The name of Sisler is renowned in the game of baseball. The man who made it so was George Sisler, a slickfielding, sweet-swinging first baseman who experienced his heyday during the 1920s with the then St. Louis Browns.
How good was Sisler? Saying he was great might be doing him a disservice. Sisler was both spectacular and historic. He was enshrined in the baseball Hall of Fame in 1939 and is universally acknowledged to be among the top 40 players of all-time.
As a hitter, he was simply lights out. He was one of the American League’s most feared batsman. His staggering numbers reflected an awesome ability to swing the lumber. Over the course of his 15-year career, the sublime Sisler averaged a remarkable .340, hit .352 or better five times, and twice topped the magical .400 plateau (.407 in 1920, .420 in 1922).
Two times he paced the AL in average, hits and triples. In fact, his mindboggling number of 257 hits in ’20 remained a major league record for an astonishing 84 years until Seattle’s nonpareil Ichiro Suzuki slapped and slashed his way to a total of 262.
Simply put, Sisler was a master of the stroke. The man knew how to rake.
Today, there’s another Sisler who’s following in his great-great-grandfather’s footsteps. And like his accomplished distant relative, Clayton Sisler knows a thing or two about making contact. The kid can produce some fireworks of his own at the plate. And the main beneficiary of Sisler’s educated stick is a Valley Center High squad that after winning the 3A Division in the recent Lions Baseball Tournament, appears primed and ready to make some real noise once league competition commences.
The fact that Sisler’s bat is scorching to the tune of .477 through 13 games comes as a surprise to no one. He has long been a proven commodity. Already a three-time first-team Valley League selection, Clay has been wreaking havoc ever since his freshman year when he produced a cool .346 average. Last season as a junior, Sisler continued his assault on opposing pitchers. The athletic, 6’3”, 185-pounder went into a beast mode of sorts, rapping out 35 hits, scoring 24 runs and producing a smoking .389 BA.
But all the splendid work that Clay has done before seems to have been merely a prelude for what, thus far, has been a stellar senior season that offers the promise of turning into something truly special. In addition to his hefty average mentioned above, Clay has already banged out 21 base knocks and six doubles. His sheer dominance is reflected by the fact that he leads the Jaguars in plate appearances, at bats, hits, two-baggers and ranks second in average and runs scored. Already, in a season that hasn’t quite yet reached the meat of the schedule, the gifted youngster has thrice had games of three hits and delivered five more with two raps. Multiple-hit games have almost become second nature to him.
So what makes Sisler such a dangerous stick that would cause even his celebrated ancestor to sit up and take notice? Let us count the ways. To begin with, he has a nice set-up because he’s squared to the plate. His hands, arms and shoulders are positioned in textbook fashion and a subtle waggle acts as his trigger mechanism. He takes but a modest step before uncoiling his swing which is short, sweet and compact, with the bat whipping through the zone on a flat and level plane. In baseball vernacular, he would be considered to be quick to the ball. Techniquewise, he has a swing with seemingly no holes.
Sisler is an equal opportunity hitter, spraying and driving the ball to all fields. In his own words, “I like to use the whole field.” He possesses bona fide gap-to-gap power and is a legitimate home run threat, though he has yet to hit a big fly this season. But, as he notes, “I’ve come close a few times, I’m getting there.” Indeed, he’s already narrowly missed on a couple of roundtrippers by the merest of inches.
Sisler is mature beyond his years when it comes to patience and plate discipline. It’s hard to get him to chase and if pitchers try to get him to reach, it usually backfires. Clay is more than content to take a walk and rarely does he go fishing for something that has him off-balance.
Though he mashes the fastball, Sisler can readily adjust and pound away on other pitches as well. In short, he’s one tough out. He explains his hitting approach in a very rudimentary and straightforward way. “My goal is to be very aggressive in the strike zone and simply put the ball in play,” he informs.
Like his illustrious predecessor, Clay is also a plus defender. A centerfielder blessed with plenty of speed, Sisler can cover lots of ground, chewing up huge chunks of real estate. He can go get it with the best of them and on that rare occasion when he doesn’t get the best of jumps, his ability to motor big-time allows him to quickly recover and track down just about any ball within his area code.
He’s also the owner of a potent and strong arm. Baserunners are taking a substantial risk should they choose to test his notable gun.
And speaking of Sisler’s arm, he’s put that to good use on the mound as well. Since joining the Jaguar varsity as a frosh, Clay has been a factor on the hill, either as a starter or backend reliever. His most productive season came as a sophomore when he won four games, sported a nifty 1.47 earned run average and fanned 54 batters in 57 innings.
Last season Sisler dealt with an elbow issue that greatly affected his effectiveness but now, with his health restored, he seems close to rounding back into form. Thus far, he’s made two starts and the results have been encouraging. “I’m getting back to where I should be,” he shares.
What pitching role Sisler will occupy going forward remains to be seen. That will be determined by head coach Ron Sisler, who happens to be Clay’s father. Armed with a tight, over-the-top motion that allows him to generate lots of velocity and uncork a fastball that can max out at 88 mph, Sisler can be a real weapon when toeing the slab. The elder Sisler may use his son as one of three frontline Jag starters and or could employ him as a late-inning reliever or closer. In any capacity, Clay should be a factor.
So the kid can hit, throw and pitch. He can also run like the wind which makes him a menace on the bases. A genuine stolen base threat, Clay looks to run whenever the opportunity presents itself. “In certain situations, I’ve pretty much got the green light to go,” he explains as his eyes light up.
Because of the way he carries himself, his on-field performance and his easygoing demeanor, Sisler has emerged as true team leader. But he leads more through actions than words. “I’m not a super vocal guy,” he admits, “I just try to motivate the guys by playing my game.”
Sisler engenders deep respect among his teammates because he’s a tenacious worker, often the first at practice and the last to leave. Taking additional batting practice at 6 a.m. isn’t at all an uncommon occurrence for him. Clay loves the game and relishes the commitment required to become a standout. Paying the price has never deterred him.
With Clay as their ringleader, the Jags are expected to challenge for a Valley League title and make a deep run in the postseason. Coach Sisler feels this is the second best team he’s had at VCHS and with a club loaded with 14 upperclassmen and players growing comfortable in their respective roles, the potential for a memorable season is there. “We’re definitely a contender,” predicts Clay.
Once he moves on from Valley Center, Clay’s next stop will be Provo, Utah where he’ll take his talents to play for BYU. Recruited as both a position player and pitcher, Sisler is looking forward to making an impact with the Cougars and enhancing and refining his game even more. And the situation couldn’t be more ideal. Clay will be playing for a relatively new and promising coaching staff headed by Mike Littlewood, who just so happened to have played with his dad Ron in college. As Clay says of his new destination, “A great school and a chance to be part of a great team.”
What Clayton Sisler has done, what he’s accomplished on the diamond has certainly been noteworthy. He’s not only measured up to an esteemed baseball name, he’s honored it. Somehow you get the sense that if George Sisler is looking down, he’s feeling mighty proud.