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Hall of Fame Case for Will Clark

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On Monday, December 9, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which covers the years 1988-2018 — will vote on candidates for the 2019 induction class. Between now and then we will take a look at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness.

And yes, we did this two years ago, the last time the Today’s Game ballot was up for a vote, with most of the same candidates appearing. As such, a lot of this will be repeat material, some of it verbatim. Our view of this, however, is that if the Hall of Fame can keep recycling the same ballot, we can recycle our analysis of it to the extent it hasn’t changed. 

Next up: Will Clark. And yes, this is exactly what I wrote about him a couple of years ago because, dang it, I was pretty happy with how it came out. 

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, relatively speaking, 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.

He would go on to have one more excellent season in San Francisco, in 1991, and a couple of good ones, 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. Clark 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. In the end his career rate stats were pretty great — .303/.384/.497 — but he played only 15 seasons, which is a bit light for a Hall of Famer.

The case against his induction:

The career numbers and longevity 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.

 

Ranking the names of major league ballparks

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Now that the Hall of Fame election is over and a good number of the top free agents have signed, we’re about to enter the slowest period of the offseason news cycle. Let’s kill time by making a list, shall we?

This list is inspired by yesterday’s news about Miller Park changing its name to American Family Field next year. As I noted in that post, neither of those are terrible names for a park given by a corporation which means that, yeah, some corporate-named parks are better than others.

So I thought it’d be fun to rank the names of all the parks. Let’s go:

 

VIVA TRADITION!

1 (five-way tie) Angel Stadium; Dodger Stadium; Marlins Park; Nationals Park; Yankee Stadium

While some corporate name parks are better than others, none of them are as good as a straightforward “[Team] [Park/Stadium/Field].” With these what you see is what you get. At least for now, as I expect that the Marlins, Nationals and the Angels would go to corporate names if someone were to cut them a check.

Indeed, the Angels have done it before, calling their joint “Edison International Field” between 1998-2003. With their new real estate venture around the park don’t be surprised if they do it again. And given that the Nationals are going all-in on gambling, it would not be a shock to see some gambling-related enterprise put its name on the place to signal that, yeah, there’s a sports book on site.

In the meantime: “We have a team. This is its ballpark.” is hard to beat.

 

ALMOST PERFECT, BUT . . .

6. (tie) Wrigley Field and Fenway Park

They’re venerable parks with venerable names but a lot of people don’t realize that they were both originally advertising-related.

Wrigley Field was originally Weeghman Park, then Cubs Park. It was not until 1926 — 12 years after the place opened — that chewing gum magnate and team owner William Wrigley slapped “Wrigley” on it to honor himself and, I suspect more importantly, to sell some gum. Fenway, meanwhile, was named by Sox owner John Taylor. He claimed it was a location-based name — after the Fenway neighborhood —  but Taylor’s family also owned the Fenway Realty Company, and many think there was a promotional motive as well.

Not that it matters anymore. As the infamous Noah Cross said in Chinatown, “politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough!” Same goes for names of buildings. And honestly, could you imagine these parks being named anything else?

8. Oriole Park at Camden Yards

This is just a quibble — I almost put it up in the top category — but I’ve always been a bit cold on the split field/location names you’re seeing more and more of these days. On a basic level it’s indecisive. More broadly, I think the Orioles doing this opened the door for some of the double naming rights things we’ve seen, mostly with arenas.

I know the O’s didn’t set out to do that as Camden Yards is an actual place, but it set the stage for dumb things like the Ohio State Basketball team playing at “Value City Arena at Schottenstein Center.” It’s really just one arena — it’s not like it’s a grand complex beyond where the basketball/hockey/concerts happen — but they got two corporate names on that baby. Why? Why not!

9. Kauffman Stadium

There was a time when we named public buildings and installations after people in their honor as opposed to doing so for political points. We should probably do more of that. And big kudos to Ewing Kauffman for all he did for the Royals and to ensure that his ballpark — one of the finest in baseball — is what it is. The only reason this kind of name — or, rather, this kind of name — is not in the top tier is because you never know if you’re gonna open some old box of letters and discover that the ballpark’s namesake funded some reactionary rebel group in Central America or trafficked in blue whale carcasses or whatever. I feel like we’re safe with Ewing Kauffman on this, but ya never know. We Cancel Culture warriors must remain ever vigilant.

10. Busch Stadium

True story: when Anheuser-Busch owned the Cardinals owner August Busch Jr. wanted to rename Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis “Budweiser Stadium” to advertise the family business. Ford Frick told him he couldn’t because parks could not bear the name of an alcoholic beverage. So he named it “Busch Stadium.” Frick said OK, since it was named after the Busch family. Right after that the company introduced Busch Bavarian Beer — now just Busch Beer — which made the ballpark’s name a backdoor product promotion. Pretty clever, eh?

The name is now an official naming rights thing — the Busch family doesn’t own the team but, rather, pays the Cardinals for naming rights — but it’s clearly the most organic and historic of the paid-for ballpark names. Indeed, it’d be weird if the deal expired and the team just changed it to “Cardinals Park” or something, wouldn’t it?

 

PRETTY GOOD CORPORATE NAMES 

11. Great American Ballpark

I’m shocked at how many people don’t realize that Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati is named after an insurance company. If you go there you realize it, though, as the office tower for the company — the city’s tallest building — looms over the third base line. People tend to think that it’s just a descriptor — “gee, what a great, American ballpark!” — and on some level that’s absolutely adorable. It certainly is a name that fills you with goodwill and doesn’t hit you over the head with its branding. Which, ironically, probably makes it a pretty bad naming rights deal for the insurance company who underwrote it. These things aren’t good for business unless the name takes you completely out of the mood for baseball and reminds you of some business that has nothing to do with baseball. And you wonder why I don’t like these things as a matter of principle.

12. Progressive Field

Back in 2007 the Indians were looking for a new name for what had been Jacobs Field since it opened 13 years earlier. I was but a lowly, solo blogger then, working full time at a law firm and wiring about baseball stuff on the side. When reading about the name search I wrote a long jokey post about what names the Indians could go with. Short version: I grabbed some reference book from our law library that listed the largest corporations in Cleveland and critiqued each name as a possible stadium name. Best part: I chose Progressive Field as the best name. And I’ll be damned, that’s what they went with later that year.

13. (tie) Coors Field, Miller Park

As I wrote yesterday, beer names — especially beer brands that have some local history, even if they’re no longer local brands — go pretty well with baseball. Hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet have nothin’ on beer for a good baseball association. Which makes me wonder why Chevrolet has never tried to name a ballpark. If it outbid Comerica in Detroit it could have Chevrolet Park right next to Ford Field. And, frankly, the ballpark has a better, more visible location than the football field. Lost chances, man.

15 (tie). Tropicana Field, Minute Maid Park, Target Field, Petco Park

If you’re going to have a corporate name for a baseball field — and if you can’t get beer — name it after a consumer product everyone can easily purchase on an impulse or a retail brand that is super accessible. Sell some o.j. at the park. Have a little mini store on-site. All the better if the product is not high-end so everyone can identify with it. We may not come together in the civic space like we once did, but dammit, all of us go to discount stores, pet stores or drink orange juice, so at least these evoke a common, even if corporate, experience.

These kinds of names also create some cool signage. I think commercial design can be art and it can be pretty attractive. Retail brands like these have to have eye-catching graphics in order to attract customers and to create a brand identity, and these lend themselves to some neat in-park graphics and signs.

 

BLAND AND UNINSPIRING CORPORATE NAMES

19. Rogers Centre

If the place had its old name — SkyDome — it’d probably be at or near the top. yes, “[Team] [Park/Stadium]” is the current classic, but there is a lost classic genre of ballpark names: the inspirational and aspirational name.

Did you know that there was once a park in Cincinnati called “Palace of the Fans?” My God, is that fantastic! Sportsman’s Park was kinda like that too. Descriptive beyond just saying who played there. They wanted to be places for something, dammit. “SkyDome” was in that broad category. “Our roof literally opens to the heavens! It is a dome that honors the sky!” Or something. Maybe that’s earnest and corny, but the older and less concerned I am with trying to be cool, the more I love earnest corny.

Now it’s named after a giant telecommunications/cable company. Looking to the sky became far too ambitious. Now we look toward, I dunno, “mobile solutions” and “delivering real, sustainable value to our stakeholders” or whatever the P.R. department of companies like Rogers claim the company is doing in a given quarter.

20. T-Mobile Park

If the example of other ballparks which have had multiple corporate names over the years is any guide, people are gonna call the Mariners’ park “Safeco Field” for many, many years. I have no idea why the people at T-mobile don’t realize this, but if you have a marketing budget and you don’t spend it all the guys up on 6 are gonna slash your marketing budget next year, so why not spend a few million to align your brand with that of a perpetually underachieving baseball team?

21. (tie) Chase Field, Citi Field, Citizens Bank Park, Comerica Park, PNC Park, Globe Life Field

Branding is all about creating positive associations with your product so, on some level, I get that banks and insurance companies — which present neutral associations at best, but often negative associations for people who interact with then — wanna slap their names on a stadium. “Sure, we denied your claim and/or charged you $48.75 for not maintaining your minimum balance, but Let’s Go Mets, am I right?!”

For me though these all just underline how much of a business baseball is. Yes, I know it is a business, but at least for a couple of hours I’d like to pretend that I’m at the park to enjoy a baseball game rather than to help further enrich the very rich men who own this team and their business partners. And unlike the consumer products above, it’s not like this can be very useful advertising anyway. People don’t switch banks on a whim and when they do switch banks it’s not because they like how the brand has positioned itself or that it associated itself with something else I like. It’s because the rates are lower or the fees are lower or because, unlike all the other banks, this or that one was dumb enough to extend my over-extended ass credit. In no case does someone leave a Phillies game and say “Man, that Aaron Nola was dealin’ today. Ya know what? I’m withdrawing my money from Chase and puttin’ it in an interest-bearing checking account at Citizens Bank!” At least I hope not.

 

THE TRULY TERRIBLY NAMED BALLPARKS 

27. (tie) Oracle Park, RingCentral Coliseum (maybe?)

For all of the prominent and well known brands in the Bay Area, it’s amazing how lame the Giants and A’s ballpark names have been. And just how damn many of them there have been. Once Opening Day hits, the Giants will have played in their current park under four different names in the past 20 years. The A’s, meanwhile, are on their sixth different name since 2004. Although I may be losing count in there somehow, because it has reverted back to Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum multiple times over the years. All of that sign-changing despite the fact that people just call it “the Coliseum” anyway.

Which, actually, may be the real name now. I put the “maybe” on Oakland’s joint because I think it was finally rescinded due to a kickback scheme and crap. I honestly do not know what the park will be called on Opening Day. I do know that the field is called “Rickey Henderson Field” at [whatever the park is called] and maybe they should just go with that?

Apart from the constant name changes, these are probably the dumbest named parks on a commercial level because it’s not like people simply go buy Oracle products or, pending litigation or whatever is happening, Ring Central products. Oracle is generally an enterprise-level company. The database you use at work is an Oracle thing. You’re not going to Best Buy or wherever to get some Oracle product. RingCentral is a cloud-based communications company. It has no obvious connection to anyone who doesn’t deal specifically with whatever it is they do.

Which is to say that these companies slapping their names on the ballparks are primarily ego plays by the people paying and money grabs by the teams accepting. If I was a shareholder of one of these companies and I heard they spent millions on naming rights, I’d probably consider a lawsuit. If I ran Major League Baseball and one of my teams wanted to put some detached from humanity name on a park I’d step in and — hahaha, just kidding. if I ran Major League Baseball I’d be too busy cashing Doosan’s checks to care about such things. Baseball fans LOVE Doosan. It’s easily their favorite infrastructure support and/or construction machinery concern.

29. Guaranteed Rate Field

This was probably the most mocked name for a ballpark in recent memory, but in light of what’s been going on in Oakland and the new name in Atlanta, it’s almost quaint. You know how you look up one day and realize, “my god, Craig Counsell is one of the longest-tenured managers in baseball?! How did that happen?” It’ll be like that with Guaranteed Rate Field someday. At least after all the banks realize they’re throwing money away on naming rights deals and teams scramble to get a few cents from to rename their parks “Howie’s Gently-Used Swimsuits and Industrial Blowtorches Field at Eastland Mall Park” or whatever.

Either way, given that the White Sox have improved their team a lot this past offseason a lot of us may be seeing more White Sox games than we’re used to so we had better come up with a nickname for this place fast. “The Rate?” “New New Comiskey?” I have so many questions.

30. Truist Park

Words cannot describe how dumb this is. It has all the problems with the bank names above, combined with the problem of “Truist” not being a word. I mean, “Comerica” is not a real word either, but at least it passes the Noah Cross test. Some guys in a boardroom just invented this word after a merger last year and the Braves — stuck with whatever those guys in the boardroom decided because they had already cashed the checks — were stuck.

“Truist” is even worse than the other made up words though, because it sounds . . . sinister. It’s a word Orwell might’ve used in 1984 to describe a person who tells nothing but lies. It’s like something some first-term congressman from Missouri might say during a guest spot on Fox News: “Well, Sean, as you know, the Democrat Party elites might have figures which say that the President’s plan to give tax breaks to companies which plan to blow up the moon will both bankrupt the country and destroy human civilization, but a Truist reading of the bill says it will help small business. The real question here is: why do the Democrats hate the truth?”

If I were an insane billionaire I’d buy a controlling interest in Truist, change the name of the bank to “I’m a stupid moron with an ugly face and a big butt and my butt smells and I like to kiss my own butt National Bank” and then giggle like crazy knowing that Chip Caray was obligated to say that before every game.

Or, maybe, I’d just change it to Henry Aaron Field like it should’ve been in the first place. Either way.