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

9 Replies to “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Will Clark”

  1. I agree with you, Graham, Will Clark definitely should be in the HOF. I’m not a SF fan, nor a Will Clark fan, but none the less his brilliant play over the course of his career warrants induction. Despite the many injuries he sustained, Clark still managed to hit very consistently; topping .300 10 times in 15 years and never hitting under .283. That is pretty impressive in any era of baseball. He was indeed a dominant player in his era, before the juice occurred and should also be recognized for his excellence on the field.

    I think that there is too much emphasis placed on those who had healthier careers and managed to accumulate greater lifetime numbers in hits, rbi’s, etc than players like Clark, Dick Allen and Tony Oliva who were dominant in their era, an all round players with great talent, great seasons and great accomplishments.

    Amazing too is that Clark, quit the game at the top of his game despite those injuries. Ending your career with a .319 average, helping to lead your team to the post-season is no small accomplishment.

    An interesting side note is Will Clark’s leading the NL in slugging percentage in 1991 at .536. Shows how the inflated stats of the next 20 years would diminish real athletic accomplishments through the Play Station-like stats of the coming steroid era.

  2. Good stuff, Alvy. A thought: I think Clark won the slugging percentage title in 1991 at just .536 largely because it was a year for pitchers. He had another of his best seasons, 1988, in similar circumstances. Imagine if he’d had his career ten years later or sixty years earlier. His numbers would have been insane.

  3. Will Clark was a great player. I remember being shocked when he retired after the 2000 season at age 36, as he clearly had gas in his tank and had just finished one of his best seasons. He was traded to the Cardinals during the summer of 2000 and he hit .345 with a 167 OPS+ in 51 games for the Cardinals. If he had played another 3 seasons, he would have a much stronger case – he probably would have retired with at least 325 home runs, 500+ doubles, 1400+ RBIs, 2500+ hits, an average above or very close to .300, and a career OPS+ that is still greater than 130.

    I think he was the rare superstar who wasn’t on steroids. If he had juiced, he would have put up numbers similar to those of Barry Bonds, given his natural talent.

  4. Very close for me….fits the same mold as Mark Grace….300 hitter with a great glove yet quiet and unassuming, therefore overlooked = very little chance. Only one gold glove doesn’t tell us how good he was defensively.
    Was there any specific reason he hung it up a bit early?

  5. Borderline, but you make a good case. He was no Donnie Baseball though!
    And (allegedly) a legendary a##hole to the media and other players.

    1. Clark was better than donnie baseball and didn’t have the help of a short porch like mattingly. Clark was a better hitter. The slash line doesn’t lie.

  6. Will the Thrill, rookie year, first MLB at bat in Houston against Nolan Ryan, home run. Became my favorite Giant ever. People forget how good of an all-around player he was. Simple things like running the bases, not very fast but would take the extra bag intuitively. His love of the game was obvious. He belongs in the HOF, hands down. Fun loving, exuberant and exciting to watch. Baseball needs more players like him!

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