July 11, 2012

HOVG Heroes: Will Clark


DAVID ALLAN on WILL CLARK

Every year as fans of baseball we embark on a journey.

The trip, for all of us that love the idea of baseballs immortals, begins with a nomination in late November or early December. By early in the month of January, the call to The Hall has been made.  Then we wait with baited breath for that glorious day in late July when one or more of our heroes is inducted into the company of the games immortals.

The why and how of the voting has always been the most confusing part of the process.

During the month of December, the Baseball Writers Association of America tackles the large task which has been bestowed upon them. It is in the hands, hearts and minds of the baseball writers which we put this decision.

Will a players be immortalized, will his legend, his legacy be enshrined forever in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown New York? Will he be allowed to stand in the sun and gives the much scrutinized induction speech. A speech which Rollie Fingers once told me was one of the hardest things he’d ever had to do. Or will he go down as being “Very Good”?  Will he be celebrated here by the fans? Will his legacy be forever in the form of a bronze plaque or in our corner of the internet as a pixilated image?

As we are on the verge of another July day in the sun, I want to look at two players and my personal confusion with current system of induction. One player has seen his votes Yo-Yo on his hopeful march to 75%, and the other had his opportunity cut short after one ballot.

Why and how is this possible? I do know that one will be addressed elsewhere in The Hall’s examination of Heroes, so I’ll leave that for another time. That being said, I need to know how a player that I remember being great, being exceptional, being talented was lost on the first ballot.

In 2006, the Baseball Hall of Fame once again opened its door a closer. Not a converted starter, but the definition of closer.

Bruce Sutter received 400 votes to appear on 76.9% of all the ballots. More simply put, Sutter got in by ten votes. I mention Sutter not because I am here to make a case for or against his candidacy, I will leave that up to someone else if they’d like to tackle the issue or not.  I mention him because I am interested in another player on the 2006 ballot.

I am interested in a player that got 4.4% of the vote, a player that appeared on only 23 of 520 ballots. While this became this player’s only trip to the ballot, another player managed to generate 64 voters in his sixth crack at induction.

Why does it matter?

Well it matters to me because players B found himself on the ballot in 2001 with 145 votes in his first year. That was 24 more votes than eventually selectee Bret Blyleven got this year. He then saw his vote total plummet to 64 votes in 2006 and has since rebounding with 102 votes in 2012.

How is it possible for us as fan to understand the process when two players, very good players illicit such completely different results from the Baseball Writers Association of America. How are to understand the same player is more of a Hall of Famer some years than other?


Player
Games
HITS
2B
HR
RBI
AVG.
OBP.
SLG%
A
1785
2153
442
222
1099
.307
.358
.471
B
1976
2176
440
284
1205
.303
.384
.497


Alright, I’m sure you’ve had enough with all the mystery and avoidance, right? We are here to discuss Heroes so lets put a name to my issue.

William Nuschler Clark, better known as “The Thrill” or “The Natural” is “Player B”.

So if that’s true, then who is “Player A”?

One of the few men whose nicknames and baseball body of work matches up with Clark, Don “The Hitman, Donnie Baseball” Mattingly.

Clark, a Louisiana native was awarded the Golden Spikes by USA Baseball as the best player in amateur baseball in 1985 and from there was selected second overall in the draft by the San Francisco Giants. Then on April 8, 1986 in his first big league at bat Clark would take future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan over the fence to announce he had arrived.  And despite an elbow injury that caused him to miss 47 games the 22-year old Clark would manage to play in 111 games as a rookie and bat .287 with 11 homeruns in 458 plate appearances.

His amazing run didn’t stop from there.  After a fifth place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting, Clark went on to finish in the top five in the National League MVP voting four times from 1987 to 1991. Mattingly, on the other hand, finished in the top five three times in the American League voting from 1984 to 1986, including winning the 1985 MVP Award.

Some will point to the fact Clark never won an MVP award as a detriment, but hey…neither did Hank Aaron or Derek Jeter. Now this isn’t to suggest that Will Clark or Don Mattingly are on par with “Hammerin’ Hank” or the Yankee Captain, but the fact of the matter is that consistently appearing at the top of the MVP voting shows greatness to win it is a combination of great play and great luck. Some would argue that in 1985, George Brett’s season with a better average, on base percentage and slugging percentage could have easily been selected as the American League MVP over Mattingly.

With similar careers in the same era, Clark and Mattingly should be attached at the hip when it comes to an over all evaluation of their careers, yet that does not seem to be the case.

In the case of Mattingly, we have seen Hall of Fame votes Yo-Yo up and down in an attempt by writers to constantly redefine where he stands. Where as Clark, on the other hand, was unceremoniously dropped without much debate. How is it possible that a player that meant so much to the Giants of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and one of the all-time sweet swings in baseball was dumped off the ballot without a second thought?

It could certainly be argued that outside of a lack of Gold Gloves Clark produced a career that is on par if not slightly better than “Donnie Baseball”.

When we debate the best first basemen of the 1980’s, what names instantly comes to mind? Murray? Hernandez? Mattingly? Cooper? Hrbek? How should we compare them?


Players
Average
OBP
Slugging%
OPS+
Clark
.303
.384
.497
137
Mattingly
.307
.358
.471
127
Cooper
.298
.337
.466
121
Murray
.287
.359
.476
131
Hernandez
.296
.384
.436
128
Hrbek
.282
.367
.481
128


For his first six full seasons in the league Clark was the best first baseman in the National League, including leading the Giants to the World Series in 1989. After the 1993 season, the Giants let Clark walk away as they were not willing to commit to him long term because of series of injuries.

Does this sound familiar?

Mattingly’s brief but brilliant career was also marred by injuries. By age 32 both players had essentially begun a rapid physical decline. Had they played a decade later and partaken in the training programs and supplements that were around in the late 90’s by the time Mattingly had retired and Clark’s health was so miserable he was limited in his effectiveness they might have had the numbers to open the BBWAA eyes and who knows, maybe “Donnie Baseball” would be in and “Will the Thril”l might have gotten a second look or more.

Alas, they are what they are, a pair of contemporaries with strikingly similar careers.

In Clark’s case, a career that other than longevity stacks up against the other great names of the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Here at the Hall of Very Good we remember.  We remember one of the sweetest swings the game has ever seen.

Clark hit for average and power with a fluidity that has rarely been duplicated in the history of the game. In 15 seasons, many of them affected by injury he produced 284 homeruns, 440 doubles and hit .303/.384/.497, so I have to ask…while you debate the merits of this argument, I’ll be on the patio rocking shorts, shades, flip flops and my number 22. 

Because, while he might not be a Hall of Famer, he certainly was very good.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Allan has been a contributor here at The Hall as well as the former Fullcountpitch.com.  He has recently taken a break from writing to pursue his Masters in Education and looks forward to getting back to the business of baseball and opinions soon.  Allan is currently in the developmental stages of a "to be named later" podcast, which is scheduled to launch September 1.

For now, you can find him on Twitter at @The_DavidAllan.

 

2 comments:

Dean Hybl said...

Interesting argument for Will Clark. His career numbers ended up being borderline HOF, but I think the fact that he toiled in obscurity in the 1990s after leaving the Giants really hurt his chances (no All-Star trips after 1994 despite hitting over .300 5 times). His home run totals dipped at a time when they went up for everyone else, which certainly didn't help him. I think if he was new to the ballot now in the post steroid era he would probably get more votes, but he got on the ballot just before voters started to officially realize that the numbers of the 1990s were artificially enhanced.

Also, Hank Aaron did win the NL MVP Award in 1957.

Anonymous said...

I was the biggest Will Clark fan growing up in the Bay Area. I really wish he would have been into weight lifting and training as I'm confident it could have changed his career post Giants. He and Palmeiro were very similar players until Palmeiro started juicing.