Oh, What a Thrill! Will Clark: Career Overview (Part 6)

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Will Clark

Part 6: Leaving His Heart in San Francisco

This is the sixth in a series of articles that detail the career of New Orleanian Will “The Thrill” Clark.  Watch for additional weekly posts about Clark’s career on the Crescent City Sports website. Click here for the full series.

The San Francisco Giants became Barry Bonds’s team in 1993 as he won his third MVP Award and nearly put the Giants into the playoffs.  This came about as Clark suffered an injury-filled season and posted his second consecutive subpar season.  Clark preferred to renew his contract with the Giants, but when they didn’t meet his new demands for renewal, he filed for free agency and ultimately signed with the Texas Rangers.

As soon as Barry Bonds’s $43.5 million contract signing was announced by the Giants, rumors started to circulate that Clark would be upset by the money being paid to Bonds and the savior label Bonds was being tagged with by the media.  However, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, Bonds reached out to Clark first to make a goodwill gesture to try to head off any ill feelings.  After having several conversations with Bonds over the winter, Clark told The Associated Press, “We’re going to get along fine.  I have a good relationship with Barry.  That shouldn’t alter as long as we go out and do the job.  I have no problem with Barry.  He’s an MVP.  He’s done it all.  It’ll be like when Kevin Mitchell was batting behind me.”

Bonds started the 1993 season as advertised while Clark was having the worst April of his career by hitting below .200 with only one home run.  However, the Giants were winning.

At one point during the season, Clark had 181 plate appearances without a home run.  He denied to the press that he was in a slump, but acknowledged he wasn’t helping the batters behind him in the batting order.  Preliminary discussions about his contract, which was scheduled to end after the 1993 season, didn’t produce any results.  By the end of May his agent halted any more negotiations for fear of distracting Clark on the field.

Over the next three months, Clark was in and out of the lineup due to a rash of injuries.  He got a bruised knee from a collision with an opposing catcher on June 6.  He was hit on his right wrist on June 12 and missed two games.  He suffered a bruised right elbow when hit by a pitch on July 25 and sat out a game.  He missed five games after fouling a pitch off his right knee for on August 13.  Then for the first time since his rookie season, he went on the disabled list on August 25 after straining his medial collateral ligament in a slide into second base that caused him to miss 14 games.

Despite Clark’s injury woes, the Giants still led Atlanta in the NL West by 3½ games at the end of August (They had been in first place since April 25).  Bonds was tearing up the National League with a slash line of .344/.465/.692, 39 home runs, and 101 RBI.  Matt Williams was also doing his part with 27 home runs and 85 RBI.

However, by the time Clark got back into the lineup, the Giants had lost eight straight and fell to second place behind Atlanta.  The Giants wound up being tied with the Braves on the last day of the season, each having won 103 games.  San Francisco lost a heart-breaker to the Dodgers while the Braves defeated the Colorado Rockies to claim the West Division title.

After Bonds came on board with the Giants, he had revealed two of his goals with the Giants were to win two more MVP Awards and go to a World Series.  He made progress toward those goals in 1993 by being the overwhelming winner of the National League MVP Award and narrowly missing out on the playoffs.  Having his second consecutive subpar season (.283 BA, 14 HR, and 73 RBI) and missing 30 games due to injuries, Clark was pushed to the back of the Giants’ stage with Bonds on board.

In deciding whether to retain Clark, the Giants needed to figure out whether his last two seasons were an aberration or a trend.   Second baseman Robby Thompson’s contract was also due for renewal, and there was some speculation the Giants wouldn’t be able to afford both players going forward.  Making their decision even harder, Thompson had just come off the best season of his career with Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in his trophy case, while Clark’s performance was declining.

Clark’s agent, Jeff Moorad, commented in The Sporting News three days after the 1993 season, “We’re ready to sign today.  The Giants are the only organization Will has known.  He would like nothing better than to retire in a Giants uniform.”  Clark echoed the same sentiments when he told USA Today Baseball Weekly in mid-October, “I think people have the idea I’m gone, that I’m out of here as a free agent, and that’s just not the case.  I’ve watched guys like George Brett and Mike Schmidt spend their entire career with one team, and I’m a firm believer in that.”

Clark formally filed for free agency, even though Moorad indicated they were still hopeful of being able to work out a deal with the Giants.  USA Today Baseball Weekly reported the Orioles, Mets, and White Sox were expected to pursue Clark, and the Rangers and Rockies would also likely enter the pursuit if they couldn’t re-sign their incumbent first basemen, Rafael Palmeiro and Andres Galarraga.

When Palmeiro didn’t immediately accept the Rangers’ initial offer of $26 million for five years and decided to enter the free agent market, the Rangers initiated discussions with Clark, who was disappointed with the Giants’ offer of a three-year deal at less than $15 million.  After Moorad was unable to reach a deal with Baltimore, Clark visited the Rangers and was impressed with the new ballpark they would occupy for the 1994 season.  He admitted that playing closer to his hometown in New Orleans was enticing.

Palmeiro was peeved at the Rangers for talking to his former Mississippi State teammate.  He told The Sporting News, “I think Will Clark is a good player, but I don’t think he’s the player that I am.  I feel I’m the better player.”  Indeed, Palmeiro had just completed the best season of his career (.295 BA, 37 HR, and 105 RBI), outpacing Clark (.283 BA, 14 HR, and 73 RBI).

Unable to reach a long-term deal with the Giants, Clark ultimately signed a five-year contract with the Rangers worth $30 million.  Moorad commented in USA Today upon the signing, “He’s leaving the Giants with very mixed feelings.  It was his sincere desire to re-sign with the Giants.”

Palmeiro was stunned upon learning of Clark’s deal with the Rangers.  It was more like the one he had been seeking from the Rangers.  In the Times-Picayune, Palmeiro spoke of his disappointment with the Rangers, “I thought we were settling somewhere in the 29 or 30 million dollar range.  I’ve never seen another offer from them.  The Rangers never dealt with us fairly.  They never treated me with any respect, never appreciated what I have done.  Now, this is what I get.”  In the Fort Worth-Star Telegram, Palmeiro also lambasted his former college teammate, believing Clark had undercut him, “That’s Will.  That’s the way he is.  He’s got no class.  Friendship didn’t matter to him.  He was looking out for himself.  I don’t think much of Will.  He’s a low-life.”

Clark had nothing to say negatively about Palmeiro, but said players need to learn how to handle changing teams.  “When free agency comes along, you can’t always stay with the same team,” he told USA Today.  I had to come to grips with that in San Francisco.  That’s the one thing I wanted.  I’d have loved to be with the Giants all my days.  But it didn’t come down to that.  The Rangers have made me a part of their family.  I’m honored.”

Palmeiro was later apologetic for his comments about Clark.  The Times-Picayune reported, “I think Will Clark is a great person and a great ballplayer.  I was speaking out of frustration, and I want to apologize to Will.”  However, Palmeiro would harbor ill feelings for Clark that would last a long time.  It wasn’t until 2015 when ESPN Films was filming the documentary “SEC Storied – Thunder and Lighting” that the two former teammates would make up and start speaking to each other again.

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Richard Cuicchi

New Orleans baseball historian

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Richard Cuicchi, Founder of the Metro New Orleans Area Baseball Player Database and a New Orleans area baseball historian, maintains TheTenthInning.com website. He also authored the book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives. He has contributed to numerous SABR-sponsored Bio Project and Games Project books.

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