It's hard to say whether it was a hunch or desperation that prompted Red Sox Manager Steve O'Neill to pencil the name Clyde Vollmer into the seventh spot of his July 4, 1951 lineup. In six previous big-league seasons, Vollmer, a muscular, moonfaced Dutchman from Cincinnati, had proven himself nothing more than a journeyman outfielder. He is vaguely remembered by a couple of Red Sox teammates as a "nice guy." "Clyde was a loner. He seemed to like being off by himself sipping a beer," recalls All-Star Second Baseman Bobby Doerr. "He wasn't like me. He didn't say much," adds big Walt Dropo. Neither Doerr nor Dropo can explain "Clyde's July." Vollmer can't either.
Vollmer made his big-league debut in 1942 with the Reds. Though at 6'1", 185 pounds he had the look of a slugger, he had hit only 23 homers by the time he joined the Red Sox in early 1950, and he seemed to have as much chance of becoming a hero as Ted Williams had of being elected Mr. Congeniality by the Boston press. But during July 1951, Vollmer earned the nickname Circuit Clyde in recognition of his suddenly acquired talent for hitting dramatic home runs.
In a span of 26 games beginning on Independence Day, Vollmer hit 13 homers, one triple, four doubles and 13 singles for a remarkable .731 slugging average. He knocked in 40 runs and scored 25 to account for 40% of his team's run production for the month.
The 1951 race was a four-team affair involving Boston, Cleveland, Chicago and the defending World Champion Yankees. In the opener of the July 4 doubleheader at Philadelphia, Vollmer contributed a home run in the Red Sox' 9-0 win, and he singled in the nightcap as Boston completed a sweep to move to within 2½ games of the league-leading White Sox. The next day Vollmer doubled and scored as the Red Sox won 8-3 and narrowed the gap to two games.
Then in the opener of a crucial three-game series against the Yankees on July 6, he socked a two-run triple off Eddie Lopat to spark a 6-2 Boston win. The following day, Vollmer hit a first-inning grand-slam home run off Allie Reynolds, and Boston breezed to a 10-4 win to tie the Yankees for second place and remain a game behind the White Sox. During the series finale, his eighth-inning homer off Vic Raschi gave Boston a 4-3 lead. The Red Sox went on to win 6-3 and move ahead of the Yankees, a game back of Chicago.
If the White Sox thought the three-day All-Star break would have a cooling effect on Vollmer's bat, they were in for a jolt when the "Battle of the Soxes" began on July 12 in Chicago. In the seventh inning of the first game of a twinight doubleheader, Vollmer hit a two-run homer to give Boston the lead. The Red Sox went on to win 3-2 and tie for first place. In the second game, Vollmer's long fly in the top of the 17th knocked in the deciding run in a 5-4 victory, Boston's eighth straight. It gave the Red Sox sole possession of first place.
The White Sox halted the Boston streak the next night in 19 innings, but they could not stop Vollmer. In the top of the 19th, he singled home the go-ahead run, but Chicago battled back to win 5-4. The next day, Boston trailed 2-1 in the ninth when Vollmer came through with a clutch single to win the game 3-2. It was the sixth time in seven games that he had delivered the game-winning hit.
Vollmer singled in each of the four games on July 15. 16 and 17 to run his streak to 14, but the Red Sox lost three times and fell back into a tie for the lead with Chicago.
He regained his home-run stroke on July 18 in Cleveland, when he started a three-run fifth inning with his sixth homer of the month. In the next inning, Vollmer walked and scored the decisive run in the 4-3 Boston win that put the Red Sox a game ahead once again.
Vollmer's consecutive hitting streak reached 16 the following night. In the second inning, he smacked a two-run homer off Early Wynn to stake Boston to an early lead. In the 11th, he socked his second home run of the game to again put the Red Sox in front, but the Indians bounced back to win 5-4. Tiger Pitcher Marlin Stuart stopped Vollmer's streak the following day when he beat the Red Sox 6-1, but the next afternoon against Virgil Trucks, Vollmer connected for a two-run homer in the second and doubled home Billy Goodman in the fourth to clinch a 6-3 Red Sox win. On July 22, Detroit held Vollmer hitless; still he managed to knock in a run as the Red Sox staggered to a 10-9 victory. Meanwhile in St. Louis, the Yanks were sweeping a doubleheader to tie Boston for first place.
Vollmer's two most powerful performances came on July 26 and 28, when he was a one-man gang in games with the White Sox and Indians. In the first inning against Chicago, he clouted his 15th home run; in the fifth, he hit his 16th; and in the sixth, he blasted his 17th—and 12th of the month—to break a 10-10 tie and win the game for Boston.
Vollmer reached his peak on July 28 against Cleveland. With the Indians leading 3-2 in the bottom of the 15th, he came through with a single to pull the Red Sox even. In the 16th, with Cleveland again a run ahead, Boston battled back to load the bases for Vollmer. Indian Manager Al Lopez made a frantic call to the Cleveland bullpen and in came Bob Feller for a rare relief appearance. Feller needed just two pitches to end the game: the first was a ball and the second went sailing out of Fenway Park for Circuit Clyde's second grand slam of the month.
A crowd of 33,000 came out on July 29 to see if Vollmer could do it again. Eight times in 21 days his bat had bailed Boston out. As the game came down to the Red Sox' last turn at bat with Boston trailing 5-4, he had the chance to do it once more. Goodman reached first on an error and Vollmer stepped into the batter's box. This time Lopez stayed with his starter, Mike Garcia, who threw three pitches, all of them swinging strikes, and Clyde's July was over.
Never in an entire season would Vollmer match his July 1951 home-run total of 13. Although he had boosted his average 20 points during the month, he ended the season hitting .251, which turned out to be his lifetime average. In early 1953, the Red Sox shipped Vollmer to Washington. As a Boston executive said, "We just didn't have a place to play him with Williams in left. The other two outfield spots were too tough for his limited abilities."
Vollmer closed out his big-league career after the 1954 season and went home to Cincinnati. He had hit only two home runs that year.