April 7, 2022
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
He feuded with Tony Gwynn, Ozzie Smith and Frank Robinson.
But he was much loved by Mo Vaughn, Andy Van Slyke and Whitey Herzog, the latter of whom called him “the greatest fastball hitter of his era.”
Yes, it seems Jack Clark was either loved or hated in baseball circles.
During his major league career, the 6-foot-2 slugger was brash and opinionated, but he was also kind to young players and the media appreciated his candor.
He was also indisputably one of the best clutch hitters of his time.
Just ask Tom Niedenfuer.
The Los Angeles Dodgers reliever was on the mound with his team leading the St. Louis Cardinals 5-4 in the top of the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1985 National League Championship Series when Clark belted a dramatic, two-out, three-run home run that gave the Cards a 7-5 series-clinching win.
What you may not recall about Clark, however, is that he spent the final few months of his playing career in the Montreal Expos’ organization in 1993. Don’t worry, no one would blame you if you can’t remember this because in Clark’s almost 90 days as property of the Expos, he was absent for the bulk of it.
In fairness to Clark, he had a lot going on in his personal life at the time. His mother was seriously ill and in 1992, he had declared bankruptcy. Clark’s SABR bio indicates that at one time he owned “18 expensive cars, 17 of which he was still paying for.” The slugger had also lost $1 million on a drag racing venture, was paying mortgages on two homes and had multiple five-digit credit card debts. He also owed $400,000 in taxes and $200,000 to his agents.
His SABR bio also states that one of the reasons Clark spent so much time away from the Expos was because he had received a frantic phone call from his wife in Southern California telling him that she and the couple’s four children were being evicted from their home. So he had to leave to take care of that situation.
The Expos signed Clark to a minor league contract on March 23, 1993 in hopes he might provide some production at first base. The club had used eight different first basemen the previous season. But despite their woes at this corner position, the team had gone 70-55 after Felipe Alou took over as manager from Tom Runnells and seemed on the brink of contention.
The Expos had also signed veteran Franklin Stubbs and had acquired Lee Stevens from the Angels in a trade, but neither hit well that spring. The club’s fall back at the position was a platoon of left-handed hitting John Vander Wal and right-handed hitting Archi Cianfrocco, both of whom seemed better suited to bench positions. Cliff Floyd, the Expos’ top prospect was also in camp, but he was only 20 and had yet to play in double-A.
For his part, Clark was coming off a disastrous season, both on and off the field, with the Boston Red Sox in which he had batted .210 with five home runs and 33 RBIs in 81 games. To make matters worse, he had reported to Red Sox camp overweight. This, coupled with the fact that the Sox had Vaughn, a promising young first base prospect that Clark had mentored, expedited the Sox decision to place Clark on waivers on the second day of camp.
“I don’t want to end my career standing here,” a 37-year-old Clark told the Hartford Courant after he was released by the Sox. “I feel like I’ve got more baseballs to hit and more fun to have and more stuff to accomplish. By no means am I finished. There’s a place out there for me somewhere.”
That place turned out to be with the Expos.
After Clark cleared waivers, the Red Sox were on the hook for his $2.4 million salary in 1993 and the Expos only had to pay him the major league minimum ($109,000).
And as bad as 1992 had been for Clark, let’s not forget that he was just one year removed from a 28-home run campaign and that his 18-season big league resume boasted four All-Star selections, two Silver Slugger awards, 340 home runs and 1,262 walks (which was second among active major leaguers).
“He’s a guy who is a proven professional hitter and has some power,” Expos GM Dan Duquette told the Montreal Gazette about Clark. “He hit 28 home runs just two years ago. I really think he needed some time last year to get his personal life in order. You just don’t lose all that ability over a short period of time.”
Nicknamed “Jack the Ripper” for his combination of prodigious power and sharp tongue, Clark was also welcomed by Expos players.
“Jack is his own man, there’s no doubt about that,” Expos right-hander Mike Gardiner, who had played with Clark in Boston, told the Montreal Gazette. “But I always found him very approachable, and I think he can be a bit of a leader on this team. I think highly of him as an individual beyond personality.”
Clark was reported to be at least eight to 10 pounds overweight (some reports say closer to 20 pounds) when the Expos signed him and the slugger was still at home on the West Coast.
“I know I need to get my ass down there, run around and get some sweat going and do some pounding,” he told the Montreal Gazette for their March 26, 1993 edition. “This reminds me a bit of what happened my year with the New York Yankees . I was injured late in spring training and had to work my way back. Hey, it might not be pretty to watch me right away. But it’s just a matter of getting my timing back. I’ll know when I’m ready. And I’ll let the Expos know the moment I feel that way.”
Six days after the announcement that he had been signed, Clark finally showed up at Expos’ camp in West Palm Beach, Fla. The Expos wanted to proceed slowly with him. Clark started with a 10-minute round of batting practice against bench coach Tim Johnson.
“You can tell he still has the bat speed,” Johnson told the Montreal Gazette. “I mean, I threw one down here, low and away, and he got it. The bat head still gets out there, don’t worry about that.”
In the early going, Expos coaches spoke optimistically about the slugger’s progress. On March 30, Clark took BP against a pitching machine for 40 minutes and Expos coach Tommy Harper told the Montreal Gazette that it was looking like Clark’s “really quick hands are still there.”
These positive reports had manager Felipe Alou speculating that Clark could be in the Expos’ lineup for their home opener in Montreal on April 13. And this type of optimism likely influenced the club’s decisions to release Stubbs and Stevens before the end of spring training.
But in late March and early April, Alou offered Clark multiple opportunities to pinch hit or DH during spring training games, but Clark declined, feeling he wasn’t ready. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Clark would remain in extended spring training when the Expos headed north.
Jeff Blair, of the Montreal Gazette, caught up with Clark at Municipal Stadium in West Palm Beach on April 1 and he found Clark in front of his locker “sweating profusely while he puffed away on a cigarette and nursed a fruit drink.”
“I’m taking this a day at a time,” Clark told Blair. “I do my work, get up the next day and see how I feel. This has been good, so far. No soreness and I thought for sure there’d be some. Good batting practice. Good weather to make me sweat, help me get loose.”
Blair’s report indicated that Clark had hit the ball hard in a simulated game pitched by pitching coach Joe Kerrigan.
But Clark’s progress had been slower than the Expos had hoped. Duquette said they wanted Clark to play in at least 10 games before promoting him to the big league club, but nearly two weeks into Clark’s tenure, the veteran still had not hit in a game.
A week later, it was reported that Clark had taken batting practice with the class-A West Palm Beach Expos. But it wasn’t until April 21 that he finally played in a game when he suited up for the Expos’ Rookie Gulf Coast League club. Batting eighth and DHing, Clark went 1-for-4 with an infield single. This was supposed to be a major step towards returning to the big leagues, but Clark would only play in one more game in the Expos’ organization.
On April 28, the Montreal Gazette reported that Clark had left the team for personal reasons “two times in the past five days,” but Clark’s agents insisted that the slugger would be back.
In a strange twist, when the Expos began a road series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 28, an Expos jersey with Clark’s name on the back surfaced in the clubhouse and was hung in a locker by equipment manager John Silverman. This led to speculation that Clark was joining the big league club, but Duquette quickly kiboshed that rumor.
“I was told that Jack’s on the [West] coast, and I told [Expos manager Felipe Alou] that he might contact him, but that’s as much as I know,” said Duquette. “Maybe it’s [the Clark Expos jersey] a hoax.”
The Montreal Gazette caught up with Clark a couple of days later and the slugger said that it had crossed his mind to join the Expos in California, where he was at his home in Newport Beach.
“But I know I can’t just show up,” Clark told the Montreal Gazette. “I don’t want to disrupt things because they seem like a real close knit team that’s winning.”
Clark spoke to the Gazette on Friday, April 30, and told them he planned to return to the Expos’ class-A West Palm Beach affiliate on Monday.
“As I’ve said before, I’ll know when I’m ready,” Clark told the Montreal Gazette. “But they have to have an idea themselves, too. After all, it is their team.”
But when Monday arrived, Clark was not in West Palm Beach and Duquette said he didn’t know where the slugger was. By this time, Alou had grown frustrated with Clark.
“I still hope he makes it. But you know, when you get to the point where it’s the fourth week [since Clark had signed with the Expos], you expect something to give,” Alou told the Montreal Gazette for their April 28 edition. “You expect him to either quit or ask to play. In my mind, I think I began doubting this last week. I think it was (then) where I became less certain that something would come up.”
Alou’s intuition was right.
Clark never returned to West Palm Beach, although his agent insisted for much of the month of May that his client planned to come back. Then towards the end of May, Clark’s business adviser Mark Gilliam told the Boston Herald that the veteran power hitter was suffering from a hip injury.
“I haven’t heard anything about that,” responded Duquette when the Montreal Gazette asked about the injury. “We’re going to try and get the whole thing resolved next week. We have two choices: release him or try to get him ready.”
Seven days later, with Clark still absent, Duquette told the Montreal Gazette that a decision on Clark would be made within a week. The Expos GM said Clark had been working out on his own.
“Working out at what might be the question,” reads a sentence in the June 5, 1993 edition of the Montreal Gazette. “Reliable sources say that Clark has been in Texas with the drag racing team that he has a financial stake in.”
Ten days after that, Duquette told the Gazette the situation had been resolved and on June 21 Clark was released.
So in the nearly three months Clark was in the Expos’ organization, he played just two minor league games. The release spelled the end of Clark’s big league career. He finished with a .267 batting average and 1,830 hits – including 340 home runs – in 1,898 games.
After hanging up his playing spikes, Clark coached and managed in the independent leagues before being named the hitting coach of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2001. He held that post until August 4, 2003.
The candid Clark later landed a job as an analyst on Cardinals’ pre- and post-game shows and then worked in sports talk radio. Not surprisingly, his mouth got him into trouble in that role. While on air in 2013, he accused Albert Pujols of using performance-enhancing drugs. Pujols sued Clark, but dropped the lawsuit when Clark retracted his statement and apologized.
Now living in suburban St. Louis, Clark filed for bankruptcy again in 2018. According to reports, this was due to medical expenses incurred for him and his second wife, Angela.
These days, Clark has been active on the autograph circuit. It’s doubtful, however, that he is asked to sign many Expos items.
Sad story unfortunately.
Yes, I agree. But Clark has been pretty resilient. Hope you are well, Len.
Great rundown Kevin. Great long career. Just not so good with the Expos