Updated: May 6, 2021
Some sports heroes build and claw their way into the hearts of their fans. Other sports heroes only need one moment early in their career to make an indelible mark in the hearts of their fans. What separates those heroes from legends are the ones who keep building and clawing despite having already made an impact with their fans. Not all legends are in the Baseball Hall of Fame but their memory lives on in the hearts of those who witnessed their greatness every day. Will Clark made his mark with his first at bat against one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Every day since then, he came to work fighting for his next opportunity at greatness. His career and his life have been an American dream.
An Idyllic Childhood
William Nuschler Clark, Jr. was born on March 13, 1964 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He spent many an afternoon playing baseball in nearby Digby Park. He got his first prime taste of baseball glory at the age of 15 when his Babe Ruth team finished third in the national World Series in the summer of 1979. The following year, his high school team won the state championship. Later that same summer, his American Legion team finished third in the World Series. As a junior, he broke Rusty Staub’s school record for home runs with 10 in just 14 games.
After a stellar prep career, he was drafted in the fourth round by the Kansas City Royals. Feeling he wasn’t quite ready, he spurned the $35,000 signing bonus for a college education at Mississippi State University.
His college career was going well until Rafael Palmeiro joined the team his sophomore year; then his collegiate career became one of legend. Dubbed “Thunder and Lightning” the power duo wrecked havoc on the rest of the SEC. Together they led Mississippi State to the 1985 College World Series where they lost in the semifinals to Miami of Florida. As a result of his accomplishments as a junior, he was named college player of the year. The College World Series wasn’t his only venture as he also won a silver medal in the 1984 Olympics.
Living the Dream
The Giants drafted him second overall in the 1985 draft. In Fresno, his first minor league assignment, he hit a home run in his first at bat. It was a foretelling of his career in the major league.
After playing his way through the Giants’ farm system, Clark was called to the big leagues in 1986. His first game was against the Houston Astros in the Astrodome against Nolan Ryan, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Clark hit a home run in his first at bat. Immediately, San Francisco found its’ next baseball sensation. Clark seized the moment and built an incredible career in the City by the Bay.
During his career in San Francisco, he made five All Star Games and earned two Silver Slugger Awards and one Gold Glove. His greatness became apparent in 1988 when he led the National League in RBI with 109. The following year he scored 104 runs and hit 23 home runs while leading the Giants to the World Series against the Oakland A’s. 1989 was an incredible year for Clark as well as for the Giants with Clark finishing second in the voting for NL MVP to his teammate Kevin Mitchell. Clark was named NLCS MVP during that postseason against the Chicago Cubs after collecting 13 hits and two walks in 22 plate appearances.
The 1989 World Series was a memorable one as it is the only World Series where both participants were from the Bay Area. At every level of his playing career, Clark had come up just short of winning a World Series. In order to finally become a champion the Giants would have to defeat the power duo of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, dubbed the “Bash Bros” who years later would be found guilty of using steroids. San Francisco had a power duo of their own in Clark and Kevin Mitchell, dubbed “the Pacific Sock Exchange”.
The Giants lost the first two games in Oakland by scores of 0-5 and 1-5. They traveled across the Bay back to Candlestick Park for Game 3 but the Series was interrupted by the Loma Prieta earthquake which caused massive damage to both San Francisco and Oakland. The World Series was postponed for a record 10 days.
There was a sense of urgency and community spirit when the World Series resumed. Players from both team desperately wanted to win the championship not just for individual glory, but to bring a sense of healing to a wounded community. Games 3 and 4 were played in Candlestick Park and they proved to be just what the community needed.
Game 3 was a shootout with home runs covering the night’s sky. Between the two clubs there were seven home runs with Oakland bashing five of them. Will Clark didn’t get a home run in that game but he did bat .500 and scored a run. Oakland’s power proved to be too much for San Francisco and the A’s won 13-7.
Game 4 was closer but the outcome was the same with the Giants losing 9-6. Clark played well in that game, batting .472 and collecting another run. Despite his high hitting percentage, he only recorded four hits in as many games. He would never be closer to winning a World Series again.
The sorrow of 1989 brought joy in 1990 when Clark was awarded a new four-year, $15 million contract, making him the highest paid player in history. The strains of a new contract looked to be a bit much for him that year as he hit a subpar .295, 95 RBI and 19 home runs. However, Clark revealed that he had been battling an ailment in his foot called Morton’s neuroma all year. He had surgery to correct the problem and was back to his old self the following year, hitting .301 and 29 home runs.
After making the All Star Game in 1992, his contract expired and he signed with the Texas Rangers. His homerun total slipped and was never the same but he did make the All Star Game in 1994 after hitting .329. It would be his final All Star appearance.
He stayed in Texas until 1999 when he left for Baltimore. Though his hitting percentage never went below .303, his power was gone. He split time between Baltimore and Saint Louis in 2000, his final season. Somehow, despite spending time in two cities he managed to hit 21 home runs.
Will Clark retired with 284 home runs, 1205 RBI and a .303 hitting percentage. Due to his accomplishments, he was inducted in the College Baseball Hall of Fame, Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame. He only received 4.4% of the votes for the National Baseball Hall of Fame which disqualified him for future consideration. The Giants announced plans to retire his number during the 2020 season. His greatness was known to a few but to those few who knew his greatness, his play is etched in their memory forever.