3 Nights in June

Strategy, heartbreak, and joy inside the mind of a minor-league hitting coach

As Herzog sees it, had Clark played in the current era, his star would have burned even brighter. For one thing, in the 1980s Busch Memorial Stadium was hardly a haven for power hitters. "If he had played when they were using the rocket of a baseball they're using now, there's no telling how many home runs he'd hit," says Clark's former manager. "He played in the toughest home-run stadium in baseball."

Seconds Cox: "Once we got the rabbits [Vince Coleman, Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee] on, he just made everyone better. There were a lot of other things he did besides that homer [in 1985]. Jack just took over and became a leader."

Following the 1987 season, Clark left St. Louis, opting for Yankee pinstripes amid the black era of free-agency collusion. At the time, the Cardinals were owned by August A. "Gussie" Busch, and while Herzog was the club's manager and general manager, his boss was becoming increasingly, and notoriously, stingy.

Undrafted Southwest Missouri State outfielder Kirk McConnell (front and center, with wristband around right forearm) signed a free-agent contract with the Rascals shortly before the Rockford trip and has since thrived at the top of the order.
Jennifer Silverberg
Undrafted Southwest Missouri State outfielder Kirk McConnell (front and center, with wristband around right forearm) signed a free-agent contract with the Rascals shortly before the Rockford trip and has since thrived at the top of the order.
Pictured here with utility man Anthony Slagle (foreground) and shortstop Tony Calderon (background right), outfielder David Arnold concluded the Rockford rainout by doing tarp slides in his skivvies.
Jennifer Silverberg
Pictured here with utility man Anthony Slagle (foreground) and shortstop Tony Calderon (background right), outfielder David Arnold concluded the Rockford rainout by doing tarp slides in his skivvies.

"We let him get away for $1.8 million," Herzog laments. "Not only was it a terrible mistake for the Cardinals, it was a terrible mistake for Jack. St. Louis was his place. He was idolized here. I said, 'Whatever you do, call me and we'll go to Mr. Busch and get it done.' I think his agent, Tom Rich, wanted to deliver a player to [Yankees owner George] Steinbrenner. I wish that somebody would have let me get in on it, because had we talked to Gussie, we would have gotten it done. And I think Jack would have stayed in baseball a lot longer."

Clark's memories remain bittersweet. "I hated that time in baseball -- collusion, and having to put up with all the political bullshit," he says. "My time with the Cardinals was the best time baseball-wise, but I never wanted to be anything besides a Giant."


This is actually Jack Clark's second stint with the River City Rascals. In 1999, six years after Clark retired as an active player, Tom Spitzer hired the Ripper to manage his team in its inaugural season. Spitzer's move was hailed as something of a coup in Frontier League circles, but it was Clark who sought out the Rascals, in the humblest of manners.

"I get a lot of credit for hiring Jack, but he sent us his résumé," Spitzer recalls. "I'm very surprised someone in the office didn't throw it away, thinking it was a joke. He fell in our lap."

The Ripper is lunching at Damon's restaurant in Rockford, awaiting a dessert of sweet potato crisp after devouring a full rack of ribs. When Spitzer strolls off to peruse a series of framed sports photos on a rear wall, Clark grabs a fistful of ice cubes out of his water glass and hurls them across the dining room.

Bull's-eye, repeat.

"Don't go over there," Spitzer warns Clark upon returning to the table, mistaking the cube assault for a leaky roof. "The ceiling's falling."

Without cracking a smile, Clark picks up the conversation: "A bunch of people -- Willie McGee, people like that -- said I should get back into baseball. I'd never really wanted to, but they said they were building a stadium near St. Louis, that St. Louis loved me and that maybe it was a way to see if I liked it again."

He did like it. The team finished near the cellar, posting a record of 39-45, but the Rascals, who play their home games at T.R. Hughes Ballpark in O'Fallon, led the league in attendance and were named the Frontier League's 1999 organization of the year. What's more, Clark's chops as an instructor impressed the Dodgers organization, which hired him as a hitting coach for the 2000 season. After a year with one of the franchise's Class A affiliates, in 2001 Clark was promoted straight to LA.

The irony of going to work for his hated rival wasn't lost on Clark. "I never took my jacket off," says the longtime Giant, summing up a tenure that ended in August 2003, when he was canned after publicly suggesting that the Dodgers had clubhouse problems.

It wasn't the first time candor landed Clark in hot water. While playing for the San Diego Padres in 1990, he told a newspaper reporter that future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn was more interested in chasing batting titles than pennants. The ruckus split the Padre clubhouse into conflicting camps and earned Clark a one-way ticket to Boston the following season.

"Jack didn't like the way I played, and I really didn't give a damn," Gwynn, who now coaches the baseball team at his alma mater, San Diego State University, said in a 2001 career retrospective published in the San Diego Union-Tribune. "Once Clark brought that 'selfish' stuff to the surface, it became a very difficult year."

In 1992, amid a turbulent divorce, Clark filed for personal bankruptcy. The four-time All-Star who'd pulled down million-dollar salaries was broke. The press descended, zeroing in on some of Clark's more lavish expenditures -- his collection of vintage roadsters, his sponsorship of his own drag-racing team -- as the key nails in his financial coffin.

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