Yaryan’s glorious four games with the Anniston Rams

Yam Yaryan, shown here while playing for Wichita in the Western League.

The Anniston Rams count Clarence Everett Yaryan as one of their own through the slimmest of metrics. Their history could easily omit him. Facts, damnable as they can be, are facts. Yaryan spent less than a week with the Rams in the dog days of 1939, volunteering to bail out a team ravaged by injuries, playing admirably despite the creaks of his mid-40s, and then he left. Four games; that’s it. But he was indeed a Ram.

Yam Yaryan.

No one called him Clarence or Everett. Since his days with the Chicago White Sox, the Iowa-born catcher answered to his nickname, Yam, which had nothing to do with sweet potatoes, though his story would be sweeter if it did. Yam Yaryan certainly sounded better than Everett Yaryan. Teammates mostly called him by his middle name until the spring of 1921, when White Sox catcher Ray Schalk asked him about his name. Or, at least, that’s the story Yaryan told.

I’m Clarence Everett Yaryan, he said, which didn’t satisfy his new teammate.

“I wouldn’t call my own worst enemy either of the first two and the last one is too hard,” Schalk said. “I’ll just call you ‘Yam.'”

Yaryan recounted that story years later for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He didn’t mention sweet potatoes, though he may very well have loved them. “And ‘Yam’ it’s been ever since,” he said.

A 1939 clipping from The Anniston Star.

How Yaryan arrived in Anniston is either a quaint example of pre-war minor league baseball or just another odd story about the Rams. Undoubtedly it said something about Yaryan, a quintessential baseball lifer who, put simply, was looking for work after resigning as player-manager of the Rams’ rival, the Southeastern League’s Gadsden Pilots.

Anniston’s plight wasn’t wholly of its own making. In the summer of 1939, A Gadsden pitcher plunked Rams catcher Ray Adamski‘s head with an errant curveball. Motionless on the ground for 20 minutes, Adamski came to in the hospital and asked for a cigarette. Don Lindeberg went to the bench with a finger fractured by one of the Rams’ pitchers.

The predicament was real. Anniston quickly signed semi-pro catcher Theo Crow, who’d been in the Rams’ spring camp. But Yaryan, out of work since his Gadsden dismissal, presented a heftier option.

The Rams signed Yaryan July 5. He was 46 years old.

He played that night at Selma, a 7-1 Rams loss. He went 1 for 4.

He played the next night, a 4-1 Rams loss. He went 2 for 3.

He played again the next night, a 12-7 Rams win. He went 2 for 5.

After a one-day break for the SEL All-Star Game, he played again for the Rams in a 16-5 win at Montgomery. He went 1 for 5.

Yam Yaryan with the Chicago White Sox.

Rain postponed the July 10 game in Alabama’s capital. That night, Yaryan told the Rams his temporary stint was over because he’d been offered a coaching position in the New York Yankees’ farm system. (The Rams knew he had pending offers from Major League teams when they signed him, The Anniston Star reported.) Plus, Adamski’s concussion no longer kept him bedridden.

In four games with Anniston, the ageless Yaryan went 6 for 17. The Yankees assigned him to their Class D team in Easton, Maryland.

Take away those few days with the Rams and Yaryan’s life was literally enveloped with baseball — playing it, coaching it, managing teams, scouting players, reminiscing about it. A catcher with prodigious power and legs that couldn’t outrun a tortoise, Yaryan spent two seasons as a bench player during the White Sox’s rebuilding after the World Series betting scandal of 1919. “I’m not afraid of their major league twirlers,” he told the press during his first spring with Chicago. “I figure that they should not be a lot harder than the Western Leaguers were last year.” He was, newspapers said at the time, Chicago’s “Babe Ruth” in training.

Except, he wasn’t. In December 1922, the White Sox sent Yaryan to the Class AA Seattle Indians of the Pacific Coast League. He never would play again in the Major Leagues.

A 1922 headline from The Seattle Star.
A 1922 clipping from The Seattle Star.

A Monrovia, California, sports writer offered a blunt analysis. “He is a good hitter, and while there are better catchers in the world than Mr. Yaryan, he has no chance as a regular on the Chicago team with Ray Schalk on the job, and (Seattle manager Harry) Wolverton considers that he has a really good backstop in the purchase.”

Entering his 30s and out of the show, Yaryan became a standout for teams throughout the Southeast. He played two seasons for the Memphis Chicks. He played in Baton Rouge, Chattanooga and a host of lower-level teams in Alabama, including the Rams. But his best years came with the Birmingham Barons, for whom he played from 1925 to 1930.

In six seasons with the Barons, Yaryan drove in 425 runs and made a then-Birmingham record 576 putouts. His monster year came in 1928, when he hit .389 and drove in 88 runs. In 1943, the Barons included Yaryan in their inaugural Hall of Fame, which also included Pie Traynor, Billy Southworth and Burleigh Grimes.

A clipping from The Birmingham News.

When he failed, his reputation rescued his story; friends and admirers were abundant in every city in which he played. In January 1941, Yaryan’s job managing the Class D team in Brewton, Alabama, came to an abrupt end. Fans and media thought he’d return after a yeoman-like job with a woefully under-talented team. Ownership had a different idea, believing the Millers needed a “more active” manager — code words for younger. Yaryan was 47 that season and nonetheless played in 88 games, hitting .302. He’d been selected as the Alabama State League’s All-Star Game manager and the league’s manager of the year. But he was out.

Brewton’s decision flummoxed the press. Pat Moulton, sports editor of the Mobile Press, managed to poke fun at Yaryan’s legendary foot speed while defending his middle-aged worth as a player and manager.

“Probably the slowest man in baseball for the past 10 years, Yam had to hit triples to get singles,” Moulton wrote. “I’ve seen him wallop line drives off fences that would have been easy triples for an average runner, but Yam would have to hustle his best to make it to first base ere the relay throws nipped him.

“But how he could hit when in his prime. It didn’t matter what the pitcher threw nor where he threw it. Like all great hitters, his distance clouts came mostly from ‘bad balls.’

“With the strength of two men in his forearms, I’ve seen Yam completely fooled on a curve, yet, with one hand hit the ball over the fence. And now it appears he’s through in baseball.

“For a fellow who has given so much to the game, a man who knows no other trade, I only hope old Yam has saved enough from his great stretch in pro baseball to make the rest of his voyage easy sailing. There’s only one thing I can say about Yaryan: I don’t believe he ever had an enemy in the game.”

A clipping from The Birmingham News.

Moulton was correct. Yaryan was through with baseball — professional baseball, to be precise. In 1941, he managed an Alabama all-state prep team. In the late 50s and early 60s he scouted for various teams and earned a continual stream of newspaper coverage from reporters who’d covered him during his best years, particularly in Birmingham.

In 1948, Alf Van Hoose, legendary sports columnist for The Birmingham News, caught up with the retired Yaryan, who complained about the state of the game — not enough bunting; not enough talented players willing to catch; not enough consistent pitching in the Southern League — and admitted, somewhat, that he was abysmally slow.

“The stories about me having to hit a ball out of the park to get a double are just about true, though not because I couldn’t run,” he told Van Hoose. “Where the fielders played me, you’d have to knock it over the fence to get it over their heads.”

Yam Yaryan as a salesman

In 1961, Benny Marshall, another legendary Birmingham News sports columnist, remembered going to Rickwood Field and watching the Barons one afternoon in the 1920s.

“The man to see at Rickwood was named Yam Yaryan, a regular round giant of a man who played catcher.

“Old Yam could hit one a mile. Daddy said he would.

“… Yam didn’t hit one a mile. The Mobile shortstop caught the only line drive he hit, and the Barons didn’t win. But they would tomorrow, sure, and you could read what Zipp Newman had to write about it in the Birmingham News.”

Yaryan’s latter years were nothing if not unremarkable. His wife, Iva, died in 1948. A tornado collapsed his house in 1956. He worked in a series of jobs — refrigerator sales; car sales; Sears & Roebuck — before retiring. When he died in 1964 at age 72, he was remembered by the Associated Press as “one of Birmingham’s most popular baseball figures, fence-busting Clarence Everett (Yam) Yaryan.” The AP report didn’t mention his four games with the Rams.

He’s buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham.

Yam Yaryan’s World War I draft registration card. (Ancestry.com)

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