SI Vault
 
Baseball
Jeff Pearlman
August 21, 2000
Will to WinHot-hitting Oriole-turned-Cardinal Will Clark has helped keep St. Louis flying while Mark McGwire has been out
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 21, 2000

Baseball

View CoverRead All Articles

Will to Win
Hot-hitting Oriole-turned-Cardinal Will Clark has helped keep St. Louis flying while Mark McGwire has been out

With a beer in one hand and eye black smeared across his cheeks, Will Clark roamed the Milwaukee County Stadium visitors' clubhouse last Saturday afternoon, chirping to teammates, doing a few interviews and generally glowing in the aftermath of his 12th-inning, bases-loaded walk, which scored the winning run in a 2-1 Cardinals victory over the Brewers. He paused to look up at a nearby television, on which a recap of the Reds' 3-0 defeat of the Cubs that afternoon was playing. Jason LaRue, Cincinnati's young catcher, had been the hero. "Jason Laaahroooo!" Clark said in his trademark high-pitched cackle. "Who the f—- is Jason LaRue?"

Despite his lack of knowledge about players in the National League Central, Clark, who was acquired from the Orioles at the July 31 trading deadline to bolster the Cardinals' lineup in the absence of injured slugger Mark McGwire, has made himself at home in St. Louis. Through Sunday the struggling Cardinals (64-53, but only 13-17 since the Ail-Star break) had seen their once-sizable lead over the Reds reduced to 4� games, but Clark was on fire, having hit .400 with four home runs and 11 RBIs in his first 11 games for St. Louis. "What he's been doing, we've needed," says centerfielder Jim Edmonds, who had batted just .205 with two homers in August. "It was important to get someone else who could give us a jolt."

In April the idea of Clark's coming to St. Louis would have seemed about as likely as Eminem's performing in the Vatican. Baltimore was a pricey, win-at-any-cost team that considered itself a contender. The Cardinals, meanwhile, were set at first base with McGwire. But when McGwire went on the DL on July 13 with patella tendinitis in his right knee, St. Louis general manager Walt Jocketty turned to the Orioles, who were languishing in fourth place in the American League East and cleaning house. Baltimore was more than happy to surrender the 36-year-old Clark, who's in the second season of a two-year, $11 million contract. (The O's will pay a portion of his salary.) St. Louis had to give up only third baseman Jose Leon, a once-promising prospect with meager defensive ability and a .269 average with Double A Arkansas.

When Baltimore vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift told Clark of the deal, Clark started laughing. "Man, I was excited," he says. "When you go from 12 games out of first all the way to the pennant race, you're excited. It's a long trip from the outhouse to the penthouse, and I was happy to take it."

Things had begun to look bad for Clark last season, when he seemed more an ornery grandpa than a six-time Ail-Star. Bone spurs in his left elbow and a fractured left thumb limited him to 77 games. He was showing only warning-track power. At the start of spring training this year, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove began platooning the lefthanded-hitting Clark with the righthanded Jeff Conine. Yet Clark played well, batting .301 with nine home runs and 28 RBIs in 79 games. "I've been getting the attention for how I've been hitting here," says Clark, the National League Player of the Week after homering in four straight games for St. Louis, "but it started before I arrived. I've been seeing the ball very well."

The Cardinals need that to continue. McGwire has missed 47 games and is unlikely to return before September. He's no longer experiencing sharp pain in his knee, but he has yet to perform any baseball-related rehabilitation tasks—batting practice, light throwing—since going on the DL. When (or if) he does come back, it will likely be as a part-time starter and pinch hitter. Clark, who hasn't played in the outfield since 1985, his first year as a professional, has been taking fly balls in right. Says St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, "There's no doubt in my mind Will can judge a fly ball and hit the cutoff man."

"Look, I know this is Mac's job, that I'm just filling in," says Clark, "but there's a real chance for me to reach the playoffs. First base, outfield, catcher—it doesn't matter. Anything it takes for me to contribute. I just want to win again."

Dave Stewart Returns
Back to the Classroom

In 1998 Dave Stewart was baseball's hottest professor. As a first-year pitching coach with the Padres, he tutored a hard-nosed, fearless staff that not only ranked third in the National League in wins and ERA but also carried San Diego to the World Series. Yet at the end of that season, the professor left the classroom. Stewart abandoned coaching to pursue his ultimate goal—becoming a general manager. He was hired as an assistant to Toronto G.M. Gord Ash and all but promised that his coaching days were over.

Continue Story
1 2 3