Money isn't one of them, but Jack Clark, 26, does have his problems. And to hear him talk about them, the average annual salary of $1.3 million he'll receive from the San Francisco Giants through 1985 is scarcely compensation for the woe that betides him. Where does one begin? At the ball park, probably. Clark doesn't like playing in Candlestick Park. That hardly qualifies him as a crank. No one likes playing in Candlestick Park. It's windy there. It's cold. Balls that fly out of, say, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium are outs at "The Stick." And, says Clark, the field is too slow, the batter's box too bumpy, and the chain link outfield fences that you can see through from home plate look unreachable. The ball park, he says, keeps him from being the superstar he feels he should be.
But that isn't the half of it. The Bay Area press harps on his mistakes, Clark says, at the expense of his accomplishments. So what if he starts off the field before there are three outs—he's done it twice. How about when he throws a runner out at the plate, gets a game-winning RBI (he had a league-leading 18 in '80) or blasts towering homers, some into the teeth of Candlestick gales (he's averaged almost 21 home runs in his five full seasons)?
Clark's biggest problem the last two years has been with his manager, the immortal Frank Robinson. Robinson and Clark get along about as well as Begin and Arafat. Clark thinks Robinson publicly criticizes his players too often, particularly an outfielder named Clark. Robinson hasn't tried to help him, Clark says. Robinson replies that Clark doesn't ask for help and that if he did, he'd get it. Besides, as he has told the newspapers, Clark doesn't help the team when he's not hitting, because he won't bunt, doesn't run the bases very well and is erratic in the outfield.
When Robinson was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Aug. 1, Clark told one Bay Area reporter that the manager's missing a couple of games was a plus for the team. Clark asked to be traded earlier in the year, a suggestion General Manager Tom Haller dismissed. "Anybody is entitled to express his feelings," says Haller, "but Jack is obligated to us through '85. Jack isn't malicious in what he says. We just wish he'd use more insight."
August 22, 1982
Clark is, in fact, a likable young man who, after reciting a litany of complaints, can say in all innocence, "I hope I don't sound too negative." But, just as he does with the number of outs, he seems on occasion to lose track of what he's saying. And there are contradictions. He may hate Candlestick, but although he was reared in Southern California, he loves the Bay Area and may live there permanently (he has a wife and two daughters).
"I've said I want to be traded," says Clark, "but I don't want people to think I'm a troublemaker. Maybe some of it is immaturity—the way I talk about Frank. I know I should take a lot of blame for the way we've gotten along, but I think Frank has to accept some of that blame, too. It hasn't been all just me."
Not even his severest critics suggest that Clark doesn't give his all. His mind may wander from time to time, but many of his fielding mistakes result from overzealousness. And if he could hit in the month of April, he might yet become a Triple Crown winner.
Clark batted .190 for that month this year, with only two homers and 11 RBIs. Last year, he was .179 in April, with two homers and eight RBIs. Clark can't account for these dismal starts, although, as with most things, he blames the home-field disadvantage. The transition from spring training in sunny Arizona to the brisk Aprils of Candlestick leaves him cold, he says. Whatever the reason, he soon recovers. Clark hit .315 with 11 homers in the second half of the divided 1981 season and he now ranks among the National League leaders in homers (22) and RBIs (76), and has raised his average to a respectable .260.
Robinson generously credits Clark's resurgence as a contribution to the team's recent good play. "He's been able to separate the two [his feelings and his performance]," says Robinson. "I let players do their job and expect them to let me do mine. Some of the things I say may not sit well. I know that. I said once that Johnnie LeMaster was hurting the club by not going to rightfield more. LeMaster came to me and talked about it. Jack Clark hasn't done that. I've gone to him and tried to help him. Each time he's ripped me publicly."
Recently, the two antagonists agreed to stop "ripping" each other publicly. "We've made a kind of peace," says Clark. "I don't expect him to forget about a lot of things and neither will I. Some things hurt. I don't think our attitude has changed toward each other. But now at least we have some respect."
Reggie Smith, one of the team's elder statesmen, believes Clark has to decide what's more important to him: achieving recognition elsewhere or helping the Giants. "I hope he stays here," says Smith. "He's the yardstick, the highest-paid player. It's a helluva burden, but he's got to accept the responsibility. Maybe Jack is just a little shy of maturity now. So what? I gained my maturity late. There's no reason he can't do the same."
A counterman at a shop on San Francisco's Lombard Street put it the fan's way: "I just wish Jack Clark would shut up and play ball."