Any player/Any era: Will Clark

What he did: Anyone who reads this site regularly may know that Will the Thrill is my all-time favorite player. I grew up in Sacramento, and Clark was it for my San Francisco Giants when I was about six. Clark’s star began to fade a few years later, and the sweet-swinging first baseman left San Francisco following the 1993 season, but I still get nostalgic thinking of him. I think of one of the best hitters of the late 1980s and early ’90s, likened to Roy Hobbs when he came up. I think of a fierce competitor who wore the black under his eyes like war paint. Detractors have dubbed Clark a “cackling douche” and racist, though I think I could have done worse in the hero department. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s an eventual Veterans Committee selection to the Hall of Fame, though in an earlier era, this might have come sooner.

Era he might have thrived in: Clark was a career .303 hitter playing from 1986 to 2000. Had he played in the 1930s, a Golden Age for first basemen in the American League, I suspect Clark might have hit .325 lifetime and earned his spot in Cooperstown decades ago.

Why: Hall of Fame and other awards selection has become a sophisticated art in baseball in recent years with the evolution of sabrmetrics. In the early days of Cooperstown, though, it was all about simple statistics and positive image. Clark would have offered this in abundance in the 1930s. If he wouldn’t have been a writers pick for the Hall of Fame, that would only have been because the  ballot was glutted with future honorees in the early years after Cooperstown opened in 1939. Even Hank Greenberg needed nine tries with voters to earn his plaque.

Having his career peak in the greatest time for hitters in baseball history, there’s no telling what Clark might have done. Seeing as he inspired comparisons to Ted Williams as a young player for that left-handed swing, I’d be curious to see if he could hit .400 in a season. In real life, Clark peaked at .333 in 1989 when he and Kevin Mitchell led the Giants to the World Series. Running those stats through the Baseball-Reference converter for the 1936 Boston Red Sox, Clark would hit .400 batting average with 29 home runs, 165 RBI, and an OPS of 1.136. Throw in a few more years even close to that, and there’s no way Clark would miss Cooperstown. At worst, he’d be Chuck Klein who had astonishing numbers in the Baker Bowl of the ’20s and ’30s and hit maybe .270 elsewhere, needing until 1980 for the Veterans Committee to sort it out.

It’s worth noting, too, that the things that may have diminished Clark’s star in his day would be non-factors in an earlier era. There’d be no Deadspin for the Jeff Pearlmans of sports media to unload. And Clark’s racial views, while perhaps unenlightened, wouldn’t raise any eyebrows in the 1930s, particularly for him being a Louisiana native. All this and more suggests Clark may have been a man born about 60 years too late.

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 PujolsBabe RuthBad News Rockies,Barry BondsBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob Watson,Bobby VeachCarl MaysCharles Victory FaustChris von der Ahe,Denny McLainDom DiMaggioEddie LopatFrank HowardFritz MaiselGavvy CravathGeorge CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus Wagner, Hugh CaseyIchiro SuzukiJack ClarkJackie RobinsonJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film),Matty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertPaul DerringerPete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey Henderson,Roberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam Thompson,Sandy KoufaxSatchel PaigeShoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTy CobbVada PinsonWally Bunker,Willie Mays

0 thoughts on “Any player/Any era: Will Clark”

  1. Why is it that when a white guy uses the “n-word” people label him a “racist”, but when black refers to whites in the same manner, he is NOT labeled such? Leonard was FAR more a racist by the standards referred than Clark ever was. Attending many Giant games, i never heard Clark say anything ( I always sat near his position ), but I sure as heck heard Leonard make “racist” comments ALL THE TIME.

  2. Will Clark a racist? Here’s one family’s personal experience.
    My spouse is Japanese (this is relevant, as you’ll see); Clark was/is her favorite player as well.
    One year, we had made the trip down for spring training, and we happened to be sitting behind the dugout at old Scotsdale Stadium with a friend in the morning to soak up some sun and watch the boys practice.
    It was one of those lazy spring mornings; just a few dozen fans scattered throughout the park. And, it happened to be March 13. As Clark emerged from the dugout and she caught sight of him for the first time, my wife called out, quite spontaneously: “Oh! There’s Will Clark. Happy birthday, Will!”
    Young Nuschler spun around with surprise, searching for the source of the greeting. When he spotted the middle aged Japanese lady sitting behind the dugout he broke into a boyish grin and, like a well trained Southern lad, said “why, thank you ma’am” and tipped his cap before turning to jog onto the field.
    It was one of those perfect, unscripted moments in life that offer a little glimpse into just who people are. She’ll always remember it, as will I.

  3. Will Clark should be in the Hall of Fame. Had he been a juicer, his 600 doubles would have uped his homerun total to well over 500. He had more RBI’s than Barry Bonds in the first ten years of their careers and he was one of the most feared clutch hitters in all of baseball from 87-94. Again, had he juiced, he probably wouldnt have had so many nagging injuries, and he could have hung on a few more years and trickled into the 3000 hit club. It just really stinks that Craig Biggio will be a HOFamer, but no Thrill.

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