Over the years there have been some great players in the orange and black. This series will take a look at some San Francisco Giants that really are the definition of being a Good Giant. First up: Will Clark
Drafted in the first round (2nd pick overall behind B.J. Surhoff) of the 1985 draft , William Nuschler Clark was already a step ahead of most of the field. He hit .420 his senior season at Mississippi State, where he was an All-American and Golden Spikes Award winner and he is in the Mississippi State’s Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
He was also a star on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team, and hit .429 with 3 home runs and 8 runs driven in in 5 games.
Clark then played a mere 71 games in the minors before he stuck with the big club in 1986.
And boy did he make a statement.
Hitting a home run in your first at-bat is great. Doing it in the cavernous stadium known as the Astrodome is another thing. But launching a missile off of the legendary Nolan Ryan is something else altogether. His shot put everyone on notice; that this kid wouldn’t play like a rookie. He also homered his first game at Candlestick.
The “You Gotta Like These Kids” Giants were a different team than my dad grew up with. He had seen many years of “maybe next years”, all the way back to 1972. But the year after Clark arrived, the team was in the playoffs. It wasn’t just him, but he clearly held the torch when it counted.
Here are his tats during his tenure with the Giants:
.299 batting average in 1160 games. 687 runs scored, 1278 hits, 176 home runs, a .872 OPS, 5 All-Star games, 2 Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove.
He also won the NLCS MVP in 1989, with an amazing series versus the Chicago Cubs, when he hit .650 with 2 home runs including a grand slam onto the street behind Wrigley Field.
I was in middle school that year and remember bringing a Walkman to school on Monday October 9th, to listen to Game 5. (I ran the headset up my arm and rested my ear on my hand to listen.) Then in the bottom of the eighth inning, with the game tied at 1-1, Mitch Williams came in to face Clark with the bases loaded.
It was an improbable meeting to begin with as Ken Oberkfell and Jose Uribe had made the first two outs of the inning. But then starter Mike Bielecki walked Candy Maldonado, Brett Butler, and Robby Thompson to load the bases.
I remember listening to the at-bat start as the school day was about to end. I also knew that our science teacher was watching the game in his classroom.
It was a six pitch at bat, and Clark went down 0-2 right away. After the fourth pitch, a foul ball, the bell rang. I raced down the hallway, making my way to Mr. Keeble’s class, and got there as Clark stepped back into the box for the penultimate pitch. (He had fouled off another pitch while I was making my way to the classroom.)
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Known as the Wild Thing, Williams had harnessed his talent that year, and was an All-Star. He had the second most saves in the NL that year with 36 (only former Giant Mark Davis had more with 44). He was one of the most intimidating pitchers of that time. But Clark lived in the moment as he did so often.
The stage was set, Williams was on the rubber, Clark was in the box, and I was about to find out who my baseball idol was.
A 99 mph fastball, up, and out over the plate was lined to center field! Candlestick went absolutely berserk, and so did I, right there in my science class. And the love for baseball went so deep at that very moment, as did the love for the San Francisco Giants, it can never be washed away.
If you would like to relive the whole game, it is available on youtube here.
In 2006, Clark became eligible for the Hall-of-Fame. He received less than the 5% of the vote on that ballot, so he became ineligible to stay on for future ballots. Statistics were definitely inflated during that time (due to PED’s), but Clark’s stayed pretty much the same. Makes one wonder about how many more All-Star appearances he would have had with a cleaner sport.
Only the Veteran’s Committee has the ability to elect him now. Here’s hoping they look more closely at the statistics than the writers did.
Of course we are quick to deny entry to those that we see as cheating, but overlook the accomplishments by those that didn’t.
As far as offensive production, Clark was equal to, if not better than most of the great sluggers from the late eighties to the early nineties. Let’s take a look at a few comparisons, see if “The Thrill” should be in the Hall.
Player Years Played Hits Career BA Career HR Career RBI WAR Hall of Fame
Ryne Sandberg 16 2386 .285 282 1061 67.5 Y
Kirby Puckett 12 2304 .318 207 1085 50.9 Y
Will Clark 15 2176 .303 284 1205 56.2 N
Something doesn’t seem right here when one of these players doesn’t even get to a second ballot.
Clark left the Giants after the 1993 season. That was a tough pill to swallow, and was my first exposure to the business side of the game. Which I hate to this day.
He went on to play 5 seasons with the Texas Rangers, hitting .308 with 77 home runs, and 397 RBI’s. He then played two years in Baltimore, where he hit .302 in two years with the Orioles. He finished his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he hit .345 in 51 games, and having another amazing NLCS against the New York Mets. (.412 average in the 5 games)
As former Major Leaguer, and Bay Area native Eric Byrnes wrote back in 2013, maybe it’s enough to at very least see the Giants retire the number 22, for the sake of all of the fans who do see Clark as a Hall of Famer. (He was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2007)
If he had played a few more seasons, instead of putting his family first, he would have most likely made it impossible to keep him out. But that isn’t really what the honor is for. It is for consistent excellence, during your era. And that is precisely what Clark did.
He dominated during his time, and didn’t try to milk out a few more years to pad his stats. He said “I’m going to play hard until the fire is gone, and then go off into the sunset.”
Will Clark defined the mid-eighties into the nineties for San Francisco Giants baseball. Fans who bask in the sunlight that shines on the trophies at 24 Willie Mays Plaza, only do so because of the groundwork started by player like “The Thrill”.
There have been a great majority of fans who wish to see Clark with his signature 22 retired and hanging along with other greats such as Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. Maybe the groundswell of support will force the club to alter its rules. I am sure Larry Baer watched many games first-hand when Clark was the hero.
Here is a link to a petition started to urge Larry Baer and the San Francisco Giants to retire the number 22.