Throughout history, more than 15,000 people have taken the field as Major League Baseball players. Even if you’re not a baseball fan or even an American, some of those are household names — Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and maybe someday, Mike Trout.
Clarence Waldo Blethen is not one of them.
The Major League career of Clarence Waldo Blethen spanned a grand total of seven games — five for the 1923 Boston Red Sox and another two as a member of the 1929 Brooklyn Robins (who later became the Dodgers). For those who get the lingo, you’ll find a look into his career stat line to be unimpressive — a 7.32 ERA over 19.2 innings; only two strikeouts compared to 10 walks; a balk; a wild pitch. (For those to whom that’s Greek, that’s like going to a restaurant, ordering an egg white omelet, finding out they’re out of eggs whites — and yet they charge you $10 for the yolk-laden omelet anyway. Okay, maybe it’s not quite that bad, but when that happened to me, I wasn’t happy, and I can’t imagine Red Sox fans were happy with Blethen’s performance, either.) Toss in his six career plate appearances — all outs — and it’s a miracle that he’s worth mentioning at all. But if he’s famous for something, it’s because of a game which turned out to be a real pain in the butt.
Blethen’s story starts out with his affinity for chewing tobacco, a habit he began at a young age. Thanks to the yeoman research of Society for the Advancement of Baseball Research (SABR) member Bill Nowlin, we know this because Blethen adopted the nickname Climax — a name given to him because Climax-brand chew was his brand of choice. (And, as Nowlin dryly observes, “with the given names Clarence and Waldo, he needed another handle.”) According to an Associated Press report from 1938, the tobacco use cost Blethen some of his teeth. As a result, Blethen ended up with a set of dentures.
But Blethen didn’t always wear the falsies. Certainly, he wasn’t on June 6, 1933.
That day, Blethen was a 39-year-old also-ran pitching for the Knoxville Smokies, then a low-level minor league team. Blethen managed to get on base at some point during the game and, for some reason or another, ended up sliding into second base. Normally this wouldn’t be a cause for concern, but this wasn’t a normal day — Blethen’s dentures weren’t in his mouth. Instead, they were in his pocket — specifically, his hip pocket. And as the Sporting News reported shortly afterward, sliding with teeth in your pocket is a bad, bad idea: “when he slid, the teeth, in some way, became connected and did nothing else than take a bite out of Blethen in a tender spot.” In the most literal sense of the phrase, Blethen took a bite out of his own rear.
Incredibly, Blethen — despite the pain and embarrassment — managed to stay in the game.
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