The 1986 Sports Illustrated cover story "Double Trouble," featuring Mark McGwire and Will Clark reported the difference these two first baseman brought to Bay Area baseball. I'll never forget reading some of the color commentary about his impact. For example, rather than a rote message "Hi, this is Will. I'm not here right now. Please leave a message" it played the B.B. King song "The Thrill is Gone." This lunch hour affirmed what Giants' fan have always known—the Thrill is never gone.
|The number of fans who wear #22 at every Giants game is remarkable.|
A friend said she was surprised I had not met the six-time All Star before. On one hand, I agree. Given my loyalty to the orange and black and the legacy of this leftie, perhaps it shouldn't have taken 30 years of fandom to connect. However, in the past, I wasn't so sure I actually wanted to meet him. Sometimes, it's easier to keep our heroes and our favorite athletes, musicians or artists at arm's length. Often, their public persona doesn't match up with a personal encounter. Other times, we might not know what to say. I know these folks put their pants on just like everyone else, one leg at a time, and yet the reason we even know who they are is because of what they do. And in the case of Will Clark, it's not just what he did, but how he did it.
|given the nickname "The Natural" because of this beautiful left-handed swing. #art|
Set to AC/DC's "TNT" the collective audience watched some of my favorite baseball memories and Will's best: his first hit as a Giant—a home run off of Nolan Ryan in that vapid ballpark: the Astrodome, the grand slam off of Greg Maddux in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Cubs in Chicago, the two-run single against Mitch "Wild Thing Williams" in Candlestick to break the 1-1 tie in the game/secure the series and the slide into second base in St. Louis launching an epic baseball fight that cleared both benches. These feats and more brought AC/DC's lyrics to life:
Cause I'm T.N.T., I'm dynamiteOh, hell yeah.
(T.N.T.) and I'll win the fight
(T.N.T.) I'm a power load
(T.N.T.) watch me explode
Will's address to this crowd was one part advice to today's baseball players, two parts storytelling, and all parts unabashedly, uncompromisingly Will. Once called "Will the Shrill" before he had his tonsils removed, Will talked fast, his words were gracious and yet politically unapologetic. When he said "my world is very black and white." ever last part of me thought "we know, Will. We always have." In a city like San Francisco that claims to be liberal and tolerant but often times falls short, his words were actually a welcome respite. Clark has only ever been who he is—and that's why this city loved him so. We still do.
|Will, as he always was...always will be.|
1. "Common sense is a lost art. If something is telling you don't do it. DON'T DO IT." Clark returned to this point when he told the story of Kevin Mitchell making a one-handed catch—with his bare hand—against the fence in left field at Busch Stadium. "Common sense says you have a glove in your hand for a reason." Good one, Will. Great one, Boogie Bear (Kevin Mitchell's nickname).
2. Trust your gut. So many times, my gut would tell me he's going to throw a slider. I'd talk myself out of it and guess what? He threw a slider. This is true in life, like common sense, listen to that inner-voice.
3. Family is first. Will Clark retired from MLB in 2000 to spend more time with his wife Lisa and their two children. His son, Trey (Will Clark, III) has Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), a diagnosis which puts him on the autism spectrum. Will left the game after helping the St. Louis Cardinals in their play-off run, leaving the game with an impressive .650 post-season batting average. #baller.
4. Respect. Will said "it is so important to respect your elders. Where I come from it's yes sir, or no ma'am. I was taught that you respect the military and law enforcement." He praised two of the games greatest, Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. Clark said, "being around these greats and listening to what they said about hitting advanced my game. Pure and simple. They had more influence on me than anyone will ever know."
Prior to this event, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to ask Will. I decided that I would build rapport by telling him that I lived in Napoleonville, LA. He immediately turned about and said "what were you doing down in Napoelonville?!" I knew this would get a reaction—it always does. Napoleonville's notoriety must be in name only, because this itty-bitty bayou town is home to but all of 2,000 people. They too are great outdoorsmen like the Thrill. It's the Louisiana way.
As a teacher at another Jesuit high school I asked him about his experience at Jesuit High in New Orleans. I even snuck in a reference to Endymion, my favorite Mardi Gras parade that passes in front of his alma mater. And, more importantly I wanted to know why HE thought San Francisco loved him in the way we do.
My friend Matt, a San Francisco native couldn't believe Will Clark was my favorite male athlete of all time. "How is it not Joe Montana?" Great question, Mateo. Montana, the "Comeback Kid" did great things at Notre Dame and for the San Francisco 49ers. Guiding the Irish to the 1977 National Championship and the Niners to four Super Bowl titles, one would think "Joe Cool" is number one for those reasons alone. But that nickname says it all. Under pressure, #16 was calm, cool and collected. He had to be. But what I've always loved about #22 is the fire, intensity and passion that he brought day in and day out to Candlestick. to MLB and to Riordan's downtown business lunch.
Christmas involves a lot of talk about presents—making our list and checking it twice. We join in the relentless pursuit for that "perfect gift" or maybe this year you've limited your shopping to four of them (see the Four Gift Christmas Challenge). And yet, quite often the best present is a person's presence. In theory, we proclaim this as true, until you really do get that magical gift. However, my first formal chance to talk t0 and be with Will "The Thrill" left me thinking, other than a Clark 22 jersey, I really don't need a single thing with my name on it under the tree. Thank you Sea and John for making this happen. Thank you ARHS!
Those were great years, Will and unforgettable memories. Thank you. In the giving, we received. Merry Christmas....thanks for playing ball.
Hall of Fame ballot