No one says bad things about people when they die.
Tony Gwynn, who passed away on Monday at 54, was so beloved in baseball, no one
said bad things about him when he was alive.
Well, except one guy.
Jack Clark, a slugging first baseman who spent two seasons with San Diego, managed
to do what no one else could: embroil Gwynn in controversy.
In 1990 Clark, nicknamed Jack The Ripper, accused Gwynn of padding his stats at the
expense of the team.
”I never really played with a guy like that,” Clark said. ”It’s always everything to make
themselves look good, and everybody else is a bad guy.”
The feud between the two had been boiling under the surface all season. The Padres
had acquired Clark a couple years earlier from the Yankees. Clark had signed a big free
agent deal with the Yankees. Clark and other well-paid Padres acquisitions had pushed Gwynn’s
salary down to seventh on the team. Since Gwynn was the unquestioned star of the
team, he asked to renegotiate.
Gwynn,was the ultimate contact hitter, winning eight batting titles and hitting .338 for
his 20-year career.
Clark was a player who would be held in higher regard in today’s world of advanced
stats. In 18 seasons, he had a career batting average of .267 with 340 home runs. But
he had an OPS of .854 and an average OPS+ of 137. OPS is on-base percentage plus
slugging percentage. OPS+ compares a player’s OPS to the league average, which is
set at 100, and adjusts for conditions in ballparks.
Gwynn’s career OPS was .847, and his average OPS+ was 132.
1990 was not a good year for the Padres. They went 75-87 and were never within 10
games of the division lead after late June. The most memorable moment of the
season was Roseanne Barr’s rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” in which she
screached out the lyrics, then spit and mimicked the common ballplayer gesture of
adjusting a cup. The public was not amused.
It wasn’t the best season for Gwynn either. He hit .309, the worst full season of his
career, although he had a then-career-high 72 RBI.
He broke his finger and didn’t play the final two weeks of the season.
On Sept. 28 after a loss to Cincinnati, Clark went public, complaining that Gwynn had
bunted at times in order to protect his batting average.
Also in September, a Gwynn baseball doll, the kind carried by the stadium shop, with
the arms and legs broken off was found hanging in the Padres dugout. There was
speculation that it was from a teammate and possibly the incident contained racial
Gwynn, normally talkative, stopped communicating with the media or teammates
despite being publicly challenged by shortstop Garry Templeton to meet with players
and clear the air. For a few weeks, it seemed Gwynn and the Padres might part ways.
In October, Gwynn met with Joe McIlvaine, brought in as general manager of the
Padres. Gwynn told the Padres he was willing to come back even if meant having to
play with Clark.
He finally gave an interview.
“A lot of people have been with me my whole seven and a half years here,” Gwynn
told the New York Times. ”They didn’t feel they had to defend me. I’ve been doing the
same things my whole career. Playing the same way. Now, why is it an issue? Because
Jack Clark says so?
”I think it’s more the man. The man says something, people listen. Nobody is going
to come up to Jack Clark’s face and say: ‘Hey, man, you’re walking 103 times. You
should be swinging the bat.’ No, because everybody is so intimidated by him. He’s big,
but it’s his demeanor, his look.”
The doll it turned out had not been planted by teammate but by a member of the
grounds crew. Gwynn later aid he never thought the incident had racial overtones.
In the off-season, an arbitrator ruled that baseball owners has colluded to keep free
agent price down. Several players were given “new-look” free agency. Clark was one of
them and wound up going to the Boston Red Sox.
The whole incident receded from public concioussness. Gwynn went back to winning
batting titles and being praised for his approach to the game.
Clark, who spent lavishly on luxury cars, filed for bankruptcy in 1992. He was waived
before 1993 season and never played in the majors again.
He became a talk show host in St. Louis in 2013. He lasted seven shows. He was
fired after accusing Albert Pujols of using PEDs. Pujols sued but dropped the suit after