Donn Alvin Clendenon (July 15, 1935 - September 17, 2005) enjoyed an experience like no other when attending Atlanta’s Morehouse College as a freshman in 1952, when he had the honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. serving as his “Big Brother.” But this was only a tiny part of the story of Donn Clendenon. After Donn’s mathematics professor father died of leukemia when he was only six months old, Donn’s mother married former Negro League player Nish Williams, who helped develop Clendenon’s already natural talent on the baseball diamond. Despite his mother’s insistence for academia, something in which Donn also found solace, Nish implored many of his Negro League friends, including Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Sad Sam Jones and Joe Black, to assist with Clendenon’s development. As the story goes, Williams took the 10-year old Clendenon to a high school field where he faced pitches from both Paige and Jones and was instructed to identify the pitches as they hurled past him. Though he burgeoned into an excellent ball player, he also played football and basketball. But, academia seemed the more prudent direction and he attended Morehouse College where he was able to play sports and get an exceptional education. Though he was offered contracts to play football for the Cleveland Browns and basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters, Clendenon signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1957. After playing five years of minor league ball that saw him win the 1960 Southern Atlantic League MVP Award with the Savannah Pirates, Clendenon was called up in 1961 and soon became manager Danny Murtaugh’s choice to face left-handed pitchers. He hit .302 with 67 hits and 28 RBI in 80 games as a rookie and finished second to Chicago Cubs Ken Hubbs near unanimous vote as NL Rookie of the Year. Clendenon received one first place vote and Hubbs earned the remainng 19 votes.
Though he platooned in his first couple seasons in The Steel City, Clendenon won the starting first baseman’s job in 1963 and did not relinquish it until he was lost to expansion in 1968. From 1963 to 1969, Donn knocked double-digit home runs with his best year coming in 1966 when he hammered out 28 round-trippers. Sadly, despite all of his success in Pittsburgh (1961-1969), a championship eluded him and in 1969, he was traded to the Montreal Expos (1969). After some dispute over his refusal to reports, Clendenon played part of the 1969 campaign north of the border before the New York Mets came calling. New York acquired the big first baseman, at the behest of former mentor and current Mets manager Gil Hodges. Donn made an immediate impact on a young lineup that was pitching-rich with the likes of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan and Tommy Agee and Cleon Jones bringing the offense. Clendenon, now a nine-year veteran, helped lead the “Miracle Mets” to the first World Series championship in franchise history, defeating the heavily-favored Baltimore Orioles in five games. Clendenon not only inspired the young club to rally after losing Game 1, but hit three home runs and drove in 4 RBI to win the World Series MVP award. Donn played two more seasons with the Mets (1969-1971) and one final year with the St. Louis Cardinals (1972) before retiring. Donn Clendenon finished his career with 1,273 hits including 159 home runs, 594 runs scored, 90 stolen bases and 682 RBI as he hit .274 over 12 seasons. He also posted an exceptional .987 fielding percentage with 825 assists and 1,138 double plays.