3 Nights in June

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

Nor is Clark giving up in his quest to get back to the majors. Shortly after the Cardinals were swept out of the World Series last fall, the former Redbird made it known via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he was available for the job, vacated when Mitchell Page was fired for boozing before work. Clark's proactive approach yielded a phone call from manager Tony La Russa, who Clark says promised to follow up. That call never came, and the Cards wound up hiring onetime Kansas City nemesis Hal McRae. The chain of events left a bad taste in Clark's mouth.

"Tony called me the night before Thanksgiving," Clark says. "We must have talked for an hour and a half. He said they were going to call me back Friday. Ten days went by and I never got a call. I feel like I deserved a call back."

Still, he says he remains on good terms with the Cardinals organization. (Witness the shipment of spare bats he recently secured from the team's equipment manager to replace the Rascals' subpar lumber.) And he says he has since discussed hitting-coach possibilities with two other major-league clubs. Recently, a former Dodger who now plays for a team east of the Mississippi flew Clark to an undisclosed location to diagnose the cause of a nagging slump. After watching batting practice from the stands, Clark would impart tips to the wayward slugger at his abode after the game. Clark won't allow the name of the player or his team to find their way into print, but he says the slugger snapped out of his lumber slumber with multiple home runs in the course of a weekend.

Jennifer Silverberg

Where were you when the Ripper went yard on Niedenfuer? Now in his second stint with the River City Rascals, Jack Clark hit a home run in the '85 NLCS that's Cardinal Nation's equivalent to the Kennedy assassination.
Jennifer Silverberg
Where were you when the Ripper went yard on Niedenfuer? Now in his second stint with the River City Rascals, Jack Clark hit a home run in the '85 NLCS that's Cardinal Nation's equivalent to the Kennedy assassination.

"One thing I'm really good at is recognizing the individual," Clark says. "Every hitter's teachable, but guys in the big leagues already know how to hit. They have more talent -- all they're trying to do is hold on to it."

Says Whitey Herzog: "He's a very astute student of the game. I just hope he gets another opportunity. He could be a hell of a minor-league coordinator. But basically, when you talk about baseball, there's no place like the big leagues."

Getting back would be great, acknowledges Clark. But if he's frustrated about opportunity eluding him, any bitterness is buried under a Zen-like commitment to the modest here-and-now.

"When someone in your family dies, it puts things in perspective," he observes. "I had all the cars and all that stuff, and I never got fulfilled. I came into this world with not too much and I'm just happy that way. I've been a middle-class guy all my life, and I promised my [deceased] mother and father I'd stay the same. And I have. I'm just Jack. "

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