The Clowns: The last of baseball’s barnstormers, Part 2
Thursday, April 20, 2017 7:27 AM
Ladies and gentlemen, when he played with the Indianapolis Clowns back in the 1960s, Hubert “Big Daddy” Wooten wasn’t a big man by any means – he stands just 5-foot-8 (“maybe 5-foot-8 1/2,” he laughs). But there wasn’t a ballpark that could hold him if he got into a pitch.
Hubert “Big Daddy” Wooten
“I’ve always had power, and people wonder how,” he told me back in 2006 when I sat down and chatted with Wooten in his home in Goldsboro, N.C. “And I’d tell them, ‘It happens when you work on a farm.’ When I was a youngster, I had to cut wood, I had to walk behind that mule and I had to take two 50-pound bags of fertilizer, one in this hand and one in the other, and carry them across the field. I didn’t get my power in the gym, I got my power on the farm.”
Wooten played baseball his junior and senior seasons when his school, Carver High, started a baseball program.
When he graduated, he went to a baseball school in West Palm Beach, Fla.
He signed a minor league contract with the Vero Beach Dodgers in 1964, where he pitched and played in the outfield.
“I went over there, and they said, ‘You’re raw, you have good talent but you need to play every day,’” he said. “Then they sent a letter to Ed Hamman, who owned the Clowns, and he sent me a ticket to meet him in Chicago.
“After meeting Ed, I signed with the Clowns.”
With the Clowns, Hamman helped Hubert Wooten get his nickname.
“Daddy Wooten, that’s what they called me,” he says. “One time, I hit a ball off the wall, and Ed was standing over there. He was laughing and said, ‘That’s the daddy.’ And Sandy Perkins said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to name him Daddy Wooten.’ And that name just stuck.”
Daddy Wooten loved to play every position. Well, almost every position.
“I played all positions except one, and that was catcher,” he says with a smile.
“They made a mistake once, and I had to get back there. All our catchers were hurt and they had one coming in, and I had to get back there. We had a fellow on the mound that day who was about 6-foot-6 and he could throw 95-96 mph, and we were in Nebraska. And I’ll tell you, he’d throw, they’d swing, I’d close my eyes and the ball would go by. I walked all night. I told Ed, ‘The only plate I want to get behind is one with food on it. And when it’s
gone, I’m gone.’
“So I played all positions in the infield, I’d play outfield and I could come in and relief pitch every night – it didn’t bother my arm.”
At the plate, Big Daddy Wooten was a good hitter with some pop.
“I had good power, good speed, good arm,” he said. “There was no park that we played in I couldn’t hit it out of. In Pittsburgh, at old Forbes Field, I hit one over the scoreboard in left field, which was about 75 feet high.”
He doesn’t know what his stats were during his tenure with the Clowns, but Wooten has a pretty good idea.
“If I was rounding it off, I probably batted about .310, .315 in my four years there,” he said.
“I hit maybe 12, 14 home runs a year. We played a lot of local clubs who were loaded up with All-Stars — you were going against the best.”
But the Clowns were no slouches, either. In fact, Wooten says he can only remember the team losing four times – in four years.
“We had a good team ourselves, I’d say it would have been a good Double-A or Triple-A ball club,” Wooten says. “We had some outstanding ballplayers.”
Let’s pause for now, and we’ll continue next week with the life and times of Hubert Wooten, one of the boys of summers past.
Steve Roush is a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press.