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Making Friends With Jack Clark (Special from the IBWAA)

By Dan Schlossberg (Special from the IBWAA)


This article was featured in “Here’s The Pitch” the newsletter of the IBWAA and is shared with permission. This article was published in July 2023.


For me, the highlight of 2023 Hall of Fame Induction Weekend was spending hours with Jack Clark.

Though not a Hall of Famer as a player, he is certainly a Hall of Famer as a person.

Although he hit .267 with 340 homers during a fine career as first baseman and rightfielder for five different teams from 1975-1992, Clark was a four-time All-Star widely regarded as a dangerous left-handed slugger.

For some reason, our paths had never crossed before now –- even though we had been to several of the same All-Star games.

Still viewed with affection by the fans of the St. Louis Cardinals, the 67-year-old Clark was in Cooperstown to sign baseballs, cards, and photographs for fans attracted by the induction of former Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen.

He and I wound up seated side-by-side in front of Willis Monie books, the best source of old baseball books and programs outside of the Baseball Hall of Fame itself.

Clark and I actually made a trade: a copy of my book The New Baseball Bible for a baseball bearing a very personalized signature. Both of us, it seems, made a joke out of the bar of soap Clark brought to my hotel room after we both complained about the tiny bar of soap provided by the flea-bag property we both chose by accident because it had proximity to Cooperstown without the usual price.

I have never had a major-league player –- especially a star –- knock on my hotel room door to bring me a much-needed, much-appreciated, and most practical gift.

On top of that, Jack graciously took time away from the fans buzzing around his table to give me a lengthy, anecdote-filled interview for a forthcoming Memories & Dreams article on baseball card photography.

For the uninitiated, that’s the handsome, full-color official magazine of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

With Hall of Famers Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers, and Joe Torre signing just across Main Street Saturday, Jack Clark and I were speculating over who might reach the Hall of Fame next.

We mentioned such names as Adrian Beltre, Joe Mauer, Todd Helton, Billy Wagner, Andruw Jones, Gary Sheffield, and even former managers Lou Piniella, Davey Johnson, and Jim Leyland.

I also noticed how cordial Clark was to anyone who approached his table, even a heavyset local who monopolized far too much of his time.

The man once known as “Jack the Ripper” was especially good with kids, giving them free autographed cards and patiently posing for pictures.

He posed with me too, making me think back to my last baseball cruise and whether the ship’s captain who posed with me did it for me or whether he intended to keep the photo for himself.

A great clutch hitter, Clark once led the National League with 18 game-winning hits. He is best-remembered for the three-run, ninth-inning homer he hit to win Game 6 of the 1985 National League Championship Series. It marked the biggest blunder in the career of Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, who had Dodgers closer Tom Niedenfuer pitch to Clark –- the only home run threat in the St. Louis lineup –- with first base open.

Clark had his share of controversy, including a short-lived feud with Ozzie Smith, but seemed genuinely delighted to see Smith, Whitey Herzog, and other former teammates in the Parade of Legends that passed directly in front of his signing table. He also lamented those lost recently, including Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and Bruce Sutter, also Cardinal Hall of Famers.

In addition to Clark, other borderline Hall of Fame candidates also showed up to share the spotlight with new Hall of Famers Fred McGriff and Rolen. They ranged from Doc Gooden to Pete Rose, the career hit king who can’t shake his lifetime ban from baseball for allegedly gambling on the game.

Personally, I was happy to visit with John Schuerholz, creator of the Atlanta machine that won a record 14 consecutive division titles, and Jim Kaat, the veteran left-hander whose quest for 300 wins went awry when the Cardinals confined him to the bullpen at the end of his career.

But even though I was honored to hear how humble, grateful, and graceful McGriff was on the podium at Clark Sports Center Sunday, Jack Clark made my weekend even more memorable.

I told I wished all ballplayers could be as nice as he is. I think he was genuinely pleased by the comment.

As former Cardinal Joaquin Andujar once said in his one-word description of baseball, “Youneverknow.”


Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ often signs books on Main Street during Induction Weekend. He’ll be back next year with his new Hank Aaron book. His profiles of Fred McGriff and Scott Rolen appeared in the USA TODAY Sports Weekly Hall of Fame issue.


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