When Jack Clark chose to leave the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987 to sign with the New York Yankees because of ownership collusion, it was the first of a series of strange and, at times, turbulent turns in his life.
Now that he has returned to Missouri to manage the Mavericks (he was introduced as manager Oct. 30), he says he wishes things would have worked out differently.
“I should have been a Cardinal,” Clark says. “I should have stayed in the National League, and it should have never been that situation. The fans loved me in St. Louis. I had my best year in ’87. We went to the World Series. I got hurt. It was still my best year.
“I had a lot of good years left, and it should have been in a Cardinals uniform.”
Clark played 18 seasons in the Major Leagues. He played 10 seasons with the San Francisco Giants, three with the Cardinals, one with the Yankees, two with the San Diego Padres and two with the Boston Red Sox before retiring after an injury-plagued season in 1992.
He had a flamboyant side that revealed itself in his passion for cars. At the peak of his career, he says he owned 21 cars, the majority of which were models from 1955, the year he was born. He says his passion for cars began in his childhood when he says his father took him to drag races.
“I had a museum collection of award-winning cars that I had purchased,” he says.
“I was paying probably $20,000 to $35,000 a car. To me, they were pieces of art.”
His fetish for cars combined with several poor land investments led to his filing for personal bankruptcy Aug. 7, 1992. He listed debts of $11,459,305.97 and assets of $4,781,780. At the time, Clark was in the second year of a three-year contract.
He never made it to the third year.
Out of baseball from 1993-98, he spent his time racing on the National Hot Rod Association’s racing circuit with a team he created in 1989. His car was named the Taco Bell Express.
“I had an opportunity to get into drag racing because that was really what I loved more than baseball,” he says.
He raced cars until 1996, when his sponsorship with Pepsico ended.
He spent the next two years spending time with his family and close friends as well as touring the country on his motorcycle.
For all he achieved as a player: 340 home runs, an 18-year career and four
All-Star appearances. It is his experience with collusion that has most affected his baseball life. At times, Clark seems stuck in his decision to leave St. Louis.
“I’m a little bitter still about that,” he says.
“I didn’t want to leave the Cardinals … (manager) Whitey Herzog was there. The players were intact. We had been to two World Series in my three years there. I had good years. I hit a dramatic home run for them against the hated Dodgers.
“So everything was kind of right. Not kind of, everything was right.”
In 1990, an arbitrator ruled that Clark and 14 other Major League players were victims of ownership collusion to keep down players’ salaries, but there is a sense that, for Clark, a number of things went wrong after his decision.
Clark describes his time with the Yankees as “strange.” Although he hit 28 home runs, he says the transition to designated hitter and the American League was difficult. His family did not want to move to New York, and he had just bought a home in St. Louis.
He describes his time in Boston with an air of regret. He says his agent talked him into it because of the three-year deal, Fenway Park’s reputation as a hitter’s park and the opportunity to hit 400 home runs with a possible Hall of Fame nomination.
“And I bought into all of that junk instead of my own piece of mind and what I knew made me happiest,” he says.
“You know, I am a perfect example that money doesn’t buy happiness.”
Clark returned to baseball in 1999 as manager for the River City Rascals. The team went 39-45.
Aaron Jaworowski, a former University of Missouri first baseman who played for Clark in 1999, describes Clark as a player’s manager who was never overly technical.
“He was a mental motivator and more of a support person than somebody who tried to pick apart your swing,” Jaworowski says.
He was also a hero to Jaworowski.
“I grew up in St. Louis in the era that he was playing,” he says.
“He was my favorite Cardinal. It was a thrill to play for him. He played first base like me. He was one of the guys that I looked up to. To me, when I think of Jack Clark what I think of is that home run.’’
In 1985, Clark’s three-run home run in the ninth inning of Game 6 defeated Los Angeles and clinched the National League Championship Series.
There are many parallels between Clark’s first coaching stint with the Rascals and the situation he inherits with the Mavericks. In 1999, the Rascals were the newest team in the Frontier League, and the organization was looking to establish credibility with its fans.
“He was very, very keyed up to our success getting this thing rolling,” Rascals general manager Matt Jones says. “Obviously, his name was instant credibility.”
The Mavericks are the newest team in the Frontier League. After a 33-57 season, three managers and the resignation of Pat Daly as general manager, the team is searching for credibility and stability with its fan base.
“Given the lack of competitiveness of the ball club last year, I thought it would be in everyone’s benefit if we had a baseball guy with major league experience who brought in additional credibility to our franchise,” Mavericks president Gary Wendt says.
Danny Cox, Gateway Grizzlies manager and former Cardinals pitcher, says Clark will provide the Mavericks with the stability the team needs.
“He’s going to give them a few of the baseball things that they need,” Cox says.
“It just didn’t seem like they had any focus or any direction, and I believe Jack will give that to them.”
Cox says that at the least, Mavericks’ players will benefit from their exposure to Clark if they choose to listen.
“I think (the players) should at least listen,” he says.
“We’ve learned things along the way from a lot of different people, and those are things that we are trying to pass along right now because we don’t have the opportunity to play the game at the level that we once did.”
Clark says he can most help the Mavericks on the field, but he is short on specifics. He has not chosen an assistant coach or met the players.
“What I do, and what we all try to do as baseball people in the industry is you like the on-the-field stuff,” he says.
“There is nothing like between the lines on the field: What goes on in the dugout, the highs and the lows, the ups and the downs. The work you put in to try to achieve individually and collectively as a team. That’s what I like. That’s where I fit in. That’s where I feel most comfortable.”
Clark was the hitting coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers for 2 1/2 years until he was fired in August. He made headlines in March when he broke eight ribs and had severe cuts on his face after a motorcycle crash in Phoenix when he was driving to Bank One Ballpark.
He says he was lucky to be alive.
“I have a whole different outlook on life than I did,” he says.
“To me, the Mavericks, the Dodgers, the Cardinals, it’s not the same, but it is. It’s baseball. It’s people.”
Clark says that he keeps returning to baseball because it is what he knows.
“I’m a baseball player,” he says. “I love baseball. I know baseball. That’s what I know. That’s what I do. That’s my expertise. That’s where my life and my frustration and my success, it was all out on the field in front of a huge audience.”
Judging by Clark’s words, his time with the Cardinals might have been right for him in a way that nothing else in baseball has been since. With his return to Missouri for the third time in his career, maybe everything can be right for him in baseball again.