Jack ClarkApril 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.)