|Earl Clark - Boston Braves|
Source: The Sporting News Archive
Led by British and Scottish expatriates, soccer aficionados in Washington D.C. championed the beautiful game in the American capital throughout the early 1900s. Efforts to establish city amateur leagues, inter-city leagues, and the professional Southeastern Soccer League all failed, though the game thrived within Washington’s public schools. The lack of a legitimate amateur league or professional club left the city’s best players no option but to give the game up, or attempt to find meaningless pickup games with local elevens. Finally, in 1925, local advocates created the city’s first permanent soccer league, the amateur Washington Soccer League (WSL).
This newly established league gave Washington’s soccer players a legitimate arena to display their skills, compete, and eventually gain entrance in National Amateur Cup tournament – known today as the US Amateur Cup. It took three years from the creation of the WSL for Washington’s first clubs to enter the tournament. By 1930, the city fielded numerous teams who clamored for national silverware by entering the amateur competition. One team, the comically named Fashion Shop S.C., proved the most ambitious of Washington’s clubs in that year’s incarnation of the tournament as the club rounded up the best talent available in the District regardless of the rules surrounding the amateur nature of the competition. Fashion Shop S.C.’s strong desire to compete on the national level and indifference towards the competition’s rules led to the club’s eventual banishment from that year’s tournament due to one name on the team’s roster: Major League Baseball player and Boston Braves center fielder Earl Clark.
Earl Clark’s Playground Exploits and the Washington Soccer League
|Monroe A.C. Eleven|
Earl Clark is center in bottom row. To his right are his brothers Tom and Abner, respectively
Source: The Washington Post
Fashion Shop S.C. was not Earl Clark’s first or only soccer club. The Braves outfielder grew up in Washington and excelled at baseball, soccer, and track throughout his youth. He ascended to local fame in 1919 when, at age twelve, he led the Monroe School – of the Columbia Heights neighborhood - to the city elementary school soccer championship. The achievement had several foreign soccer players playing amongst the embassies proclaiming Clark as a future professional. Had Washington had a professional soccer franchise during Clark’s career, their declaration may have come to fruition. Nonetheless, Clark continued his playground dominance as he led the Monroe School to several other city championships in baseball and soccer during the first half of the 1920s. Shortly after leaving school, Clark earned the reputation as the best amateur player in both sports within the District. Clark’s athletic prowess eventually garnered significant attention from the Richmond (Virginia) Colts minor-league baseball club, which led to a professional contract in the spring of 1926, but not before Earl - and several of his Monroe School teammates - competed in the Washington Soccer League’s inaugural season.
League soccer found a permanent home in Washington D.C. when the Washington Soccer League kicked off in the fall of 1925. The inaugural WSL campaign featured six clubs including the Monroe Athletic Club (MAC) headed by Earl Clark. Joining Clark on the MAC roster was alumni of the Monroe School among them were two of Earl’s brothers, Abner and Tom. The Monroe club was both the youngest, and the only all-American team to compete in the newly formed league, which proved a challenge to the former playground champions as the young club finished the ten-game season fourth out of six teams with a record of three wins, six losses, and one draw. Clark drew a fair share of the press coverage surrounding the club during the 1925 season as MAC’s de facto captain. Though the team struggled, and Clark had his share of missteps during the campaign - including getting sent off for fighting during a game against the German-American Reserves - the future Braves center fielder proved the attention well warranted in the short time he was with the club as he was consistently the focal point of the Monroe attack. Clark was able to feature in most of MAC’s league games, but left the club prior to the end of the season to pursue a professional baseball career with the minor-league Richmond Colts. Clark’s play with the Colts eventually caught the eye of the Boston Braves who paid the Richmond club $15,000 (nearly $200,000 today) for Clark’s services in August 1927.
|Earl Clark Goudey Card|
The 1925 WSL season would only prove to be Clark’s first foray in Washington’s soccer leagues. Clark returned every fall –during baseball’s offseason - for the next several years to compete amongst the city’s amateurs, despite the fact that by the time of him signing with the Braves many felt he could have played professional soccer if he wanted to. The growth of the game within Washington, the creation of an area governing body (the Washington and Southeastern District Association), and the USFA’s recognition of the District’s soccer leagues meant that city’s amateur clubs were able to enter the National Amateur Cup with the famed Walford S.C. and Clan MacLennan clubs becoming the first Washington teams to do so during 1928 competition. By the 1930 tournament, seven Washington clubs entered the competition including, Fashion Shop S.C. who signed the professional Earl Clark before entering the competition. Perhaps not understanding the fifth rule of the national tournament that stated “anyone who is or has been a professional in soccer or in any other sport is not eligible to compete,” Fashion Shop’s signing of Clark set up the club’s banishment from the tournament.
The Fashion Shop Upset and the Locust Point Rangers
|Aerial view of the Washington Monument and the Monument Grounds in 1919.|
Part of the Library of Congress' Harris & Ewing Collection
Source: Library of Congress
As amusing as Fashion Shop S.C. moniker is, the club was named after their sponsor Fred Pelzman’s Fashion Shop - a local haberdashery - and was one of the most ambitious Washington clubs entering the 1930 National Amateur Cup. The club formed as a collection of former players of the Rosedale and Arcadian clubs who sought to compete in the 1929-30 WSL season, including the Clark brothers. By all accounts, the club was expected to prove a formidable challenge to the other clubs in the league, but started the WSL season rather disappointingly and struggled to win games. Fashion Shop’s lamentable start to their WSL campaign led The Washington Post to label the club underdogs in their first round National Amateur Cup match against the local WSL favorite, the Washington Soccer Club (WSC). The first round match took place on December 8, 1929 as the two teams met on the Monument Grounds in the shadow of the Washington Monument. Up to that point in the WSL season, no league team complained about Earl Clark’s professional status as he was able to compete in the District league without any dispute. His hat-trick performance in the cup game proved the turning point as the Washington Soccer Club filed a formal complaint with both the Washington and Southeastern District Association and the USFA following Fashion Shop’s 6-2 victory. Earl was joined on Fashion Shop’s front line by both of his brothers, Abner and Tom, in the dominating win. The victory secured Fashion Shop S.C. a game against the Locust Point Rangers of Baltimore, MD in the second round of the National Amateur Cup, but not before a rousing round of delays due to WSC’s protests.
Initially, the Washington and Southeastern District Association agreed with WSC and negated Fashion Shop’s win due to the participation of Earl Clark. Officials at the Cleveland, Ohio headquarters of the USFA did not agree with the local body’s assessment of the National Amateur Cup’s rules regarding Earl Clark’s eligibility and upheld the 6-2 Fashion Shop victory. The time between the initial ruling by the local body and the USFA’s conflicting decision caused extensive confusion and considerably postponed the second round game. In fact, on January 5, 1930 the day before the second round fixture, the Locust Point Rangers were expecting the meet the Fashion Shop eleven, but were prepared for both Washington teams to come to the site of the game at the Maryland Baseball Park. In the end, Earl Clark and Fashion Shop S.C. made the forty-mile trip to Baltimore to meet the Rangers on January 6, 1930.
|Aerial Photograph of Baltimore and the Maryland Baseball Park in 1927|
The Park was also the home of the Baltimore Black Sox Negro League baseball team.
Source: An incredible article by MASN about the discovery of the photograph.
The much-anticipated second round National Amateur Cup match proved disastrous for Fashion Club S.C. The Locust Point Rangers were the top club in Maryland Soccer League and had already dispatched a Washington club in the tournament’s first round – the Silver Spring Soccer Club. The Rangers made quick work of Clark and the Fashion Shop eleven defeating the Capital City club 4-0. The Baltimore outfit dominated the first half and racked up a 3-0 lead by halftime on goals by Ducks Kenney, Lou Cox, and C. Reichenberg. Fashion Shop shored up their defense in the second half, but failed to score. Neil Schmidt scored the fourth goal off of a free kick in the second half padding the Rangers lead and ensuring the Baltimore club victory and advancement to the third round of the tournament, or so they thought.
Just days after Clark and Fashion Club S.C. drubbing at the Maryland Baseball Park, the USFA reconsidered their initial decision and inexplicably reversed course and agreed with the Washington and Southeastern District Association and upheld the Washington body’s banishment of Fashion Club S.C. for the use of a professional athlete in an amateur cup fixture. The USFA’s abrupt about-face negated the Locust Point Rangers victory and further prolonged the tournament’s second round by scheduling a cup match between the Rangers and Washington Soccer Club on January 20. The Washington club did not matter, nor did the use of professionals, as the Rangers walloped the visiting WSC eleven 9-0 to finally advance to the third round of the amateur competition. The Rangers eventually lost in the Eastern Quarterfinals of the tournament to McLeod Council of Jersey City, NJ, while Clark and the Fashion Shop eleven continued in the Washington Soccer League.
The banishment of Fashion Shop S.C. in the National Amateur Cup did not end the club, or Clark’s participation in the Washington Soccer League. Although the tournament was the first and last nationally sanctioned soccer tournament that Clark played in, he continued to compete in the District’s leagues for the next couple of years making appearances for the Fashion Shop eleven, and other Washington clubs during the baseball offseason. Ultimately, injuries hampered Clark’s professional baseball career, which led to his early retirement at the age of 27. He moved back to Washington following his playing career and and worked within different government institutions while still competing in city baseball leagues and refereeing local soccer matches until he tragically lost his life in a car accident at the age of thirty in 1938. Both Clark’s exploits on the fields of Washington and his role in Fashion Shop S.C.’s banishment from the 1930 National Amateur Cup tournament are now long forgotten, but his name remains relevant due to his Major League Baseball career and his place as the co-record holder as a player with the most putouts in a single nine-inning game in the league’s history with twelve– a record he shares with Jacoby Ellsbury and Lyman Bostock.
Addendum (or other interesting information):
Earl set his put out record on May 10, 1929. Bostock did not tie the record until 1977. Ellsbury equaled the mark in 2009. Clark is the only player in National League history to accomplish the feat.
Earl's brother, Tom, became a professional baseball player in 1931 after he signed with his hometown Washington Senators. He never made a Major League Baseball appearance.
The Washington Senators hosted the Boston Braves at Griffith Stadium in an exhibition game on April 8, 1931. The Senators deemed the day Earl Clark Day honoring the Washington native, and presented Earl with a gold watch.
Clark was always known for his speed both on the baseball diamond and the soccer field. He was reported as the fastest member of the Boston Braves during the team's Spring Training drills in Florida. In January 1932, Clark was recognized once again for his speed this time in a manner not associated with athletic competition when he used his speed to catch a thief on the streets of Washington.
In writing this article, I relied heavily on the archives of The Washington Post. I also used articles from the Boston Globe during my research. In addition to these dailies, I consulted several websites including, www.baseball-reference.com and www.baseball-almanac.com.