My, how time flies.
I can't believe that this weekend marks thirty years since the St. Louis Cardinals traded for slugger Jack Clark, the enforcer of the Redbirds offense in the mid to late 1980s.
I remember the day it happened. Like so many trades it was jarring. I remember believing at the time that David Green was going to be a super star -- if he could just stay healthy. So it seemed shocking that the Cardinals would ship off such a promising player for a guy who was injured for much of the previous season.
Still, Clark was exciting in that he was the first serious home run threat to call St. Louis home in many years. Essentially, Clark was replacing George Hendrick in the middle of the Cardinals lineup. But I never thought of Hendrick as a guy who had the potential to knock 30 balls a season over the boards. In fact, in seven season in St. Louis, he'd only hit more than 20 once, when he cracked 25 homers in 1980.
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While much of Clark's three-year stay in St. Louis was interrupted by injuries, there was a buzz after his arrival that was very similar to the stir Mark McGwire created when he arrived in 1997. A sense that every time Clark came to the plate something dramatic and game-changing could occur.
That was a big deal because the New York Mets were on the rise with slugger Darryl Strawberry terrorizing National League pitchers. Clark was the Redbirds' answer.
Clark played in 126 games in 1985 and hit .281 with 22 homers and 87 RBIs. If he could have played the full season he likely would have broken the 25 home run and 100 RBI marks, so anticipation was high for 1986.
But Clark was a physical wreck and could manage to play in only 65 games. He hit .237 and had only nine homes.
The first half of 1987 was something to behold. Clark hit a ridiculous .311 with 26 homers and 86 RBIs -- in 85 games before the All-Star Break. Unfortunately, he couldn't keep it up. He played 46 games in the second half and hit .230 with nine homers and 20 RBIs.
Clark was injured during the 1987 World Series, as was third baseman Terry Pendelton, and the Cardinals couldn't generate enough offense to overcome the Minnesota Twins.
His time was as brief in St. Louis as it was exciting. Clark fled as a free agent after the 1987, signing with the New York Yankees. The city went into a funk as the Cardinals began a sad period of extreme frugality. Soon fan favorites like Willie McGee, Joaquin Andujar and John Tudor would follow the slugger out of town.
St. Louis radio stations played sad clips of Clark talking about his times in St. Louis punctuated by snips of Billy Joel's song New York State of Mind. It was similar to the sadness of Albert Pujols signing with the Anaheim Angels after a brilliant 11 years with the Cardinals.
In retrospect, it seems that the decision not to re-sign Clark, like Pujols who Clark would later accuse of cheating with steroids and be sued, was a good one.
Although he hit 25 homers or better in his next four seasons, he hit .244 and averaged only 126 games a season with the Yankees, San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox.
Time proved the trade was a good one, however, as the Cardinals won two National League pennants with Clark and the much ballyhooed Green never panned out. He played only one season with the Giants, batting .248 with six homers and 20 RBIs in 1985. He didn't play in the majors in 1986 and in 1987 he was back for a final cup of coffee for the Redbirds.
He batted .267 in 14 games and that was it for his major league career.