Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 18 – The San Francisco Giants
I thought he was destined for the Hall of Fame.
For a five-year period, from 1987-91, Will “The Thrill” Clark of the San Francisco Giants was one of Major League Baseball’s most dominant players. His eye-black and competitive nature provoked fear in many opposing pitchers. His glove around the first base bag was plenty good, but it was his bat they feared and respected most of all.
During that five-year period, Clark averaged 27 home runs, 104 RBI’s, 94 runs scored, a .304 batting average, an OPS of .900, and an outstanding OPS+ of 153. He accomplished all of this while playing in one of the better PITCHER’S Parks in the N.L.
By way of comparison, Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Perez topped an OPS+ of 150 only twice in his 23-year career. Giant’s Hall of Fame first baseman Orlando Cepeda topped 150 three times. Yet another Giant’s Hall of Fame first baseman, Bill Terry, touched an OPS+ of 150 in just two seasons.
Will Clark topped an OPS+ in five separate seasons, as many as Cepeda and Terry combined.
Obviously, then, Will Clark had several outstanding seasons before he turned thirty years old, and many other good seasons during the rest of his career.
Will Clark’s Best Forgotten Season was in 1989.
As with some of the other players I’ve profiled in this series, a case could be made for one or two other seasons as well. But ’89 was arguably Clark’s best season for several reasons.
In 1989, the 25-year old Clark batted .333, second best in the league. He accumulated 321 Total Bases, again, good for second best in the league.
His WAR was a league-leading 9.4.
He led the N.L. in runs scored with 104.
He posted a career high 196 hits, and his OPS (.953) and OPS+ (175) were also each second best in the league.
He won his first Silver Slugger award, and he played in the All-Star Game.
Clark’s 136 Runs Created led the N.L.
He led the N.L. in times on base with 275.
He hit 23 home runs, drove in 111 runs, knocked 38 doubles and added nine triples.
Defensively, his Range Factor / Game of 9.85 was also the best in the N.L.
Just for good measure, he was voted the N.L.C.S. MVP by single-handedly smashing the Cubs pitching to the tune of a .650 batting average, a .683 on-base percentage, and a ridiculous slugging percentage of 1.200.
Will Clark finished second in the N.L. MVP voting in 1989 to teammate Kevin Mitchell who slugged 47 home runs and drove in 125 runs.
Clark finished in the top five in MVP voting four times in his career. He played in six All-Star Games. He won one Gold Glove, but was good enough to have earned more.
Astonishingly, Will Clark’s career OPS+ of 137 is better than 90 hitters currently in the Hall of Fame.
It is also better than two of his more celebrated contemporaries at the first base position, Don Mattingly, (127), and Keith Hernandez, (128).
The primary reason’s why Clark is not a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame have to do with his career power numbers. Hall voters like to see lots of home runs and RBI’s from a first baseman. Clark’s career totals in these two areas — 284 home runs and 1,205 RBI’s — look modest compared to some of the other first basemen in The Hall.
Clark also never won an MVP award, and he never played on a World Championship team.
Clark ended his fifteen-year baseball career after the 2000 season when he was just 36-years old. But he showed even in his final days as a player that his bat was still just about as dangerous as ever.
As a member of the St. Louis Cardinals in the last 51 games of his final season, Clark batted .345, had a .426 on-base percentage, slugged .655, and compiled an OPS of 1.081. He smoked 28 extra-base hits in just 171 at bats.
Although Clark’s best overall season had occurred almost a dozen years earlier, clearly he had saved the best for last.