That's hardly a strong enough word. The 6'1", 190-pound Clark not only
believes he can hit any pitcher alive, he also believes he can hit him on the
best day of the pitcher's life. Clark has the temperament of a misunderstood
artist. "I'm a masher! Ain't I a masher?" he used to brag in his
shrill, insistent way to his teammates on the 1984 Olympic team. They would
roll their eyes and wish that he would shut up and hit.
But, of course,
he was a masher. You couldn't deny it. He could hit the ball a ton—for average
and for power. While with the Olympic team, Clark outshone a group of stars
that included Mark McGwire, B.J. Surhoff and Barry Larkin, amassing 16 homers
and 43 RBIs in 40 games. He had the sweetest swing that anyone had ever seen,
an uppercut with a long, loopy follow-through that made it seem as if he were
wielding a buggy whip instead of a 32-ounce bat.
manager of the Giants, Al Rosen, who was working for the Houston Astros at the
time, remembers seeing the Olympic team play an exhibition in the Astrodome and
thinking: "That son of a gun Clark is going to make some G.M. a lucky man
for the next 20 years." Little did Rosen know that he would be that lucky
thing is the better the pitcher or the tougher the situation, the better Clark
hits. You could look it up. Last season he hit .431, nearly 100 points above
his overall batting average, against the 10 pitchers in the National League
with the lowest ERAs. Against lefties, the lefthanded-hitting Clark batted an
astounding .450 with runners in scoring position.
And that doesn't
count Clark's most memorable at bat of the year, the one that put the finishing
touch on the best league championship series that any player has ever had, the
one that Craig calls "one of the greatest at bats I've ever seen." It
occurred in the eighth inning of Game 5 against the Chicago Cubs' fireballing
lefthanded closer, Mitch Williams, a.k.a. Wild Thing.
It was a classic
matchup, and while Williams warmed up, Clark studied him carefully from the
on-deck circle. In Game 1, at Wrigley Field, Clark had picked up a critical
piece of information by studying another Cub pitcher from that vantage point.
It was the fourth inning and the bases were full. Clark kept his eye on Chicago
manager Don Zimmer as he came out to talk to his starting pitcher, Greg Maddux.
Most people thought Zimmer was going to yank Maddux and bring in lefthander
Paul Assenmacher. Instead, he told Maddux how he wanted him to pitch to
"I can read
Maddux's lips right over the top of Zimmer's head," recalls Clark.
"He's facing me and repeats, 'Fastball in.' They'd been pitching me
outside. So that's what I'm looking for."
Clark found it,
mashing a grand slam to right that effectively put Game 1—in which he had two
homers and six RBIs—out of reach. That, of course, was only the beginning.
Clark set league records for a five-game series with 13 hits, eight runs, 24
total bases, a .650 average and a 1.200 slugging percentage.
But it was his
final at bat of that series, against Williams in Candlestick Park, that people
best remember, the one that branded an image of Clark's unique style on the
national consciousness. The bases, again, were full, with two outs and the
score 1-1. Watching Williams loosen up, Mitchell said to Clark, "You know
he won't throw you a hook."
Clark knew that,
all right. He keeps videotapes of all his at bats in his home, both the good
ones and the bad ones. They are divided by team and by pitcher, so that before
each series Clark can study how various staffs like to pitch him. The man
leaves nothing to chance. "Pitchers act differently when they get in a
bind," he says. "Ninety times out of a hundred, they'll stick with
their strengths, and if you know what their strength is, you can look for