The Giants honored the 1989 World Series team yesterday and when they did so they made a surprise announcement: they’re going to retire Will Clark’s number 22.
Some teams decline to hand out un-retired numbers for years after a notable player has worn it, but that was never the case with Clark and 22. It’s been worn by everyone from Eric Davis to Mike Matheny to Dan Uggla in the 26 years since Clark left San Francisco via free agency.
But that’s mostly a function of the Giants changing their number retirement policy. Until last year, the Giants only retired Hall of Famers’ numbers. While Clark was an excellent player who was very important to the Giants late 1980s resurgence, smart money was on him never being a Hall of Famer, so giving out 22 to others made some sense. With Barry Bonds being kept out of the Hall of Fame due to voters punishing him for PED use, however, the Giants decided to go ahead and do the obvious thing by retiring his number last season. That broke the Hall of Famers-only rule, thereby opening the door for Clark to get the honor.
And it’s a good call. It’s dumb to peg number retirements to Hall of Fame elections because Hall of Fame voters are not the people who care about a player’s place in a franchise’s history. That’s a local thing and, locally, guys like Will Clark can be profoundly important to a franchise and its fans even if 75% of the BBWAA doesn’t think they’re Cooperstown worthy.
Clark is certainly number retirement-worthy. He was a Giant for eight years, leading them to the 1987 NL West title and the 1989 NL pennant. He made five All-Star teams and finished in the top five in MVP voting four times. The Giants couldn’t draw anyone to blustery Candlestick Park in the immediate post-Willie Mays years and through much of the 1980s, but with Clark and Jeffrey Leonard and Kevin Mitchell on the squad, the Giants became a big deal again. That level of excitement around the team likely played a part in getting Barry Bonds to sign with the Giants before the 1993 season, which led to a whole new level of prominence for the franchise and, eventually, a new ballpark, a lot more money and a talent base that led to three World Series titles. Obviously a lot more people than just Will Clark had a hand in that — and many had far greater hands in that — but one can trace the rise of Giants baseball in the 1980s and 1990s and on through to today directly to the sweet, sweet swing of the man Giants fans called The Thrill.
Congratulation to Clark on the honor. Good show by the Giants.