What he did: Clark was the best thing going on some abysmal San Francisco Giants teams of the late 1970s and early ’80s, a two-time All Star outfielder who hit 20 home runs five times in San Francisco. I wrote a column last week transporting Joe DiMaggio to this ball club, and a reader commented, “Very interesting. In effect, he becomes kinda, sorta, an upscale Jack Clark, during his Giant tenure but with more sustained consistency and fewer injuries.” Thus, I got to wondering: How good might Clark have been if he’d played during DiMaggio’s time?
Era he might have thrived in: While DiMaggio makes a go of it at Candlestick Park, we’ll plug Clark into all 13 seasons of Joltin’ Joe’s career between 1936 and 1951. Clark’s numbers would almost certainly rise.
Why: I have this idea. As much a legend as DiMaggio was, a part of me thinks he was overrated, that his numbers weren’t that amazing since he was on some supremely talented Yankee teams and played half his career before World War II, a renaissance for hitters. I have this idea that there’s a talented non-Hall of Famer who played in a less-friendly time for hitters and/or on a worse team or in a crappier ballpark who could have made Cooperstown or eclipsed DiMaggio’s numbers if he’d had his career. I call this, “Searching for Joe DiMaggio.”
It’s no simple task, certainly. After running some conversions for Eric Davis, Fred Lynn, and Al Oliver among others, I’ve yet to find an inactive, non-Hall of Famer with the combination of DiMaggio’s batting average, slugging, and staying power, though Clark makes a respectable poor man’s version.
In real life, Clark played 18 seasons from 1975 through 1992. To plug him into DiMaggio’s 13-year career, I started Clark’s career at 1977 and removed his ’84, ’85, and ’86 seasons for World War II service.
Here’s a breakdown of how Clark comes out:
Under this arrangement, Clark adds 20 points to his batting average and loses 16 home runs in playing five fewer seasons with nearly 1,000 less at-bats. He’s probably still not Hall of Fame-worthy, but the man who received just 2.5 percent of the vote his only year on the Cooperstown ballot probably would at least inspire more debate.
Of course, for these numbers to be legit, one must assume Clark doesn’t have greater health problems playing in an earlier era or that he doesn’t platoon playing his final seasons for Casey Stengel, who liked to use outfielders part-time depending on who was pitching. It’s a testament to DiMaggio that he got as much playing time as he did or put up MVP-caliber numbers after returning from World War II. A long break generally doesn’t favor hitters, but injuries got to DiMaggio more in the later part of his career than rust from his war-time sabbatical.
Still, I’ll keep looking to see if I can find an inactive, non-Hall of Famer like DiMaggio. There has to be someone, and I invite anyone to send their suggestions.
Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.
Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Dom DiMaggio, Fritz Maisel, George Case, Harmon Killebrew, Home Run Baker, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Nate Colbert, Pete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy Koufax, Shoeless Joe Jackson, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb