Jack Clark

April 15, 2008

Jack Clark, the last of a series of talented young outfielders that passed through the Giants outfield in the 1970s in the wake of Willie Mays, is shown here as a young wax figure with a face bearing an eerie similarity to the Wicked Witch of the West. Before Clark, the Giants had been unable to win in the post-Mays era despite the burgeoning talents of Bobby Bonds, Ken Henderson, George Foster, Garry Maddox, Gary Matthews, and Dave Kingman. With Clark, they still couldn’t break through and win the division, and eventually they gave up and traded him to the Cardinals for David Green, Gary Rajsich, Dave LaPoint, and Jose Uribe. While these four nondescript professionals did little to dissipate the Giants’ long post-Mays fog, Clark promptly led the Cardinals to two National League pennants in three years, his ability to hit for power in cavernous Busch Stadium earning him a reputation as one of the most fearsome sluggers in the league.

He cashed in on this reputation by signing a lucrative free agent deal with the Yankees before the 1988 season. He hit 27 home runs and drew 113 walks for New York that year, but the Yankees, perhaps unwisely choosing to focus on his .242 batting average instead of his power and .381 on-base percentage, shuttled him to San Diego along with Pat Clements for the unimpressive package of Lance McCullers, Jimmy Jones, and Stan Jefferson. 

A couple years later, after continuing his usual late-career pattern of walking a lot, hitting for power, and missing significant chunks of the season due to injury, Jack Clark came to the Red Sox. He was 35 years old by this time and ready to settle into a role in which he could throw away his fielders gloves and laze around on the bench between at-bats. The Red Sox were coming off a season in which they won the division despite lacking a premier power hitter, and Clark’s arrival sparked skyrocketing preseason hopes. He had been injured a lot of late, sure, but this season (so went the thinking) was going to be different, and by staying healthy all year and having the Green Monster as an ally he’d surely blast 40 home runs and amass 140 RBI as the Red Sox rode his broad shoulders all the way to a long-awaited World Series win.

That kind of desperate, ridiculous hope was part of the culture of Red Sox fandom back then. I know I bought into it. I thought Jack Clark was going to be The Man.

It didn’t work out that way. It never does. I should know. At that time I was in my early twenties and I applied this kind of straining, suffocating hope to every facet of my life. Every sentence I wrote was going to be the one that sprung open the gates of some as yet undiscovered genius. Every woman who so much as inadvertently brushed against me on the subway or accidentally glanced my way while standing at the bar and ordering drinks was going to be the one to banish my solitude and grace some new redeemed life with undying love. It had a way, this constant grasping for miracles, of saturating the world with disappointment.


(Love versus Hate update: Jack Clark’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)


  1. 1.  That one final trade to put together a championship team – haven’t they all tried that!

    The Orioles famous trade was obtaining Glenn Davis in exchange for Steve Finley, Curt Schilling and Pete Harnisch.

    Let’s see how that worked out. Career numbers after the trade:

    Glenn Davis 185 games, 170 hits, 24 HRs, 85 RBI, 83 runs, 3 seasons

    Steve Finley 2360 games, 2375 hits, 299 HRs, 1105 RBI, 1363 runs, 17 seasons

    Curt Schilling 431 starts, 215 wins, 3192 innings, 3074 K, 3 20-win seasons, 17+ seasons

    Pete Harnisch 268 starts, 95 wins, 1654 innings, 1166 K, 11 seasons

    And of course,
    number of Orioles 20 game winnners since 1990 – 0
    number of World Series appearances since 1990 – 0

  2. 2.  1 : Ouch. Clark came to the Red Sox as a free agent, so even though it didn’t work out as they’d hoped the Red Sox didn’t have to cringe at the after-effects for years to come. The Glenn Davis deal you mention is like a polar opposite of the Clark to Cardinals deal, in which The One Big Guy, Clark, actually worked wonders while the guys he was traded for never amounted to a whole lot.

    If it makes you feel better, the Astros also pummeled the Red Sox in a trade around that time (Bagwell for Larry Andersen). For that matter, the Orioles also scored a pretty good one off the Sox by swapping Mike Boddicker for Brady Anderson and Schilling.

  3. 3.  Jack Clark was going to be The Man for the Sox the same way the aforementioned Richie Hebner (less plausibly) was going to be The Man for The Mets.

    The Yankees’ trade of Clark was one in a string of puzzling moves they made on the way to the bottom of the AL.

  4. 4.  3 : I wonder if fans from every team have a story about the Messiah That Wasn’t.

    Also, another Jack Clark-inspired question on my mind: Can anyone think of an organization that produced more top notch outfielders in a short period of time than the Giants in the 1970s?

    The Red Sox did pretty well that decade with Rice, Lynn, and Dewey, but the Giants beat them on sheer numbers.

  5. 5.  For a while there, the Sox brought in aging sluggers. Clark, Deer, Larry Parrish. Brunansky. All part of a long line that went from Bob Bailey or even Orlando Cepeda to Mike Stanley.

    Baseball made Clark rich but, if memory serves, he spent alot of money on collecting cars. Then he wasted the rest.

  6. 6.  How about Ellis Valentine coming to the Mets for Jeff Reardon and Dan Norman in May of 1981. As I remember it, Ellis was going to be the center piece of a Mets lineup that scared no one at the time, led by Dave Kingman and Lee Mazzilli. Of course, Ellis then proceeded to hit .206 for the Mets in 81 and was dumped by them after the 82 season.

    I think the Mets must have forgotten about Ellis losing his plate nerve after getting hit in the face with a pitch in 1980. Never was the same after that, power wise, at least. As I also remember, that is about the time he started wearing a football style facemask attached to his batting helmet, sort of an odd looking thing, much like a QB would wear, to protect his face of another errant pitch.

    Jeff Reardon, I think we all have heard of him and his 367 career saves, 349 of them coming after leaving the Mets in that trade.

  7. 7.  5 : Yes, and any discussion of right-handed power hitters brought in via dubious moves to aim at the Monster must include Danny Cater.

    6 : I think I mentioned this before somewhere, but I distinctly recall a subway ad for the Mets in the West 4th Street station in the early ’80s that featured Valentine, Foster, and Kingman and proclaimed something like “The Power Is On!”

  8. 8.  I just came across your site and love it. Many fond memories for me. The 1978 set was the first one I collected as a 10 year old and completed it during the 1979 season while trading the new cards for prior years. I was so into the set I had every players card memorized. If you gave me a name I could tell you the pose or head shot on the card.

    Jack the Ripper was one of my favorites as well. I loved the violence to his swing.

  9. 9.  8 : Hey Mark, welcome aboard. Did you ever play the “Play Ball” game (see link at the end of the above post) on the back of the ’78 cards?

  10. 10.  If only Jack Clark had done the “I’m melting” routine when Tommy Lasorda decided to pitch to him.

    L.A. Dodger failed slugger messiahs: Dick Allen, Frank Robinson, the Darryl Strawberry/ Eric Davis combo. But Jimmy Wynn worked out well for one year, Reggie Smith for several, Dusty Baker – to some extent – after his first miserable year, Gary Sheffield, Shawn Green – until his shoulders died.

  11. 11.  Boston Red Sox

    1909 – Tris Speaker

    1910 – Harry Hooper
    Duffy Lewis

    1916 – Tilly Walker

    1919 – some guy named Ruth who didn’t want to pitch anymore

    That might not match the quantity of the Giants, but for the sheer quality and the numbers they put up, I’ll take this group any day.

  12. 12.  Oh Man. Jack Clark. He was gonna be the savior. Sends shivers man. All is forgiven. Let’s get that guy to throw out a first pitch!

  13. 13.  11 : Nice call. Unlike the Giants guys that gang ended up with a lot of jewelry. (Although I guess Foster and Maddox got rings after leaving the Giants.)

    Along those lines, the Yankees probably have a similar stretch somewhere, maybe a Henrich/Keller/Dimaggio/Bauer type thing (too lazy to check into that).

  14. 14.  Gotta disagree with you, Josh. That’s not the Wicked Witch of the West; that’s Kelly Leak. I guess the Giants called him up from the California Bears for the ’78 season.

  15. 15.  Every woman who so much as inadvertently brushed against me on the subway or accidentally glanced my way while standing at the bar and ordering drinks was going to be the one to banish my solitude and grace some new redeemed life with undying love. It had a way, this constant grasping for miracles, of saturating the world with disappointment.

    Isn’t that what life is like in your early 20’s, though? Stumbling through women, bad, good, and mostly wrong, until you come in contact with someone who vaguely fits your hopelessly unrealistic ideals of love? Eventually she breaks your heart, and you realize what you wanted was too much, that her virtues were in reality vices when turned 180 degrees. Love is blind, but maybe the blinders come off — any article of clothing worn on the head will do that when you’re hit in the back of the head with a baseball bat.

  16. 16.  14 : You know, I also got that Kelly Leak association at some point while studying this card. Maybe Clark is a combination of the two…



    15 : Nicely said.

  17. 17.  By 1973 the Red Sox had the following OF’s in their system.

    Name – Seasons Played, Age in 1973
    Yaz – 23 seasons – 33 yrs old
    Reggie Smith – 17 seasons – 28 yrs old
    Dewey – 20 seasons – 21 yrs old
    Rice – 16 seasons – 20 yrs old
    Lynn – 17 seasons – 21 yrs old
    Oglivie – 16 seasons – 24 yrs old
    Beniquez – 17 seasons – 23 yrs old
    Rick Miller – 15 seasons – 25 yrs old

    And if there were a god, Tony C was only 28 yrs old.

    Since the golden age of Red Sox Of’s, I can only think of Greenwell and Trot Nixon have had relatively productive careers and Greenwell only played 12 years and Trot looks like he may done at 11 years.

    The 1973 Giants were loaded at the same time, Matthews, Maddox, Bonds, Kingman but not to the depth of the Red Sox.

  18. 18.  17. Also, every Red Sox on that list either was an All Star or a Gold Glove Winner. Only Rice and Oglivie didn’t win the Gold Glove, but the both could hit and didn’t hurt you in the field.

  19. 19.  17 , 18 : Yeah, tough to beat that collection of talent. That’s my era, my team, and yet I spaced on Oglivie and downplayed in my own mind Miller and, especially, Beniquez. (In my own mind I arbitrarily assigned Smith and Yaz to an earlier era.) I remember now that Beniquez won a gold glove but I’m really surprised he lasted 17 seasons.

  20. 20.  Beautifully written, as per always. Angell was writing about another era, but his phrase about “the proper, Bostonian way to score a run was two triples off the top of the wall” applied here too. Remember Matt Young and the no hitter he lost 4-0? Danny Darwin?

    That was truly a golden era. I have found myself looking back fondly on this period, throwing myself so deeply into music, and art, and when I found out high school girls were attracted to college guys…ah, bliss.

  21. 21.  5 Don’t forget Andre Dawson. The Sox brought him in too after they jettisoned Clark.

    Another guy they brought in who was supposed to turn them around was Frank Viola.
    As I recall, he had two decent years and blew out his arm.

    The first big-league game I ever saw was Frank Viola’s first win as a Red Sox.
    There wouldn’t be that many.

    Remarkable to compare where that ballclub is now to where it was 15 years ago.

  22. 22.  4 and 11 Even the Expos did that twice: Mark Langston and Bartolo Colon.

    Langston was obtained in May 1989 from the Seattle Mariners (with a PTBNL that became Mike Campbell) in exchange for Randy Johnson, Brian Holman and Gene Harris.

    Colon was obtained in June 2002 from the Clevelan Indians in exchange for (ouch!) Lee Stevens, Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore.

    Thanks to RetroSheet and Baseball Reference.

  23. 23.  Strawberry and Davis were going to lead my Dodgers to the promised land. It also seemed during the 80’s the the Dodgers had a young slugger coming up through the minors every year who was going to be the next Reggie Jackson. Greg Brock, Mike Marshall, Franklin Stubbs, Billy Ashley, Karim Garcia, Henry Rodriguez. What a bunch heart-breakers.

  24. 24.  “…the Yankees, perhaps unwisely choosing to focus on his .242 batting average instead of his power and .381 on-base percentage, shuttled him to San Diego…”

    It’s a little more complicated than that.

    The Clark signing was a classic 1980’s Steinbrenner move. Whenever George saw a shiny new toy he had to have it, so he ended up signing free agents willy-nilly, whether they made any sense or not. Clark didn’t. The Yankees already had a first baseman who was better than Clark, and they had a pretty good outfield as well (Henderson, Winfield, Waschington).

    That left DH, and it turned out that Clark didn’t like being a DH. Actually, it turned out Clark didn’t like a lot of stuff. When he didn’t like being a full-time DH they started giving him some time in the OF and at 1B, but then he didn’t like not having a set role. They also brought in another pointless righty DH – Ken Phelps, in exchange for Jay Buhner (if you guys want to talk about bad trades).

    What it came down to, finally, was that Clark didn’t like being a Yankee, and he requested a trade before the season was over. Maybe they could have gotten more for him, but everybody’s unhappiness and mismanagement had made that unlikely.

    I was perfectly happy to see Clark leave. I thought he was a jerk, and I didn’t much care what they got for him as long as he was gone. And as bad trades go, the Yankees far surpassed that one in mid-1989: Rickey Henderson back to Oakland for Greg Cadaret, Eric Plunk and Luis Polonia (or, as I called him, “Polish Louie.”)

    But, believe it or not, Jack Clark has had a lasting influence on the Yankees – or, more precisely, on the Stadium. When they signed him, they tinkered with the left-field fences yet again. Opening Day, 1988, was the first time I saw the “399” sign in “Death Valley,” a sign I still consider insulting. Since the new Stadium will retain the currstn dimensions, Jack Clark is immortalized as a Yankee.

  25. 25.  24 “currstn?” Make that “current.”

  26. 26.  20 , 21 : Boy, the names Darwin and Viola really bring back that half-assed era.

    22 : The Expos also deserve mention as an OF factory in the late-70s/early 80s with Cromartie, Dawson, Valentine, and Raines.

    23 : Karim Garcia was once thought a potential savior?!?!?

    24 : Much thanks for that great info about the background on Clark as a Yankee. Very interesting. (One small point: Phelps was a lefty, which of course is not to say that made it OK to have both him and the equally immobile Clark on the same roster.)

  27. 27.  26 Duh on Phelps. He was so useless it didn’t really matter, but I shouldn’t have missed something that obvious.

  28. 28.  When Clark played for the Giants, he did manage to give their fans a modicum of hope in 1978, the same year they got a pre-coked-out Vida Blue and the return of Willie McCovey. I was a Dodger fan living in Berkeley, but it was so easy to get a good seat in Candlestick I went to a lot of games that season. Clark hit the ball hard.

    That Giant team was full of religious people, led by Bob Knepper, who famously was (mis)quoted as saying a game-losing base hit he gave up was “God’s will.” Clark at one point declared he was a Christian. But then the next thing you know, there’s a picture of his johnson in Hustler. Does anyone else remember that?

  29. 29.  28 Google doesn’t come up with any relevant hits for “‘Jack Clark’ Hustler.” However, I did find this quote from Gary Lavelle: “Why is it that Jack Clark can find God but not the cuttoff man?”

  30. JL25and3: The Yanks didn’t move Death Valley in for Clark. They moved it in so they could embiggen Monument Park. Or at least so they claimed at the time:


  31. For all you lambasting the Yankees for trading Clark (my all-time favorite Yankee), they weren’t to blame. Clark asked to be traded to a west coast team. The trade that actually screwed everything up for them in 1988 was the Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps trade. That’s when Clark’s playing time and average started to dwindle. He had been on a 40 homer pace until some “genius” in the front office decided that they just had to have a left handed power hitter. Too bad he could only play DH or firstbase. That gave them Mattingly, Clark, and Phelps for 2 positions, even though Clark did offer to play some outfield. The diminished playing time was one of the things that pissed Clark off. Also, getting rid of Buhner for the useless Phelps has to go down as one of the all-time worst trades in Yankees history.

  32. Yeah, if memory serves, anger about the Buhner trade was the climax of the diatribe George Costanza loosed on George Steinbrenner on the occasion of the first meeting of the two Georges.

  33. Yes, and in another episode when Mr. Steinbrenner went to console George’s parents on his “death,” Mr. Constanza’s first words were asking about how could you trade Buhner for Phelps, noting that Buhner hit home runs and had a strong arm. Mr. Steinbrenner responded that his people kept saying “Ken Phelps! Ken Phelps!”

  34. Bostonantifan,

    There’s so much myth surrounding the Phelps-Buhner trade that it’s hard to remember what actually happened.

    Here’s a few points:

    *The late 80’s early 90’s was a rare weak period for the American League East so a team with 88 wins could win the division.

    *The Yankees won 85 games and bounced around from 1st-3rd for most of that year.

    *The trade was odd in a sense that the Yankees already had a good DH in Clark and a very good offensive team with Henderson, Mattingly, Winfield so why they would trade for Phelps when they were already solid at 1b/Dh is a real head-scratcher.

    *The weakness of the ’88 team was their starting pitching staff. It was a very old and broken-down starting staff of Tommy John-age-45, Ron Guidry-age37, Rick Rhoden-age35, John Candelaria-age34, and Richard Dotson-age29. Candeleria was the only productive pitcher on that team that year. What they really should have done was trade Buhner for a good starting pitcher.

    *Phelps gets a lot of crap but he did what he was supposed to do. He hit 10HR in 107 plate appearances, had a slugging percentage of .551, and had an ops+ of 147.

    *Clark had 18 home runs by July 4 but didn’t hit another HR until July 24. Phelps was traded on July 21, so Clark’s HR power started to diminish BEFORE Phelps arrived. That may have been part of the reason they traded for Phelps.

    *Clark’s playing time really didn’t diminish that much because of Phelps. He had a few more off days in August of that year but he played almost all of September while Phelps missed almost 2 weeks.

    *Clark ended up with 616 plate appearances in ’88 so again I don’t think it’s fair to say that Phelps cost him a lot of playing time. Clark still played at DH quite a bit that year.

    *Clark was hitting .246/.396/.463 at the time of the trade. He finished with a .241/.381/.433, not a drastic drop. I attribute the drop in slugging to fatigue probably in part from playing the outfield which he hadn’t played in about 4 years. So I would say that Phelps coming in and playing Dh may have cost Clark 2-3 hr.

    And to me the worst Yankee trade of the last 50 years was the Fred Mcgriff/Dave Collins trade for Dale Murray.

  35. Johnq11,
    I wasn’t referring to myth, I watched all 162 Yankees games that season. As for what happened to Clark, do a Google search on Jack Clark Yankees and read some of the 1988 articles that pop up with quotes from Clark himself. As for the McGriff trade being the worst trade, I will agree that Dale Murray was absolutely terrible, and McGriff turned out to be a very good player. The difference in the two trades is that when they traded McGriff, they already had Steve Balboni and Don Mattingly in the system, so they weren’t stripping themselves of something they couldn’t replace. When they blew the Phelps trade, they had no potential 40 home run gold glove quality outfielders to fill the void that Buhner’s departure created.

  36. I am a Dodger fan and can’t stand the guy for obvious reasons, but was in awe (and still am) of the time he hit the Moosehead beer sign past the Cask n Flagon. I am convinced that ball ended up on a truck going by on I-90 and ended up halfway across the country


  37. bostonantifan,

    Maybe “myth” wasn’t the best word to describe the Bhuner/Phelps trade and I wasn’t implying that you didn’t know what you were talking about.

    I should have said “hype” instead of “myth” and a lot of that hype came from that Seinfeld episode. There is some myth in the way Phelps is portrayed and the way Buhner was portrayed.

    The trade was a dumb trade because the Yankees were probably the strongest A.L. team in ’88 as far as 1b/dh goes so why they traded for another one is besides me. Maybe they wanted to platoon Clark/Phelps, who knows. They should have traded for a starting pitcher.

    The numbers I posted were from baseballreference.com. Phelps didn’t cost Clark a chance to hit 40hr, because like I said he only had 18 by the time of the trade on July 21. And Phelps like I said hit .551 slugging in 1988 so it wasn’t like he was the bum that he’s often portrayed as.

    The Mcgriff trade is clearly the worst Yankee trade of the last 50 odd years. Mcgriff ended up with 493 hr, same as Lou Gehirig and he is a boderline HOF player.

    Look the Bhuner trade was terrible. They got a 1b/dh in Phelps that was about 33 and essentially done for a young right fielder that would put up good numbers.

    Truth be told Bhuner’s kind of an overrated player. How he ever won a gold glove is mind-boggling because he was a horrible right fielder. He was a good power hitter but didn’t hit for average and was so-so as far as on-base percentage goes. Also, he played in a great hitter’s park during a very good hitting era.

  38. No offense taken. As for why they traded for Phelps, it was another of George’s impulsive deals. He wanted a lefthanded power hitter. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that Phelps power wasn’t to right field, but more to right-center & center, which made him totally useless in NY. As for your thoughts that they should have traded for pitching, I wholeheartedly agree. As for the McGriff trade, I’ll give you that it was one of the, if not the, most imbalanced trades in Yankees history, but I don’t believe it’s the worst. As I said before, they had Mattingly coming up, and he was no slouch. We’ll never know, but if he hadn’t injured his back at the end of the 80’s, I believe he would have had better numbers than McGriff and would be in the Hall of Fame by now. He was much better during his best years, though there were too few of them.

  39. George definitely had his players that he really liked and he would go after them like you said regardless of their age or who he gave up.

    Definitely at his peak Mattingly was a better player than Mcgriff. Mcgriff really should have been a DH anyway because he was a pretty horrible defensive 1b. Mcgriff would have been a good Dh to go with MAttingly, Henderson and Winfield.

    Phelps kind of gets knocked around like he was a bum, but he was actually a pretty good player. He has a career .374 on base percentage and a .480 career slugging percentage. The only problem was that the Yankees got him at the end of his career. He was traded to the A’s in ’89 and got a WS ring and then was out of baseball.

    What’s often left out of the Mcgriff trade is that Mike Morgan and Dave Collins were traded along with Mcgriff. Mike Morgan was pretty decent in the early 90’s and pitched until 2002. Collins was decent and played until 1990.

  40. As a forty year Mets fan, all this talk about Phelps, Buhner, and Clark brings back great memories of the period between ’82 and ’94 when the Yankees didn’t win a damn thing. I WANNA GO BACK!

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