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This is the house that Jack Built. This is the 6,000 square feet of games and toys and affection that Jack Clark made for his four kids, not at all like the house he grew up in, not at all like the silent one his own father made. In this house in Danville, Calif., he is so much more like his mother, soft and flowing like whipped cream. Out there, playing baseball, he is so much like his father. Swings angry. Talks angry. Leaves angry. Next city.
This is the career that Jack built. The most vicious swing in the majors. Jack the Ripper. Three hundred and eighteen home runs in 16 seasons. Maybe the best clutch fastball hitter in the past 20 years. Ask Tommy Lasorda about that. Only Willie Mays (22) has hit more extra-inning home ins than Clark (17) has.
This is the rap that Jack built. The most vicious quote in the majors, gain, Jack the Ripper. Telling the front office in San Francisco to "go die," calling former St. Louis cardinals teammate Ozzie Smith a "speck," blasting Yankee manager Lou Piniella over making him change positions in the field without notice, labeling Tony Gwynn "selfish" in San Diego, calling Padres manager Greg Riddoch "a s-s-s-snake." Nobody wears out a front-office welcome faster than the continually furious Jack Clark, baseball's alltime league leader in boats rocked.
So how come so many people hate to see him go? How come he counseled Padres catcher Benito Santiago so well that Santiago has called Clark "a great man"? Impressed ex-teammate Andy Van Slyke so much that Van Slyke said he would follow him through a wall. Leveled with Los Angeles Times baseball writer Bill Plaschke so often that Plaschke calls him "the most honest man I ever met."
Too honest, maybe? Loved by workaday teammates, he is often hated by the stars. Adored by rookies, he is often detested by managers. Admired by beat writers, he gets excoriated by columnists. This is a very good player, only a few hundred no comments from being great.
This is the chance that Jack has, maybe the last chance, in Boston now as the Red Sox's designated hitter, with that lovely wall to his left and real fans in the seats, not the beach boys and their Day-Glo girlfriends that he ripped in San Diego. "It's an honor to be booed by Boston fans," says Clark. "In San Diego, you'd ground into a double play, the winning run would score, and they'd boo. 'Oh, what, you mean we're ahead? Oh. Yea!' "
Clark has been honored in Boston like you wouldn't believe. He has gone through a couple of monstrous slumps that have allowed the fans to honor him deeply and truly. He was struggling along at the end of last week with a .220 batting average and only 38 RBIs after starting off with a grand slam on Opening Day, and then going about 0 for May. Along the way, he won a TKO over a clubhouse toilet in Kansas City after an 0 for 4, and allegedly told a sportswriter from San Francisco that he wanted out of Boston. He followed that by getting fined for tossing his batting helmet toward one umpire, then got in a yelling match with another ump. He also hit a burst of homers, threatened to knock a Boston writer "on his ass" and to "wring the neck" of the San Francisco reporter, started out at cleanup, got benched, got reinstated and was shipped down to seventh in the lineup. In other words, Boston has been just another stop on the Jack Clark Scorched Earth Tour.
Seven years ago Whitey Herzog, who adores him, said, "If Jack Clark played in Fenway, he'd make them forget about Jim Rice." Well, here, at 35, is Jack Clark in Fenway. Here is Clark, telling you to forget how things look, forget the first few get-acquainted months, telling you that he's ready to do something in a baseball uniform that he hasn't done in a long, long time: Enjoy himself.
This is the grandfather that Jack had, John Clark, a drinker and a womanizer, a construction foreman who blew his son's college tuition on wine and women and died on a rainy day under the slick wheel of a giant truck. And when he died, his son, Ralph, only muttered about getting stuck with the funeral bill.
Ralph Clark refused to have an autopsy done that day. Why should he be curious about his father in death when he wasn't in life? Was his father ever curious about him? John was gone on construction jobs for four to six months at a time. And when he did come home he would stay only long enough to pay the tab at the grocery store and bolt again.