If you’re the baseball fan who likes smiles then Ozzie Guillen is probably your favorite player. If you’re the baseball fan who likes eccentric behavior, then Mark Fidrych is probably your favorite player. If you’re the baseball fan that likes self-absorbed prima donnas, then Manny Ramirez is the apple of your eye. But if you’re the baseball fan that likes workmanlike first basemen, then Will Clark is your idol.
Will “The Thrill” Clark rebuffed the Kansas City Royals in the 1982 draft, opting instead to attend college. At the college level, Clark gained notoriety as one of the finest collegiate players of all-time. In 1985, Will was taken second overall by the Giants and signed on the dotted line. It didn’t take long for Clark to rocket to the Major Leagues. He was the Giants regular first baseman in 1986. As a rookie, Will hit .287 but finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting in a strong class consisting of ROY winner Todd Worrell, Kevin Mitchell, Barry Bonds, John Kruk, Barry Larkin and Will’s teammate Robby Thompson.
He enjoyed a breakout season in his sophomore campaign, tying Jack Clark for the lead in homeruns (35) among NL first basemen. Will hit .308 in ’87 and finsihed fifth in MVP voting. He led the NL in RBI (109) and walks (100) in 1988. Will was the only Major League first baseman to score over 100 runs during the season – accounting for an astounding total of 211 runs. Again, Will finished fifth in MVP voting and went to his first of six All-Star games.
The Giants went to the postseason in 1989, thanks in large part to Will’s terrific campaign. He led the league in runs scored, finished second in batting average behind Tony Gwynn, third in RBI (most by a 1B), and led initial sackers with nine triples. For his magnificent season, Will was the runner-up in MVP voting. Carrying the Giants into October, Cool Hand Will hit .650 in an NLCS victory over the Cubs, but his Giants lost the Fall Classic to Oakland.
Will finished fourth in MVP voting in 1991, leading the league in slugging and total bases. His 116 RBI were tied with Barry Bonds for second in the NL while he led NL first basemen in base hits. Will the Thrill was a multi-talented first baseman, winning a Gold Glove in ’91 and pacing all first basemen in stolen bases during the 1992 season.
After an off-year in 1993 (the second time his batting average fell below .285) Will was allowed to test the free agent market and he signed with the Texas Rangers – closer to his Louisiana home. In his first year in the American League, during the strike shortened 1994 season, Will hit .329 and drove in 80 runs, gaining an All-Star berth in the process.
During 1997, Will carried a hot bat – hitting .326 – but was beset by injuries during the season, limiting him to 51 RBI. He rose in the RBI department in ’98, driving home 102 runs for the Rangers – his last year in Texas. Granted free agency, Will signed with the Baltimore Orioles and hit .303 his first year in the Northeast. During the 2000 season, Mark McGwire, the mighty slugger of the St. Louis Cardinals fell to injury and the Redbirds dealt Jose Leon to get Will for their pennant push. Will the Thrill was just what the doctor ordered, carrying the Cardinals on his back and taking them to the postseason. Clark hit 12 homeruns and drove in 42 runs in just 51 games for St. Louis. He was just as good in October, hitting .412 in an NLCS loss to the Mets.
But just like that, after a season in which Will eclipsed the .300 BA, .400 on-base average and .500 SA plateaus, he announced his retirement while still on top. Today, with the likes of Pedro Martinez trying out for clubs and Tom Glavine getting released during a minor league rehab stint, fans have grown accustomed to stars hanging on long after their expiration date, but Will the Thrill ended his career before he became washed up. There is something noble in ending a career before the light of brilliance is fully extinguished. But Will the Thrill was always one of baseball’s nobles.
G 1,976/R 1,186/H 2,176/2B 440/HR 284/RBI 1,205/BB 937/SO 1,190/BA .303/SA .497