When I spoke with Clint Conatser earlier this year he'd lost his eyesight but vividly described the sandy playground in Los Angeles where he and neighbor Bobby Doerr took batting practice. “Bobby gave me my first pair of cleats—a pair of spiffy Spaulding lightweights,” he said, with an easy going laugh.
Clint broke into Class D pro ball at age 17 earning $75 a month. “I was thin … not terribly strong as a hitter or a runner.” Three years later, he was sitting in the breakfast nook in the little Los Angeles bungalow when his mother broke the news about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. “I didn't even know where Pearl Harbor was,” he said. Clint enlisted in the Coast Guard 1942, admitting that he liked the "spiffy white uniforms." Growing up near the beach, he didn't mind getting knocked around by the waves. "Esther Williams went to the pool where I learned to swim. She was beautiful and had a tough guy boyfriend who handed out towels.”
Clint served in the Coast Guard for 46 months, patrolling the Bay Area near Government Island. He also spent time in the South Pacific. Though the outfielder never fought in combat he used his time in the military to get into tip-top shape. “I played military baseball and spent the majority of my time pumping iron, and running.” By 1945, Clint emerged from the war 20 pounds heavier as a taller, stronger, far more coordinated athlete. With Bobby Doerr’s help he signed with the Tigers and played for the Dallas Rebels in the Texas League. In 1948, Clint played for the Boston Braves when they won the NL pennant but they were no match for Bob Feller on the mound, and Cleveland won the World Series.
Clint married the widow of a close friend who was killed in the Philippines and raised their son. When he was not playing baseball, he worked with his father in the off-season installing air conditioners.
Clint told me that he thought Jackie Robinson was the best player he ever saw because of his power and versatility. “Jackie could bat, and run like no other player – Jackie was the most intense competitor I ever saw.”
Clint encountered Babe Ruth when he came to visit during spring training in Bradenton, Florida, one of the old all-wood ballparks. “He was all shriveled up and weighed about 120 pounds. Babe said, ‘Well, the doctor told me that I could have a beer at 4:30, and it feels good.’ Babe never paid much attention to rules anyhow,” Clint said, “so it was just as well.”
When Clint retired from Triple-A ball in 1952, he joined his father’s business, which he grew into a more successful enterprise. Knowing that minor-league players often retired from the game without job skills, Clint made a point to hire players to get them back on their feet.