On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. Next up: Will Clark
The case for his induction:
Like artists, musicians and writers, there is a tendency to view ballplayers who break out onto the scene in a big, seemingly fully-formed way as always great, no matter what comes later. Sometimes, like James Dean, if they disappear while still young and great, they are forever immortalized. Other times, like Bob Dylan, they have a second and third act which builds on that initial promise, justifying and reinforcing their legacy. Other times, like Orson Welles, they break out big but then decline, sort of hanging around and perplexing us as to why they can’t replicate that early success. Will Clark seems to fall into the Orson Welles category.
By the time Will “The Thrill” Clark was 25, he had notched three top-five finishes in the NL MVP balloting and led his Giants into the 1989 World Series. He found himself and his sweet swing on the cover of magazines and was everyone’s idea of baseball’s next big star. But the power soon disappeared and he never topped 16 homers from ages 28-33. His rate stats were still excellent — he got on base at a healthy clip and played a good first base — but that power swoon came in the middle years when most Hall of Famers find that second gear that Clark never found. He did put together a fantastic final year in 2000, splitting time between the Orioles and Cardinals and batting .319/.418/.546 in 507 at-bats, but then he retired to spend time with his young special needs son, which is a very good reason to retire, to be fair.
The case against his induction:
The numbers just aren’t there. That 2000 season he finished with the Cardinals was like Welles “Touch of Evil.” Great, but not enough to redeem years wandering in the wilderness. While he had some near-MVP seasons early, his peak does not scream “Hall of Famer” and his short-for-a-Hall-of-Famer career of 15 seasons prevented him from compiling the sorts of numbers one might expect a candidate to compile. Heck, even if he played 20 years he may not have gotten there. So much of his value was tied up in walks and defense and those numbers don’t necessarily pop, even in the aggregate. He wasn’t the most durable player late in his career either, and that mitigates against even an imaginary 20-year career resulting in Cooperstown-worthy totals.
Would I vote for him?
Probably not. He had the “fame,” at least early in his career, but that fame and that name outstripped his performance as the years wore on. He gives me a John Olerud vibe. He was much better than Wally Joyner, but he feels closer to him than most Hall of Famers I can think of. A few more peak seasons and you could talk me into him, but I think he falls short.
Will the Committee vote for him?
I doubt it.
Playing in Texas and Baltimore in the mid-to-late 90s and still only topping 20 homers twice is an odd pattern for a guy who was once known for home run power, especially when that guy is a first baseman. That whole positional expectations thing is unfair to Clark — it’s not his fault that he was good at a lot of things first basemen aren’t and not as good at what people expect first basemen to be — but it has cast his candidacy in a bad light. It’s why he was a one-and-done guy on the writers ballot and it will likely doom him on the Today’s Committee ballot as well. Saying someone just doesn’t “feel” like a Hall of Famer is a lazy copout, but in this case I think it’s a copout that happens to coincide with objective reality.
Don’t get down on yourself, Will. You always had your “Citizen Kane” years in San Francisco. We could watch that over and over again.