Baseball: Past and Present

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:

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA
1936 (77) 129 410 76 116 19 4 15 61 55 69 .283
1937 (78) 148 596 119 205 52 9 29 130 57 68 .344
1938 (79) 136 530 109 166 29 2 30 112 73 90 .313
1939 (80) 121 437 96 139 22 9 25 102 83 49 .318
1940 (81) 143 573 107 167 31 3 28 95 73 65 .291
1941 (82) 149 546 99 157 31 3 28 114 92 87 .288
1942 (83) 128 472 82 130 25 0 20 66 73 75 .275
1946 (87) 125 397 79 113 22 1 33 90 128 132 .285
1947 (88) 143 477 78 120 14 0 27 89 113 134 .252
1948 (89) 143 451 85 123 21 1 29 105 147 138 .273
1949 (90) 109 326 61 93 13 1 26 64 109 87 .285
1950 (91) 133 467 79 124 18 1 28 91 100 126 .266
1951 (92) 77 251 32 58 11 0 6 33 60 83 .231
Total 1684 5933 1102 1711 308 34 324 1152 1163 1203 .288


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 PujolsBarry Bonds, Bob CaruthersDom DiMaggioFritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon KillebrewHome Run Baker, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Nate ColbertPete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe JacksonThe Meusel BrothersTy Cobb



11 Comments so far

  1.    Devon & His 1982 Topps blog on November 11, 2010 6:57 am      

    You know, when I watched Clark as a kid, I had a tough time liking him. One, I watched a lot of Braves & Mets games… and I hated seeing Clark come to the plate against MY teams. Yet, at the same time, I always felt like he came up short a lot, in situations where he could’ve changed the game. I was probably wrong about that, since I was 10 & still thought batting average was a great indicator of a how good a hitter someone was, but I think I need to relook at his stats now..

  2.    The Piehole of David Wells on November 11, 2010 8:39 am      

    What about Will Clark? He was the better of the two clarks, I think. Also, look at Dimaggio’s top-10 comps list on bb-ref. I think Ellis Burks might be an interesting case.

  3.    Graham Womack on November 11, 2010 2:49 pm      

    I believe I took a quick look at Will Clark and Ellis Burks in researching this post. Clark might have matched DiMaggio’s .325 career batting average but he wouldn’t have come close to 361 home runs. I don’t know if Burks would have seen any rise in career numbers. In this exercise, he would be hurt by playing the majority of his career at two great hitters parks, Fenway Park and Coors Field and having his prime in the late ’90s, one of the best offensive periods in baseball history beyond the 1930s. This works best for guys who thrived in sub-optimal conditions for hitters.

  4.    vinnie on November 11, 2010 3:19 pm      

    Instead,it seems you may have hit upon a right handed, poor man’s version of Charlie Keller, with a slightly longer career.

  5.    Graham Womack on November 11, 2010 3:22 pm      

    Charlie Keller. That guy’s an “Any player/Any era” waiting to happen. How many different eras might he have been a Hall of Famer in?

  6.    vinnie on November 11, 2010 5:11 pm      

    Were it not for his bad back, he could have played in any era. It was a matter of do you turn him into a pull hitter, or let him hit naturally to all fields. The Yankees chose the former but his two years at Newark and his rookie year give every indication of what he might have been if left alone.

  7.    Brendan on November 11, 2010 7:39 pm      

    Searching for Joe DiMaggio? How about Dick Allen? Unlike most of the usual suspects (Tony Oliva, Ron Santo, Roger Maris, Willie Horton, Al Oliver, Rocky Colavito, Freddy Lynn, to name a few) who all have SLG numbers in the mid to high .400s, Allen’s career SLG is .534, which is still shy of DiMaggio’s .579. Moreover, Allen began his career in the hitter-unfriendly 1960s and played mostly on lousy teams in big ballparks.

  8.    Graham Womack on November 11, 2010 8:14 pm      

    Allen is good for this exercise if his 1964 rookie season, technically his second year in the majors, can be used for 1936. Unfortunately, though, his 1972 American League Most Valuable Player season gets lost to World War II service in the changeover.

  9.    TomBodet on November 19, 2010 7:27 pm      

    Do Heinie Manush.

  10.    Graham Womack on November 19, 2010 7:34 pm      

    Hi Tom, thanks for the comments, and Manush seems like an interesting player. What made you suggest him?

  11.    Alvy on December 15, 2010 12:11 am      

    “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.”

    The what-ifs that we delve into here is a lot of fun.

    But, I think in this case Graham, you are overlooking a lot of things about DiMaggio as a player. Let me say, I am no Joe D. fan as I don’t think he was a very nice guy. But I do not see your comparison to Jack Clark or the other suggestions of Ellis Burks or even the great Dick Allen who I did see play and am a great fan of.

    Also to make the statement that DiMaggio’s stats may have been inflated by the great Yankee teams he played on, don’t make sense as for most of his career, DiMaggio was the one that most often carried the team with his bat and with his bat alone was their most dangerous player. If you use that analogy, than it must also apply to Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Foxx and Hank Greenberg to name a few, who all hit in the midst amazing HOF line-ups. As Reggie might say, Joe D. was “the straw who stirred the drink”.

    You can swap Clark and Joe D. for any era or place or what have you and there will never be a close comparison at bat or on the field. DiMaggio is not just a legend but a great player that Mays and Mantle both saw and looked up to. Mantle did not like Joe D. at all but considered him the best all-round player, even over Mays whom Mantle often deferred to as the better center fielder and player than he. There’s no small reason to why Ted Williams ranks Joe D. as number 5 of his top 20 hitters list behind Babe, Gehrig, Hornsby and Foxx. There is nothing of a legend when it comes to the objectivity of a Ted Williams who saw virtually everyone up to the last few years. But the same can be said for both Mantle’s and May’s veracity on this subject let alone so many others who saw him play.

    DiMaggio had pretty much the same miseries as Jack Clark and Willie Mays did as a right handed batter in the A.L. canyon for righty batters known as Yankee Stadium. Yet DiMaggio had more homers in 13 seasons than Clark who played 18 and who did not play 8 season in the winds of Candlestick.

    As for the comparisons to Dick Allen, as great as Allen was, and he too was a fantastic hitter, a speed demon on the base paths, especially for his large size– and one of the strongest hitters to ever play– and I saw him play! Wow!

    But Allen had one large weakness for strike outs and was not the fielder that Joe D. was (in this area only Mays is the better center fielder) And here is where we start to lock into one of the most overlooked and most amazing set of stats for any hitter that ever played baseball, let alone a power hitter who dominated the game.

    DiMaggio hit more home runs than he struck out 7 times in the 13 seasons that he played. I’m no great statistician, but so far the only other player I’ve been able to find who comes close to that mark is Ted Williams who did the same feat only 3 times in 19 seasons and Stan Musial did it 1 time in 22 seasons. Neither Ruth, Hornsby, Heilmann, Foxx, Greenberg, Mays, Aaron or any of the great high average power hitters ever did it once.

    In 1941 when DiMaggio had his 56 game hitting streak, he hit 30 homers and only struck out 13 times! If you look at films of DiMaggio you see what a big beautiful swing he had. He was not a punch and judy hitter like Cobb, Carew or Rose. This was a guy who was also a slugger. This says so much about Dimaggio’s skill as a hitter it puts him in such elite company. This is a guy who hits for high average, with power and almost always can put the ball in play, creating more potential for moving runners over and knocking in runs.

    Compare that to any one on your search for Joe D. list and they are not even close. Even if Joe D. played in the pitcher dominant 60′s he would not have been striking out nearly as much as anyone else. And he still would have had the same or better power numbers if he had not played in Yankee Stadium where his slugging stats were over 50 points lower than his road stats.

    For hitting and making contact with the ball with power, DiMaggio is in a class by himself.

    As a fielder he is in the pantheon with the great outfielders being in the top 3 center fielders of all time with Mays and Speaker. Remember too, that DiMaggio played in the days of those little gloves that had almost no webbing and less flexibility.

    And as an all-round player he is only possibly bested by Mays and Ruth. So I don’t think the search for Joe D. will lead you any further away than the man himself.

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