases" with other players and ended up being hit by pitches more than anyone else. When Clifton claimed not to understand why he got hit so much, a teammate told him: "Then repeat after me: 'I give the pitcher hell, I give the catcher hell, I give the infielders hell, so their control's not so good when you come to the plate.'"
Clifton made it to the major leagues in 1934. Clifton went 1-for-16 for the 1934 Tigers, for an .063 batting average. In 1935, he played in 45 games and improved his batting average to .245 with 9 RBIs.
In the 1935 World Series, Clifton became the Tigers' starting third baseman when Hank Greenberg broke his wrist in Game 2. The Tigers' regular third baseman Marv Owen moved to first base and Clifton stepped in at third base. Clifton had played only 43 games during the regular season, with a .255 batting average, and went 0 for 16 with 4 strikeouts in the Series. Clifton later said, "I never hit the ball harder than I did in the '35 Series, but I couldn't buy a base hit."
Clifton saw limited action with the Tigers in 1936 and 1937 and played his last major league game on July 1, 1937.
In his major league career, Clifton played in 87 games, scoring 27 runs, and collecting 39 hits and 13 RBIs, with a career batting average of .200.
After leaving the Tigers, Clifton played in the minor leagues in Toledo, Syracuse, and Minneapolis. Clifton played in 150 games for the Minneapolis Millers in 1943, batting .282 and collecting 56 RBIs.
Clifton left baseball in 1944 and worked as an insurance agent. Clifton was born and died in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Famous quotes containing the words flea and/or clifton:
“This flea is you and I, and this
Our mariage bed, and mariage temple is;
Though parents grudge, and you, ware met,
And cloystered in these living walls of Jet.”
—John Donne (15721631)
“Poetry is a matter of life, not just a matter of language.”
—Lucille Clifton (b. 1936)