Jack Clark's Frustrating Postseason Cards Slugger Is Pained By Injury And Uncertain About Return

Posted: October 09, 1987

SAN FRANCISCO — It was four hours before game time on a blustery Wednesday morning in St. Louis when Jack Clark slowly walked on the field.

Accompanied by Cardinals coaches Johnny Lewis and Dave Ricketts, Clark was about to begin another of his daily private batting practices.

The stadium was virtually empty, and it was probably just as well. Cardinals fans probably would not have enjoyed what transpired. His right ankle heavily taped, Clark took about 40 swings. Several ended with him lurching off-balance as the ankle gave way. Only two produced balls that reached the wall.

When the swings were completed, Clark - usually a gregarious sort - glumly asked an interviewer to wait a few minutes. "I have to go into the clubhouse. I have to get this thing rewrapped."

This has not been the easiest of times for Jack Clark. Playing is out of the question, so Clark has been forced to watch the first two games of the best-of-seven National League championship series from the bench.

He also will watch the next three games (barring a possible pinch-hit appearance) as the series shifts tonight (Channel 3, 8:30) to Candlestick Park with the series tied at 1-1. Most Cardinals officials will acknowledge off the record that even if St. Louis advances to the World Series, Clark will be a long shot to play.

All in all, it is hardly the way Jack Clark thought he'd be spending this October.

*

How much has the badly sprained right ankle, an injury suffered Sept. 9 in Montreal, cost Clark? Well for starters, it could well have cost him his first Most Valuable Player Award, which he had seemed headed for. He finished with 35 homers, 106 RBIs and 136 walks, but his last homer was Sept. 6, as was his last RBI.

The injury also could cost Clark some serious money, since he can be a free agent after this season. Being sidelined for extensive time for the fourth straight year has to hurt his bargaining power.

It could well cost Clark and the Cardinals a chance to play in the World Series, since the St. Louis offense is not much without Clark in the middle of the lineup.

The injury also has deprived Clark of the opportunity to face his old Giants team in the playoffs and to return triumphantly to Candlestick Park, a place he criticized so much when he played there that it was ultimately the reason San Francisco traded him in February 1985.

"I don't know many people who say they were looking forward to going back to Candlestick Park and playing," Clark said.

"It's probably the toughest place to play in all of baseball. In the summer you have to wear turtlenecks and long sleeves. There will be a dust storm sometimes in one place on the field and everywhere else is calm. Then you think all the wind has died down and the ball will go in the air and nobody can catch it because there's no way to tell where it's going.

"However, this was a time I really wanted to go back there and play. Those fans will get into it, I know that. They like the booing and all that stuff, but that makes me want to go harder against them out there. But it's going to be a funny situation having to sit on that bench. That's something I'm not looking forward to."

Clark is under no illusions about his condition.

"It's going to take a while longer," he said, "and I don't know how much longer it will be. This is more than just a little twisted ankle. There isn't any medicine I can take. If there were shots or pills that would help, I'd have had them by now.

"There's really nothing left to do except wait. And it's the worst thing I've ever gone through. I sure haven't been in the best of moods. I'm not having a whole lot of fun. In fact, I've been pretty damn miserable. Everyone

keeps asking the same questions about when I'll be back, and I can't answer them. No one wants to be back more than I do, but there aren't any answers.

"I'm hoping that maybe the grass surface in Candlestick will help. It might help to be on the softer surface instead of the artificial turf. But I know that's just another long shot, and the way I feel, I can't even give you a day I'm shooting for."

Clark is well aware of what he's missing and what honors will likely pass him by.

"Every time I think about it, I get sick at what I've already missed and what I'm missing right now," he said. "I get mad, I get frustrated and I feel I'm letting people down.

"I have to remind myself that I had my best year ever this year, of which I'm proud. And I have to remind myself how great the Cardinals have played, how three million people watched them play. It was a great year all around.

"But I also feel snakebit. I get hurt every year - it's something I can't

deny. And it will probably cost me somewhere down the line. It's something I'll just have to deal with."

The Cards are almost certain to try to re-sign Clark after postseason play. But money and contracts seem far from his mind these days. He wakes up every morning hoping that somehow his ankle has healed overnight and he can finally return to the lineup.

"I keep thinking this will clear up, but it just is a slow, slow process," Clark said. "Time is running out. And what was a trip to Candlestick I was looking forward to now is something I know is going to be difficult."

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