Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Curious Case of William Nuschler Clark

A few weeks back as I watched Roger Kieschnick make his major league debut, I could not help but feel an overwhelming discomfort as the former 2008 3rd round draft pick stepped into the box for his first major league at bat… It had nothing to do with Kieschnick’s ability or what I believe could potentially lie ahead for the sweet swinging, left-handed hitting outfield prospect… It was just that there was another lefty, one with the prettiest swing I have ever seen, that I could not get out of my head… A guy who happened to make his major league debut 27 years earlier and donned the same number Roger Kieschnick was wearing… 22.

Growing up a die hard sports fan in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1980’s, there were two athletes that defined my childhood and served as role models in my life. They shaped me as an athlete and as a person… The first being Joe Montana… The other, Will Clark.  The gritty Southerner out of Mississippi State that spoke with a Louisiana twang and played with an intensity and drive that resembled exactly who I was in my youth… Will Clark defined an entire era of San Francisco Giants baseball, and more importantly for me, he helped influence who I became as a baseball player through the course of my entire amateur and professional career…

“Thrill” as he was known since his Jesuit high school days back in Louisiana, blasted on the scene (literally) and lived up to his nickname by taking Nolan Ryan deep in his first at bat in the big leagues… The next season, in 1987, he went on to lead the Giants to the playoffs for the first time since 1971, hitting 35 homers and turning in a .951 OPS…  In 1989 he introduced himself to the world in the National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs when he hit .650 with 3 doubles and 2 homers, including a memorable grand slam at Wrigley Field that proved to be the the turning point in the series… Then came the clinching hit against the Cubs flame throwing left hander, and now my colleague at MLB Network, Mitch Williams… I was sitting in the upper deck in Section 62 in center field that day at Candlestick Park… I am now a 37 year old grown man who happened to play parts of 11 major league seasons and I still get butterflies thinking back to the feeling that went through my body when “Thrill” smoked the ball back up the middle, driving in the game winning runs… Obviously Will Clark was named the NLCS MVP as he single handedly carried the Giants to their first World Series since 1962…

In 8 total seasons with the Giants, he was a 6-time All Star and finished top 5 in MVP voting 4 times… Clark then went on to play for the Texas Rangers and in his first season there, propelled them into the playoffs for the first time in the organization’s history… After a very productive 5 years as a Ranger, “Thrill” ended up in Baltimore in 1999, then in 2000, his final year, Clark was traded from the Orioles to the Cardinals and once again guided another team down the stretch and into the post season hitting .345 with an OPS of over 1000 for the Cardinals… Will Clark retired at 36 years old with plenty of baseball left in him… He undoubtedly could have continued to play for several more years but made the selfless decision to put his family first… Will’s son, Trey, was diagnosed with autism so he decided to hang ’em up and put the same emotion that he played the game of baseball with into helping full time with Trey’s development… He finished his career with 2176 hits, a batting average of .303 and an OPS of .880… He hit 284 home runs and drove in over 1,205 runs…

 

In 2006, Will Clark’s name was on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time… He received 4.4% of the vote, not meeting the 5% threshold needed to remain on the ballot for future consideration… Not exactly sure why HOF voters penalize a guy that didn’t play until he was hobbling around in his mid 40’s in search of hit #3000 or home run #500? (both long considered HOF benchmarks)… Forgive me if I don’t recognize the Hall of Fame’s legitimacy as much as other baseball purists… For me, a Hall of Fame player is somebody who was one of the best players over a 10 + year period… Will Clark was exactly that, but for 15 years… Also, if the Hall of Fame wants to continue to morally judge players and leave guys out of the HOF based on the “character” clause, shouldn’t they consider the noble decision of Will Clark to walk away early for the greater good of his family and actually award somebody for their character?

Will Clark will never get into Cooperstown, but quite frankly, I am not all that concerned with the hypocrites that vote for and constitute the Hall of Fame… Their issues go far beyond Will Clark… What I am concerned with is that there are currently 10 numbers that have been retired by the Giants organization… #3 Bill Terry, #4 Mel Ott, #11 Carl Hubbell, #20 Monte Irvin, #24 Willie Mays, #27 Juan Marichal, #30 Orlando Cepeda, #36 Gaylord Perry, #44 Willie McCovey, and #42 Jackie Robinson which is universally retired around baseball… Will Clark’s #22 is painfully absent from this list… The common denominator of each of these guys is that they have all been inducted into Cooperstown…

This is now the Giants chance to stand up and not let the Baseball Hall of Fame dictate who the most important players are in the storied franchise of the New York and San Francisco Giants… The Giants have a responsibility to recognize one of the fiercest competitors and greatest players in the history of the organization by making sure his story continues to be told to future ballplayers and fans for generations to come… When my Dad used to take me to Candlestick Park, I would always ask him about the numbers hanging from the right field chained link fence, and he always had detailed stories for me about the former Giants greats… Now, I feel it is my obligation to share stories with my 3 children about the greatest Giants who ever played… I would love nothing more than to go to AT&T park, have one of them point to #22, giving me the opportunity to explain to my kids the legend of one William Nueshler Clark.

As a campaign effort, please pass this on in hopes that we can reach the appropriate Giants personnel who can make the retirement of number 22 happen… Reference @Giants on twitter and use #Retire22… See you at the ceremony! Eric Byrnes