If not for an injury, Cloyd Boyer might have been to Cardinals pitching what his brother, Ken Boyer, was to Cardinals hitting and fielding.
A right-handed pitcher, Cloyd Boyer had an exceptional fastball when he got to the big leagues with the Cardinals, drawing comparisons to ace Mort Cooper, but he wasn’t the same after hurting his shoulder.
Boyer pitched in four seasons for the Cardinals and had a record of 15-18 with a 4.24 ERA. After his playing days, he had a long career as a major-league pitching coach and minor-league manager. Boyer died Sept. 20, 2021, at 94.
Born in Missouri’s Jasper County near Joplin, Cloyd was the oldest son of the 14 children of Vern and Mabel Boyer.
Cloyd and his six brothers all became professional baseball players. Cloyd, Ken and Clete reached the majors. Wayne, Lynn, Ron and Len spent all their time in the minors.
Ken and Clete were standout third basemen. Ken earned five Gold Glove awards with the Cardinals and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1964 when the Cardinals were World Series champions. Clete played for the Yankees in five World Series, including in 1964 against Ken and the Cardinals.
The Boyer boys got their passion for baseball from their father Vern, who worked a variety of jobs, including marble-cutter and blacksmith, and helped build a lighted baseball diamond across the street from the family house in Alba, Mo.
“He bought us a couple of gloves that were nothing bigger than your hand and we used corn cobs for balls,” Cloyd recalled to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He loved the game. If it hadn’t been for him, I would have never been in baseball.”
In 1944, when Cloyd was 17 and working for a farmer, Vern learned the Cardinals were conducting a tryout camp at nearby Carthage, Mo. “My father came and took me off the hay baler and carried me to the tryout camp,” Cloyd said in the book “Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain.”
Cardinals scout Runt Marr and administrator Walter Shannon, who were running the tryout camp, became impressed “the minute Boyer powered a throw to the plate from the outfield,” the Post-Dispatch reported. They met with Cloyd and his father in Alba that night and signed the teen to a contract.
After his first season in the Cardinals’ farm system in 1945, Cloyd enlisted in the Navy when he turned 18 in September that year. He served for almost a year, including three months aboard the USS Iowa, and was discharged in time to pitch in five games in the minors at the end of the 1946 season.
Cloyd began an ascension in the Cardinals’ farm system with consecutive 16-win seasons in 1947 and 1948.
“Boyer has a terrific fastball,” Cardinals farm director Joe Mathes told The Sporting News in 1948.
Cloyd, 21, earned a spot on the Cardinals Opening Day roster in 1949.
Comparing Boyer to Johnny Beazley, who had 21 wins as a rookie for the 1942 Cardiinals, Bob Broeg of the Post-Dispatch wrote, “Cloyd was shy, almost bashful, when he came up to the Cardinals, but was not too shy to knock down a hitter who dug in too earnestly against his swift, side-armed fastball.”
Cloyd made his major-league debut on April 23, 1949, with two scoreless innings of relief against the Cubs, but was returned to the minors after three appearances. Boxscore
Boyer stuck with the Cardinals in 1950, beginning the season as a reliever and moving into the starting rotation in late July.
“There isn’t a veteran pitcher on my squad who can match the speed of Cloyd Boyer,” Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer told The Sporting News.
Dyer was impressed as much by Cloyd’s courage and poise as he was with his fastball.
On July 17, 1950, the Dodgers’ Carl Furillo lined a pitch that struck Boyer “hard on the right thumb, glanced off and slammed against his throat,” Dick Young of the New York Daily News reported.
Boyer retrieved the ball and threw to first base in time to get Furillo, but “almost fainted a moment later, gasping for breath,” the Daily News reported. “His mates had him lie on the hill for several minutes, regaining his wind.”
Once he could breathe freely, Boyer got to his feet and walked off the field. X-rays disclosed a ruptured blood vessel at the heel of his hand. “He’s lucky he’s alive,” the Daily News declared. “Getting his hand in the way of Furillo’s comeback bullet just in time to prevent it from tearing into his neck probably saved the guy’s life, or at least his voice.” Boxscore
Four days later, Boyer pitched 11 innings in a start against the Giants. Boxscore
On July 27, 1950, 10 days after being struck by the Furillo liner, Boyer faced the Dodgers again and pitched a complete game for the win, holding Furillo hitless. Boxscore
“The kid’s got moxie,” Cardinals scout Fred Hawn said to the Post-Dispatch.
Pitching in pain
Two months later, on Sept. 15, 1950, Boyer hurt his right shoulder on the last pitch of his warmup before a start against the Dodgers and couldn’t continue. Cardinals trainer Doc Weaver described the injury as “an inflamed nerve,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported.
According to the book “Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain,” Cloyd “likely damaged his rotator cuff, but the mentality of managers and pitching coaches at the time was to pitch through the pain.”
Incredibly, Boyer started against the Braves five days later, on Sept. 20, and pitched a four-hit shutout. Boxscore
The performance took a toll, though. On Sept. 29, while warming up before a start versus the Cubs, Boyer’s pitches “lacked the usual zip.” the Post-Dispatch reported.
He started the game and, “flinching on several throws,” got the count to 3-and-2 before yielding a double to leadoff batter Randy Jackson. Dyer ran to the mound and removed the ailing pitcher. Boxscore
Boyer finished the season 7-7 with a 3.52 ERA. He was 3-0 against the Dodgers.
First-year Cardinals manager Marty Marion figured on Boyer for a spot in the starting rotation in 1951, but his arm wasn’t right. Ineffective, he was sent to the minors in July. Though brought back to the Cardinals at the end of the month, Boyer finished 2-5 with a 5.26 ERA for them in 1951.
“Boyer, until he suffered arm trouble, was considered another prospect like Mort Cooper,” The Sporting News noted.
Boyer was 6-6 with a 4.24 ERA for the Cardinals in 1952, then spent the next two seasons in the minors.
The Athletics acquired him and he pitched his last season in the majors for them in 1955, posting a 5-5 record and 6.22 ERA.
Cloyd never got to play a big-league game with brother Ken, but he did with brother Clete, who was 18 when he made his debut in the majors with the 1955 Athletics.
Cloyd became a big-league coach for the Yankees (1975 and 1977), Braves (1978-81) and Royals (1982-83). Otherwise, from the 1960s to the 1990s, he was a scout, coach and manager in the minors.
Among the pitchers he managed in the minors were 17-year-old Pat Hentgen, who became an American League Cy Young Award recipient and a 15-game winner with the 2000 Cardinals.
Cloyd also managed a couple of 18-year-old pitchers, Steve Avery and Mark Wohlers, who became key members of 1990s pennant-winning Braves teams.