Forgotten Friars: Jack Clark
Arguably one of the most unpopular players in San Diego Padres history, the team thought they had performed a coup when they acquired the power-hitting first baseman from the New York Yankees, Jack Clark. Clark, affectionately known as “Jack The Ripper” for his grip it and rip it approach at the plate, came to San Diego along with Pat Clements in exchange for Lance McCullers, Jimmy Jones and Stan Jefferson. Clark was a big free agent signing for the Yankees the previous winter, and when manager Lou Piniella took over for the fired Billy Martin, he changed the dynamic of his lineup, sitting Clark in favor of the left-handed hitting Ken Phelps (who by the way was acquired from Seattle in exchange for prospect Jay Buhner.)
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The Padres felt they had their perfect cleanup hitter to support franchise icon and multiple-time National League batting champion, Tony Gwynn. After slugging 27 home runs and driving in over 90 with the Yankees in the American League, Clark was excited to be back in the Senior Circuit with Padres, commenting:
"“I hate that damn league. Every game lasts 3 1/2 to 4 hours. No wonder the fans are bored over there.”(h/t, Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe)"
It didn’t take long for Clark to become an enemy of both the fans in San Diego, and of his well respected and idolized local product, Tony Gwynn. The two exchanged shots through the media, with Clark complaining about Gwynn’s approach at the plate with runners in scoring position, while Gwynn fired back saying that Clark often took too many called third strikes. It was an acrimonious relationship to say the least, and it was one that Clark was never going to win against the beloved Gwynn. Teammate and All-Star Joe Carter added this about the rift between the two:
"“It just involved one great guy, and that’s Tony Gwynn, and anything they want to say about Tony Gwynn is going to be news. It got all blown out of proportion.”"
(h/t, Nick Cafardo, Boston Globe)
While there were plenty of fireworks off the field for Clark, he was doing everything the Padres’ asked of him on the field during his two seasons in San Diego. In 1989, Clark hit .242, with 26 home runs and 94 runs batted in. He led the National League in walks that season, with 132. He followed up first initial campaign in San Diego with another solid year in 1990, hitting .262 with 25 home runs, and only 64 runs batted in due to leg and back injuries that shortened his season to only 115 games. He once again led the National League in walks, with 104.
Mandatory Credit: sikids.com
The Padres management were so impressed, they wanted to retain Clark’s services, but only on a one-year deal. Clark, who felt the fans had turned on him, and management was favoring Gwynn in their feud, chose instead, to leave the Padres and sign with the Boston Red Sox on a three-year deal. Clark didn’t leave San Diego quietly however, making sure to get some parting shots in on his way out the door:
"“Everything that they should cheer for they’d boo for, and everything they should boo for they’d cheer for … Tony, he’s perfect for them. He just plays the whole thing up, and the town is so stupid that they can’t see.”"
(h/t, Shaugnessy, Boston Globe)
Jack Clark has never been one to hold his tongue, and while his stats say he was a solid player for the Padres during his two-year stint, the distractions and uproar he caused with the fans and his teammates, make his tenure both tumultuous and forgettable. When you rub Mr. Padre the wrong way, that goes a long way about telling what type of teammate and ball player you are. It’s probably best, that Jack Clark remain a Forgotten Friar.