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"When we were growing up, after we'd moved from Hattiesburg to New Orleans, my sister Robin and I were outsiders," Clark recalls. "We had trouble breaking in. Later on, I was the only one from my elementary school who went to Jesuit High School. Then I was the only guy in my high school who went to Mississippi State. I always had to make new friends quick. It made me self-confident. If I get in a situation where I don't know anyone, I just go, 'Hi, I'm Will.' "
"He wasn't shy," remembers LaCoss. "And he wasn't humble. He was just a confident, outgoing young man with a high, screeching voice."
Will the Shrill, his teammates called him, chuckling at the way his voice rose an octave as he called for pop-ups and nearly cracked when he yelled "Goin'!" after a base stealer broke for second.
But some members of the team didn't find Clark amusing. One was Jeffrey Leonard, the big, brooding leftfielder who has a scowl that could peel the skin off an onion. Leonard, now with the Mariners, is an intimidator. He likes to see what his teammates, particularly rookies, are made of. He and other veterans did not cotton to all the attention that Clark, who had practically no minor league experience, was getting, so they tested him every chance they got.
One day Clark bought a brand-new pair of cowboy boots. He returned from practice to find some teammates had spray-painted them orange. It bugged him, but he laughed it off, and eventually the players replaced the boots. When Clark went on the disabled list with a hyperextended elbow in June of '86, he walked into the clubhouse and found that Leonard had stuffed all his bats in a trash can. "You won't be needing those for a while," Leonard told him.
The animosity took an ugly turn in Clark's second season. On a road trip to Philadelphia, he and Leonard got into a scuffle that ended up on the clubhouse floor. Clark won't discuss the incident, but one source who was in a position to know says that Leonard's young nephew had asked Clark for his autograph, and Clark had made a racial slur and told him to get out of his way. When Leonard heard about the episode and confronted Clark the next day, the two men went at it until teammates broke them apart.
Another time, Clark used a racial epithet in an argument with teammate Chris Brown, an incident for which he apologized to the entire team. "The thing with Chris Brown was done without thinking," says Craig. "Chris accepted his apology. Will has a very high level of intensity, and doesn't realize he's doing those things."
Both incidents were recalled during last year's World Series, when Clark had the poor judgment to refer to Leonard, by this time playing for Seattle, as "a tumor." Leonard responded by calling Clark "a prejudiced——."
At the very least, Clark certainly is thoughtless about the use of racially offensive words. But Clark vehemently denies being a bigot. "Some of my best friends are black," he says. "That has nothing to do with it."
"We get along like two brothers," Mitchell says in Clark's defense. "If he's a racist, he's sure putting up a good front. He treats me like family."