Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Will Clark

Claim to fame: With the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers in the books, I thought I’d devote a column to one of the best Hall of Fame-worthy players not in Cooperstown who played for both teams. With apologies to Bobby Bonds, Kenny Lofton, and Bill Madlock, who could each merit consideration, I’m referring to former All Star first baseman Will Clark. Here’s a photo from Monday night of Clark celebrating the Giants’ first title since 1954.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say Clark is my all-time favorite player. I loved the black under his eyes, his Ted Williams-esque swing, and his ra-ra demeanor, but more than anything, I loved the fact he was it for the Giants when I was growing up in Northern California. My best friend Devin and I idolized Will the Thrill; Devin once had his picture taken with a cardboard cutout of our hero at Candlestick Park, and Devin’s mom told me Clark had stopped by the house. Man was I envious.

All this being said, I think Clark had a Hall of Fame career on merit, a career that’s gone largely unrewarded since it was curtailed by injuries and took place during the Steroid Era.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Clark received 4.4 percent of the vote in 2006, his only year on the Cooperstown ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America. Clark will be eligible for enshrinement through the Veterans Committee in 2020.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? My quick answer is: Yes, of course. It’s my blog, and Clark’s my guy. But I realize I should say more.

Some may ask why I didn’t write about Clark as soon as I had the chance. I’ve held back for a few reasons. First, I didn’t want to seem like a homer, someone who pulls relentlessly for their home team or star; I strive to be objective and try to write for a national audience. Also, I wanted my Clark column to be perfect (which this isn’t.) Finally, for a long time, I didn’t understand Clark’s case.

When Clark was wrapping up his career in 2000– heck, when he was in his last year with the Giants in 1993, a forgotten man during Barry Bonds’ first MVP season in San Francisco, I could only wonder what might have been. Clark seemed on-track for Cooperstown early on before derailing around 30, yet another Don Mattingly or Rocky Colavito or any number of other would-be legends. Clark’s career lines of 284 home runs and 2,176 hits seemed pedestrian, especially for his era.

A decade on, the number of star players from the 1990s who were on steroids continues to rise, and Clark’s lifetime numbers look better (assuming he was clean, of course), like his .303 batting average and .880 OPS. Other stats that have gained significance like his 137 OPS+ and his 57.5 career WAR seem to place Clark on the fringe of Cooperstown, a Veterans Committee candidate better than many enshrined. Clark was also a crack defender, had the throwback personality, and this 2007 Beyond the Boxscore post noted his five-year prime was better than Hall of Famers like Eddie Murray, Willie McCovey, and Harmon Killebrew.

At least to me, Clark represented many things right with baseball in a troubling time in its history. Call me biased, but from his era, Clark is one of the few players I want to remember or whose Hall of Fame plaque I would care to look at.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Others in this series: Al Oliver, Albert Belle, Bert Blyleven, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Dan Quisenberry, Dave Parker, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, Jack Morris, Joe Carter, John Smoltz, Keith Hernandez, Larry Walker, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Pete Browning, Rocky Colavito, Steve Garvey, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines