Brevard's 'Rabbit Joe' Clayton
Last updated 6/15/2020 at 12:24pm
I was intrigued by an item in a recent issue of The Times excerpted from the June 14, 1928, BrevardNews. It noted that Joe Clayton of Brevard was embarking on a professional baseball career.
I did some research on Joe Clayton and found that he was a born in Brevard in 1903. He was a standout ballplayer at Wake Forest and was discovered there in 1926 by a Chattanooga Lookouts scout who got Clayton’s commitment to play for Chattanooga, a team in the high minor leagues, when he finished school. The Feb. 8, 1928, Chattanooga Daily Times reported the arrival of his signed contract and described “Rabbit Joe” as a “wonderful infield prospect, fast, smart, and afraid of nobody’s flying spikes.”
On June 21, 1928, the Chattanooga News profiled Clayton, noting that he got the “Rabbit” nickname in college. With obvious pride in the hometown team, the article called Clayton “sensational looking” and “the greatest looking prospect that ever put a foot on a Southern league diamond.”
As Chattanooga’s shortstop, Clayton hit a pedestrian .241 in 96 games in 1928. In January 1929, the Lookouts sold his contract to the Birmingham Barons, another Southern Association team. Clayton apparently chose not to report because the Baseball-Reference website, the gold standard for baseball history research, doesn’t show him on the 1929 or any subsequent Birmingham roster. Clayton never played or managed in the major leagues.
Clayton went into sales and hotel management after baseball, working at locations as far-flung as Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and Mackinac Island, Mich. He died at age 88 on Sept. 8, 1991, in an Asheville hospital. After a service at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church co-officiated by his son Rev. Joseph A. Clayton, he was interred in the Gillespie-Evergreen Cemetery in Brevard.
(Zerby is a member of SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, and writes for the SABR Biography and Games Projects. He is currently working on a SABR biography of Gil Coan. In 1945 Coan, playing for Chattanooga, was named Minor League Player of the Year by The Sporting News.)