McClendon was traded to Cincinnati as part of the package that brought Tom Seaver back to the Mets after the 1982 season, but he had to wait five years to make his major-league debut at the age of 28. McClendon’s first assignment with the Reds was as a backup catcher behind veteran Bo Diaz, but he lost the job when Jeff Reed was acquired from Montreal in July 1988.
That December McClendon was traded to Chicago, where he played a major role in the 1989 Cubs’ surprising NL East title. Filling in at first base, third base, catcher, and in the outfield, McClendon hit .300 with nine homers in his first three months with the club. It was during that season that McClendon decided his future was as a manager. Cubs manager Don Zimmer had inspired him, and as McClendon told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette a decade later, “I found out I wasn’t that good a player.”
Even so, McClendon still had some productive years ahead as a valuable right-handed bat off the bench. He caught on with Pittsburgh in 1990 and was a key contributor as the Pirates took two consecutive division titles, hitting .727 as the Pirates fell to Atlanta in the 1992 NLCS.
After his retirement in 1994, McClendon worked in the Pirates’ minor-league organization and became the hitting coach of the big-league club in 1996. Four years later, he was the surprise choice to replace Gene Lamont as the team’s manager.
Perhaps McClendon’s most memorable on-field moment came in 1971, when he socked five homers in five at-bats in the Little League World Series.