We talk about the Hall of Very Good sometimes as a place where those who come up a little short of Hall of Fame standards reside. Will Clark would be among the Hall of Very Good’s most worthy residents.
Clark played 16 seasons with the Giants, Rangers, Orioles and Cardinals. He hit a robust .303/.384/.497, made six All-Star teams, won two Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove award at first base. He had the misfortune of playing a position with a lot of really good players. But Clark’s numbers are still impressive.
He finished in the top five in the MVP voting four times in a five-year span with the Giants and was terrific in the 1987, 1989 and 2000 NLCS’ but never won a World Series. He was an even better hitter in high-leverage situations than he was in other spots. He retired after a season in which he hit .319/.418/.546. It ranks alongside David Ortiz and Ted Williams among the best retirement seasons of all-time.
Clark’s signature walk-off game came on June 22, 1988 against the Padres. San Diego was on the verge of a sweep of the series and got off to a good start on a Tony Gwynn RBI hit in the first inning. Clark countered with an RBI hit of his own in the bottom of the inning, but the Padres struck for three in the second on an RBI hit by Benito Santiago and a two-run single from Shane Mack. They stretched their lead to 5-1 on Carmelo Martinez’s home run in the third.
Clark got the Giants three runs back in the fifth when he homered against Padres starter Ed Whitson. The AP story notes that Clark had told the Giants No. 1 draft pick, future MLB shortstop, Royce Clayton, that he’d homered to right field in the game. Clark came through.
The score held until the top of the ninth when the Padres scored twice to take a 7-4 edge into the bottom of the ninth.
Lance McCullers (the elder) was appointed to close the game out for San Diego, but after retiring Kevin Mitchell, he walked Bob Brenly and allowed a single to Jose Uribe. In came the Padres closer, Mark Davis, who struck out pinch-hitter Harry Spilman. The Padres were one out from a win.
That out never came. Brett Butler singled in a run and Chris Speier walked. The situation stood at the Padres up by two runs, with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning. Clark was up.
The game recap notes that Davis threw Clark six curveballs, and that he thought he had Clark struck out on a 1-2 pitch that was called a ball. The last of those six curveballs was hit into the right field corner. Uribe, Butler and Speier all scored and the Giants had themselves an amazing 8-7 win. Seven of the runs were driven in by Will the Thrill.