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Breaking Down the Today’s Game Hall of Fame Candidates: Will Clark

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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.

Astros, Nationals set to face off in the World Series starting Tuesday

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Saturday night’s wild ALCS finale will live in the mind of Astros and Yankees fans for a long, long time, but the Astros only have two days to bask in it because they have other business to attend to: the Washington Nationals, who they will host Tuesday evening in Game 1 of the World Series.

For the Astros, this year’s World Series presents the chance to forge a dynasty. To carry on a journey in which they’ve risen from a three-time 100-loss club to a three-years-straight 100-win club with not just one, but two World Series titles in the space of those three seasons.

For the Nationals, the World Series presents an opportunity to complete a pretty compelling narrative in which they’ve grown stronger as the year has gone on: from a near disastrous 19-31 start, to a late, come-from-behind victory in the Wild Card Game, to beating the favored Dodgers in the NLDS to simply dominating the Cardinals in the NLCS. The Nats are nobody’s Cinderella, but a win over the Astros would certainly make them one of the more notable giant-killers in recent memory. And, of course, would give them their first World Series title in franchise history and the city of Washington its first World Series winner since the Senators won it in 1924.

We’ll break down this Series in greater detail over the next couple of days, but for now it’s worth noting that this matchup presents us with, arguably, the best possible group of starting pitchers in the game. Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin are six of the top — what? — 15 starting pitchers going right now? And Aníbal Sanchez has been pitching pretty dang good for Washington of late as well. Bullpenning is all the rage these days — and Houston’s Game 6 win was a bullpen affair — but there is something classic and compelling about a handful of aces facing off in October.

The difference-maker could very well be an Astros offense that — last night’s José Altuve walkoff blast notwithstanding — has, somehow, gone relatively quiet this postseason. Postseason pitching is always tough — and in beating the Rays and Yankees they faced two of the best bullpens going — but their collective 3.7 runs per game and .645 team OPS is very un-Astro-like. To beat the Nats, they’ll definitely want to see those numbers go higher.

For Washington, it’ll be about figuring out how to beat Gerrit Cole, Game 1’s starter, and Justin Verlander, who will likely go in Game 2. They’ll have to face each of those 20-game winners/Cy Young contenders twice if this series goes long. That seems daunting, but so too did climbing out of the hole they found themselves in in late May and beating the Dodgers in a five-game series. The Nats have dealt pretty well with “daunting” thus year and, at the moment, they’re playing their best baseball of the season.

So the stage is set. Washington vs. Houston in the 115th edition of the Fall Classic. Things get underway just after 8PM Eastern on Tuesday evening when Gerrit Cole fires in a near-100 m.p.h. fastball to Trea Turner. Stay with us over the next three days for our breakdown of what looks to be an epic matchup.