Editor’s note: “As Told To Amy G,” presented by Toyota, will feature exclusive conversations with Giants staff, players and alums, as well as interesting figures around Major League Baseball, throughout the 2019 season. Today, Amy catches up with Giants legend Will Clark.
Like many of you reading this, Will Clark was my favorite Giant. Unlike many of you reading this, Will Clark is someone I now refer to as Uncle Will. How did that happen, right?
I have been extremely fortunate to interview and work with Giants greats in my 12th season covering this team. There’s always a nod of recognition, a handshake, a hug, if there have been multiple interview interactions over the years with a player, former player, coach, former coach. etc.
But Will Clark became my friend. He said to me one day in his trademark Louisiana drawl, “You know what you are, Amy G, you’re my rookie.” Like Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow took care of him as the Giants’ 1985 first-round draft pick with a huge target on his back.
Clark used to spend several innings of the game in the dugout with me and warn me that a foul ball was coming my way. Sure enough, the warning saved my life -- multiple times. He graciously introduced me to his wife and children and allowed me to interview and have a relationship with his son, Trey, whose autism is Will and his wife Lisa’s biggest focus with regards to fundraising and community outreach.
The best part about my relationship with Will Clark? We could not be more opposite. Let’s just say we are not on the same page regarding some current hot-button topics. He leans one way, and I lean the other. But when we’re not talking “ball,” we talk “life” and we’re actually able to meet in the middle.
Wouldn’t that be great if our current Congress could do that? Maybe Will Clark and I will run for President and Vice President? Everyone else is doing it.
Until then, let’s start with Will's current role with San Francisco, and then we can reminisce about how freaking fantastic he was as a Giant! Enjoy…
"I’m actually one of the special hitting instructors, and so I show up, I’m on the field early with the team during batting practice and pre-work, if they do any early work, and then once the game starts, since I’m not a 'full-time coach,' I actually put on my marketing hat and I’m in the stadium. I go around to all the suite levels, I see a lot of our suite holders and clients. Sometimes I sit in the stands. I enjoy watching the game.
"Not only do I see the major league club at least once a month, but I also see two of our minor league clubs. Richmond, Virginia for sure -- that's our Double-A team. And if you can play on Single-A or Double-A level, you can play on a major league level. Those are our two sort of Eastern teams. Being from Louisiana, those are easy for me to get to."
If you grew up a Will Clark fan, then you’re very familiar with Candlestick and the love-hate relationship the players and fans had with the park. My memories pretty much range between frozen and frost-bitten, but Will has a knack for turning a challenging situation into a challenge -- something he can use to his advantage -- and that’s exactly what he did it with The ’Stick.
"Well, I actually enjoyed playing at Candlestick. I've told several people that it made me the ballplayer that I was because, you literally, with all of the stuff going on around you, whether it be the wind or the hot-dog wrappers, whatever it might be, the sun -- you had to concentrate on the baseball. And you had to do a better job at doing your job than the other guy.
“To play at Candlestick was not easy. You had to have a lot of heart, ignore everything, and still go out there and do your job."
C’mon, no one is that "glass-half-full." I pushed for something, anything that The Thrill wasn’t thrilled about regarding Candlestick. I broke him, for a minute!
“All right, the only thing that I did not like about Candlestick was when the 49ers started playing there. The infield became literally a minefield. From about August on when they started playing their preseason games, you'd get a ground ball down there, and it'd be, watch your face sometimes. It was like, 'I don't know where this one's going. This one might eat me in the chops.’ So that was the only thing I really hated about Candlestick.
“There were certain nights, you'd walk out there and you weren't going to hit a cannon out of there that night, and you'd be a single, line-drive hitter. You'd go up to all your teammates and be like, 'Hey boys, we're going to have to string all these together because nobody is going deep.’ So, that was the fun part about playing at The ‘Stick.
“And then the other part, too, was when you did have those nights at The ’Stick, you'd watch the other team walk out on to the field, and they were like [freezing] and you were like, ‘Man, we got 'em!’ Come on, boys, let's go, we just got to score a run or two. We got 'em. They don't want to play."
Will Clark is one of the few Giants who didn't mind hitting at 'The Stick (Photo by The Associated Press)
You can’t spend time with Will without asking him about his relationship with Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper. He actually was Uncle Will to Mike and Duane’s kids long before he was to me. They have endless stories about each other which are guaranteed to make you head to the restroom because you’re laughing so hard. But you also realize how much these three love each other and that they forever will be teammates.
"They are such great friends. Mike Krukow took me in as a rookie, and he basically housed me. They had a little guest room in the back of the house that they were renting, and I just piled in the guest room. I became 'Uncle Will' because I wasn't that much older than some of their kids, so I was out there playing with the kids and all that. So, Mike and Jennifer and I are really, really close.
“Duane had just gotten through with his playing career, and as our broadcaster, we got to be very close because he had so much expertise. I'd lean on him just as much as I'd lean on Mike.
“Needless to say, between the three of us, there were a few conversations over beers as to how to be a major league ballplayer and how to go about it the right way. How to not wear yourself out, just on and on and on. And to this day, that friendship remains.
“I sneak up there to the booth after I finish my appearances, and just listen and admire how good they are, and just pat them on the back and tell them how great of friends they are.”
There is no better compliment for a baseball broadcast than for a player of Will Clark’s caliber to say job well done …
“You know, to be totally honest with you -- and this is coming from a ballplayer -- when you're having a rough go at things and the broadcasters are up there and they still find a way to make you look good, that's pretty unbelievable. [Kruk and Kuip] are the best at it. Because they've been there, done it. They know that when you're down in the dumps, maybe a little pat on the back will bring him out of it instead of just burying him when he's in the hole. They do a great job at it, and I’m amazed.
“That's why I go up there. Not only just because I’m a friend, or because I watch every game on TV when I’m not here, but just to admire at how good they are.”
Remember when I wrote we were going to reminisce about how freaking fantastic Will was as a Giant? It’s time …
From 1988 to 1992, he was named to five straight NL All-Star teams, finished in the top five of the NL MVP vote three times, won two Silver Slugger awards and earned a Gold Glove. In 1989, he was the NLCS MVP, hitting .650 with two homers and eight RBI against the Cubs, propelling the Giants to the World Series.
Throughout his career, Will excelled at the plate against the elite. His numbers are outrageous not only against some of the best pitchers of his era, but also arguably some of the best pitchers ever! Against Orel Hershiser = .324. Doc Gooden= .328. Greg Maddux = .315. Fernando Valenzuela = .327. To name a few…
“If you want to know the truth, it all goes back to when I made the team. When Roger Craig was telling me, 'Hey look, you're going to be a major leaguer now.' And he told me, 'You're going to face everybody's No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, and if I’m going to give you an off-day, it's going to be on somebody's No. 5. You are facing the big boys -- that's what a major leaguer does.
“And from Day 1, I got Nolan Ryan right out the box. Every time you faced the Dodgers, you faced Orel Hershiser. Every time you faced the Braves or the Cubs, you got Maddux. Every time you faced them again, you got [Tom] Glavine. So, you're going to get the upper echelon every time. What are you going to do? Are you going to hide, or are you going to battle? I’m going to battle. I want the No. 1 out there. I want the best out there, and let's do this little competition we're about to have.”
April 8, 1986 is an iconic moment in Clark’s career. He homered off Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan in his first big league at-bat. He went on to homer off Ryan six times total, but the first obviously was the most memorable and one he always enjoys reflecting upon.
“I think that first at-bat cemented the nickname Will The Thrill. That's sort of what that first at-bat did. I got Nolan the first at-bat, and wow, unbelievable. but, the next day, I got Matt Scott. ... Yeah, it helped out with the nickname and all, but as far as me personally and what kind of career I was going to have, I don't think it would have changed me personally. But it is a big feather in the cap, and it is something you will never forget.
“Another thing on that is one of the things that I still enjoy is when you hit a baseball with a wooden bat and you catch it clean. It makes this god-awful whackkkk sound, and it's absolutely amazing when you're up at home plate and you catch one dead center. Watching the video off of Nolan Ryan, it is the best sound you've ever heard because it was in the Astrodome, so it was in a confined space, and it is the loudest whackkkk, and I still get goosebumps.”
April 8, 1986: in his first-ever @MLB at-bat, Will Clark launched a homer. The pitcher? Future Hall of Famer, Nolan Ryan.— SFGiants (@SFGiants) April 8, 2019
Welcome to the big leagues, Thrill!#OTD | #ForeverGiant | #SFGiants pic.twitter.com/EsJfTMq1qQ
I mentioned in my intro that Will and his wife, Lisa, have made autism education, research and fundraising a priority. Their son, Trey, is autistic, and being on the spectrum has exposed the family to a life that has been challenging at times, but has made them all better people.
Will is the ambassador on Autism Awareness Night at Oracle Park and he has divulged in multiple interviews about being the parent of an autistic child making him more patient, more understanding and often helping put things in perspective.
Will clearly understands how to utilize the stage of baseball for a much greater cause.
“You know, that's one thing that we do as baseball players. You're fortunate enough to play a kids game as an adult, and you’re fortunate enough to make quite a bit of money for your family and stuff. And you still have to realize that I’m a person, and there's a lot of other people who are a lot less fortunate. when I was a ballplayer.
“I did a lot of stuff for ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease, as a baseball guy, a baseball kind of disease. And then when I won MVP in 1989, a van was given to me and I gave it to United Way here in the Bay Area. You got to remember that, look, I’m a ballplayer, and I’m given a lot of stuff. But there's a lot of people that are less fortunate around me, and since I have a stage, I’m going to use that stage. I’m going to use that stage for their benefit, not for my benefit, but for their benefit. I did that as a player, and I’m continuing to do that in the role I’m at right now with the Giants.
“The Giants have always embraced causes here, and it's fabulous that the Bay Area does it, but the Giants have really embraced the autism side of things. We have the autism night here, raise quite a bit of money for research and development, so that's where all my focus is now. ... The Giants are so great about it. It's pretty awesome what the Giants do."
You know you’re thinking it: Does Will Clark want to manage someday?
“You know what? The straight-out answer -- I’m not even being political -- is I’m not the guy that's going to pat you on the back. I am the guy who's going to kick you in the butt. Today's youth, shall we say, don't really respond to that real well. So, if that was in my future, I would definitely have to do some sort of minor league job or something like that to get the feel for it.
“Yeah, I know the X's and O's, and I know what's supposed to be done and all that sort of stuff. But as far as running a pitching staff and who would be ready and who's the best matchup and stuff like that, that would not be my strength. So, I'd have to rely on somebody for that. I would need a little bit of experience doing that.”
Could Will Clark manage the Giants someday? You never know ... (Photo via The Associated Press).
Maybe the better question is: How would your wife feel about you managing the San Francisco Giants?
“You know what, as much as I love the Bay Area, it'd be a piece of cake to move out here. So, another thing is just being full time. I had retired to be home and to be with Trey and watch him grow up -- Ella as well. Now that they're older and a little more on their own, that wouldn't be a hard adjustment.
“But, at the same time, it's still something that I do like my freedom a bit, you know what I’m saying? Because once the season starts, it's February to October every day. Look at us here -- it's a Sunday at the ballpark, and I've been here since 7 a.m., and we don't have batting practice, so it's a full-time job ... It's not off the radar, but I'd definitely have to have some help and some more experience.”
Fair enough. Hey, he didn’t say no, right?
Lastly, it’s time for our Toyota fan question from Eric Nathanson:
Does it matter to Will if his number ever gets retired by the Giants? Is that something he thinks about?
“Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. The Giants have always had a policy where the numbers that were retired were Hall of Famers. And then that changed last year when Barry (Bonds) got his number retired. He is not a Hall of Famer, so it opened a door.
“I wanted to stay a Giant my whole life. That's why I came back to the Giants. Let's just say that the talks have been starting, and hopefully, it gets done. And with your help, fans, if you'd like to partake and put a little pressure on the Giants, I would love it, thank you. If No. 22 ever winds up there, it'd be really, really special.”