Biggest Cliffs

At the end of this post is a table of the major league players who have been known as “Cliff”, listed in descending order of career WAR (total WAR for position players, pitching WAR for pitchers).

I’ve only included players who are listed at baseball-reference as having been known as “Cliff”.  So I have not included guys such as Gavvy Cravath, whose actual name was Clifford but was not known as Cliff, while I have included guys such as Cliff Floyd, whose actual first name was Cornelius (which suggests that perhaps the real reason Floyd was oft-injured during his career was he was being repeatedly beaten up by former fourth grade classmates).

Perhaps the most poignant “Cliff” career listed here was that of Cliff Dapper, a catcher who played in nine games, with 19 plate appearances, for the Dodgers early in the 1942 season, putting up a startling slash line of .471 BA/.526 OBP/.706 SLG/1.232 OPS. He never played in the majors again. In 1942 he was sent down to the minors after his brief stay with the big club, then spent three years in the Navy, and never got another chance in the major leagues.

By the way, if you don’t know why a post about Cliffs in history is appropriate today, you are a fortunate person.

Cliff P. Lee33.1
Cliff Floyd23.4
Cliff Melton15.2
Cliff Johnson14.4
Cliff Heathcote9.1
Cliff Carroll6.8
Cliff Chambers5.7
Cliff Pennington5.6
Cliff Bolton4.2
Cliff Curtis3.8
Cliff Fannin3.6
Cliff Politte3.3
Cliff W. Lee2.1
Cliff Mapes0.8
Cliff Young0.5
Cliff Dapper0.4
Cliff Markle0.4
Cliff Daringer0.2
Cliff Speck0.2
Cliff Ross0.1
Cliff Aberson0
Cliff Bartosh0
Cliff Brady0
Cliff Brantley-0.1
Cliff Knox-0.2
Cliff Garrison-0.4
Cliff Pastornicky-0.4
Cliff Blankenship-0.7
Cliff Brumbaugh-0.8
Cliff Cook-1.9

32 thoughts on “Biggest Cliffs

  1. 1
    no statistician but says:

    I don’t see the famous Cincinnati Cliff here, AKA The Big Red Dog.

    Actually, what’s surprising is the number of Cliffs who made it to the Bigs. It’s not, where I come from, a popular name or nickname at all. There’s material for a post, actually, for someone who knows his stuff—prevalence of names, first and last. What happened to Davis, for instance—it seemed like practically every team had a Davis in the Eighties.

    • 6

      I remember expecting multiple Davises in packs of cards in the late ’80s, nsb. Off the top of my head, there were Eric, Mark, Storm, Glenn… I want to say there were seven in one set. Today, it’s Ike and a bunch of memories. Seems the name went the way of mustaches and glasses, replaced by Molinas, Izturises, Matsuis, shaved heads, and football physiques.

    • 23
      bstar says:

      This fun website approximates there are just over 6,000 Cliffs alive in the US today. 1 in less than 12,500 people are named Cliff. The popularity of Cliff seems to have been at its height in the 1880s and has completely bottomed out since around 1985.

      • 25
        Hartvig says:

        Great site bstar-

        Amazingly enough it appears that my given name Hal (Hartvig is my nom du internet) was actually more popular that Cliff, peaking right around the time of my birth at 0.0003, Cliff never exceeded 0.0002. But like Cliff, Hal flatlined about 1975 with nary a blip on the radar since that time.

  2. 2
    deal says:

    I recently came up this Fiscal Cliff All Star Team. There may be a better Cliff team out there if somebody knows more old timers. I had to move around some of the IFs to secondary position to fill out a decent team – Happy to get an HoF on there and would think Cliff Lee is the anchor of the team. Also glad to see Heathcliff Slocumb make an appearance

    C Cliff Blankenship
    1B Cliff Floyd
    2B Cliff Pennington
    SS Clifford Nolen Richardson
    3B Cliff Pastornicky
    LF Fred Clifford Clarke (Pirates HoF)
    CF Xavier Clifford Nady
    RF Clifford Carlton Gavvy Cravath
    DH Cliff Johnson

    LHP Clff Lee
    RHP Cliff Brantley
    CL HeathCliff Slocumb

    Happy New Years All!

  3. 3
    birtelcom says:

    The Social Security Administration reports that “Clifford” was only the 922nd most popular name for boy babies in 2005. But it was in the top 100 for most of the first half of the 20th century and in the top 200 as late as 1975.

    • 19
      MikeD says:

      Not that it matters, but your post got me to thinking about people named Cliff I’ve known in my life. After giving it long and serious thought (well, not too serious), I’ve never met anyone named Cliff.

      • 32
        Bells says:

        I have one friend named Cliff, and his last name is Lee. He’s a baseball fan, and it was quite a stir when his namesake came through the ranks to become a star.

  4. 4
    Richard Chester says:

    It looks like Chambers is the only Cliff to pitch a no-hitter (5-6-51) and Johnson is the only one to hit 3 HR in a game (6-30-77).

    And of course Cliff Mapes was the last Yankee to wear uniform #3 and the last to wear #7 until Mickey Mantle.

  5. 5
    John Autin says:

    I hope you won’t mind my plunge off the Cliff….

    I’d forgotten that the current SS Pennington was named Cliff — somehow he was “Chad” in my mind. (Must be the NYJ QB maelstrom has me addled.) Anyway, there was another Pennington in the majors for a moment almost a century ago. Check it out:

    Kewpie Pennington!

    Pitched one inning for the 1917 Browns:

    … closing out a game they lost, 11-0, as Chicago’s Eddie Cicotte fashioned a no-hitter on the year’s first Saturday.

    Kewpie — real name George, presumably dubbed for his 5′ 8″ stature — allowed no runs and one hit. He was but 20 years old. Why did he never pitch again?

    B-R Bullpen has no answer, but notes: “Pennington had previously been given a tryout by the Washington Senators at the tender age of 14.”

    His minor-league career suggests big-league talent. In 1917, he led the Newark Bears with a 2.28 ERA, 3rd in the International League. He missed most of 1918-19, but resumed full-time duty in the Eastern League in 1920-21, posting sub-2 ERAs, best in the league one year and #2 the other. One of his teammates on the 1921 Hartford Senators was a stripling by the name of Lou Gehrig.

    But even though Pennington was just 24 then, no further MLB chance was to come. He played 2 more years in the E.L., with diminishing returns, then apparently “retired” to the insurance biz. (Some sources say he pitched in the Texas League at some point, but that’s not shown on B-R.)

    Can’t find much more on Kewpie Pennington — SABR has but four sentences from a newspaper roundup when he was 17. His 1953 obituary in the New York Times confirms the Senators tryout: “At the age of 14, Mr. Pennington became one of the youngest players ever to receive a big league tryout, which was given to him by Clark Griffith of the Washington Senators.”

    Any leads?

    And now a no-no P.S. to this tangent: Cicotte’s no-hitter (for CHW over SLB) was one of 5 in the majors in 1917. Another was Fred Toney over Hippo Vaughn, the famous “double-no-hitter.” And two others came on consecutive days (May 5 and 6), by Brownies against the White Sox. The first was by Ernie Koob against Cicotte (who allowed one unearned run, on an error by Swede Risberg). The next one (in the 2nd game of a doubleheader, so *not* consecutive games) was by Bob Groom over Joe Benz.

    Bob Groom went 8-19 that year, leading the AL in losses just as he’d done as a rookie in 1909 (7-26) and in the 1914 Federal League.

    Joe Benz, whom I’d never heard of, pitched over 1,300 innings from 1911-19, all for the ChiSox, with a 2.43 ERA, and no year above 2.90.

    • 12
      Voomo Zanzibar says:

      5’8″ was hardly short enough in 1917 to warrant a nickname

      The average height of more than 1 million United States soldiers in 1917 1918 was 67.5 inches. This low overall average probably was due to the larger number of “new” Americans immigrants or first-generation Americans. The shortest men came from the New England and Middle Atlantic States, where many of the newest immigrants had settled. Average heights of the men in those States were 66.4 to 67.3 inches.

      Men from the mountain sections of North Carolina averaged 68.7 inches and from the Ozark region, 68.6 inches. Nearly all of them were from “old” American families, and were about an inch taller than the “old” Americans of 50 years before.

      About 100 thousand Army recruits in 1943 had an average height of 68.1 inches; 85 thousand recruits in 1946 averaged 68.4 inches. Smaller special groups of men in the Armed Forces measured in 1946-1953 averaged 68.4 to 70.2 inches.

  6. 7
    John Autin says:

    It’s too bad this guy never made the big leagues:

  7. 9
    Voomo Zanzibar says:

    I’d bet that the guy named after his former Marine father, who grew to be 6’5″, 220, never got beat up in 4th grade.

  8. 14
    Voomo Zanzibar says:

    Cliff Melton won 20 games at AA in 1936, and………. 20 games as a rookie in 1937 (with 7 saves).

    For some reason he was done in the Bigs after 1944.
    No record of him in 1945.
    But then he took his big arm and Mickey ears to the PCL.

    From 1946-1948 he won 50 games for the Lefty O’Doul manageD Seals.

  9. 15
    Hartvig says:

    While my familiarity with the ten Cliff’s in question vary from “not at all” (Curtis,Carroll) to “very” (Lee,Floyd) they do all share one thing in common that another Cliff would appreciate and that is: “Who are ten people who have never been in my kitchen.”

    It does appear that the aforementioned Cliff Curtis must rank as one of the more unlucky players of all time- in spite of a career ERA+ of 100 and at least moderately respectable peripherals for his era he only managed a record of 28 and 61 which is significantly worse than most of the teams he was playing on.

  10. 16
    Doug says:

    Other Cliffords known by other names. With career WAR.

    Fred Clarke (64.2), Gavvy Cravath (31), Earl Torgeson (29.9), Connie Johnson (8.1), Bill Bevens (5.6), Johnny Watwood (2.9), Pat Crawford (1.1), Ray Phelps (0.9), Jo-Jo White (0.4), Nolen Richardson (-0.5)

    • 17
      Hartvig says:

      Got my Jo-Jo’s temporarily confused when I read your post Doug because I was certain that the Jo-Jo I was thinking of had to have Moore of a WAR than 0.4 and it turned out that I was White.. I mean right about that of which I was wrong about.

  11. 18
    e pluribus munu says:

    I wonder whether some of us began the evening’s celebration early – the leap from the cliff to the kewpie (itself an auld acquaintance I’d long forgot) is a pretty staggering one, but I’ve learned never to expect the ordinary from JA or Voomo. No matter – it seems we’re all going over the cliff together, regardless. Happy New Year on the way down . . . !

  12. 20
    MikeD says:

    Anxiously awaiting a post on ballplayers named or known as Fiscal.

    I suppose there’s always this. I’d take it if his first name was Cliff.

  13. 22
    Mike L says:

    Birtelcom, the link between baseball and politics cannot be denied.

  14. 24
    bstar says:

    HAPPY NEW YEAR to all in the extended HHS community, including all the lurkers out there who read but rarely comment.

  15. 29
    PP says:

    I’d be happy to pay 39.6% taxes on Fiscal Cliff Lee’s contract.

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