November 2, 2000: Will Clark retires as a Cardinal

After two and a half incredible months with the St. Louis Cardinals, Will Clark announced his retirement on November 2, 2000.

The 36-year-old Clark had come to St. Louis at the trade deadline just three months earlier in exchange for minor-league third baseman Jose Leon. As part of the trade, the Orioles also assumed about half of Clark’s remaining salary for the season.[1]

Clark would fill in for Mark McGwire, who was battling patellar tendinitis in his right knee even as the Cardinals were battling for the National League Central Division championship. At the time of the trade, it was unclear whether McGwire would be able to return.

“We’re protecting ourselves in the event that that happens,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said. “There was a great deal of interest from Clark’s side to try to come here. He wanted to play on a winner.”[2]

Even if the 36-year-old McGwire did return, the addition of the left-handed hitting Clark gave the Cardinals the opportunity to mix and match against opponents.

“Even when Mac comes back, maybe he comes back like spring training where he plays one day and sits one day,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “Maybe he and Clark could alternate. You could play Mac early and then put Will in.”[3]

Ultimately, it proved to be a non-issue, as McGwire did not return. Instead, Clark became the Cardinals’ everyday first baseman.

At the time of the trade, it had been more than seven years since Clark had appeared in an all-star game. After homering off Nolan Ryan in his first major-league at-bat and placing fifth in the Rookie of the Year balloting in 1986, Clark became a mainstay of the Giants teams in the late ’80s and early ’90s. In 1987, he placed fifth in the MVP voting with a .305 batting average, 35 homers, and 95 RBIs, then hit .360 against the Cardinals in the NLCS.

Two years later, Clark again led the Giants to the postseason. This time, after batting .333 with 23 homers, 111 RBIs, and a league-leading 104 runs scored during the regular season, Clark hit .650 against the Cubs in the NLCS. His two-run single in the eighth inning of NLCS Game 5 sent the Giants to the World Series, where they fell to La Russa’s Athletics in four games.

After the 1993 season, Clark signed as a free agent with the Rangers, where injuries took their toll on his career. In his first four seasons in Texas, he failed to exceed 123 games. Though he bounced back to hit .305 and drive in 102 runs in 1998, the Rangers allowed him to sign with Baltimore after the season.

In his debut season in Baltimore, Clark played in just 77 games, batting .303 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs. He was able to stay on the field in 2000, and at the time of the trade he was hitting .301 with 28 RBIs in 256 at-bats.

In St. Louis, he was even better, batting .345 with 12 homers and 42 RBIs in just 197 plate appearances. With Clark providing a spark, the Cardinals won 95 games and beat the Reds by 10 games in the NL Central race.

In Game 2 of the NLDS, Clark hit a three-run, first-inning homer off Tom Glavine to help lead the Cardinals to a 10-4 win over the Braves. He added a solo home run off Bobby Jones in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Mets.

A few days after the Yankees defeated the Mets in the World Series, Clark announced the end of his 15-year major-league career. Two years earlier, Will and his wife Lisa’s 4-year-old son Trey was diagnosed with pervasive development disorder, a form of autism. In fact, two years earlier he had signed with Baltimore in part because it would place him close to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he could get Trey the best treatment in the nation.[4]

“I could have played a few more years, but I realized where I was needed most, and that was at home,” Clark said in 2015.[5]

In announcing his retirement, Clark said, “I just want to say thank you to the Cardinals organization to allow me to have a lot, a lot, of fun the last two months of the 2000 season. This is something that has taken a lot of thought process on my part, but I’ve decided to move on to the second part of my life. The first part, I was a baseball player. The second part, I’m going to be a daddy, a husband. I’m actually looking forward to it.”[6]

Although McGwire was expected to return as the Cardinals’ first baseman in 2001, St. Louis had expressed an interest in bringing him back. Other teams were also interested. However, in addition to his family concerns, Clark had already had 36 bone chips removed from his left elbow over the course of three operations in the previous five years. To continue his playing career, he would need to undergo another surgery on the elbow.[7]

Instead, he chose to hang up his cleats and go out on top.

“Will, Michael Jordan, John Elway – there are only a few names you can think of who went out when they still had a lot left,” La Russa said. “That’s how rare it is. When it happens, most of the time it’s a combination of being real good and things breaking right.”

Clark had been a perfect fit for the clubhouse culture La Russa had built in St. Louis: ultra-competitive with just a bit of an edge to him.

“The first time I ever spoke to him, Clark started the conversation by saying, ‘That was a horsebleep column you wrote today,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz said, recounting that he told Clark to get used to it and got a laugh out of the first baseman.[8]

After being a rival in the late ’80s and even getting into an on-field scrap with Ozzie Smith in 1988, Clark was embraced during his 10 weeks as a Cardinal.

“After having been part of this organization, seeing the great fans and how great the organization is, I’m committed to the Cardinals,” Clark said. “I’m pretty much a loyalist. They’ve been loyal to me, so I will be loyal to them.”[9]

“That’s pretty dramatic, for Will to be here two months and two weeks and make a statement like that,” La Russa said.[10]

Ray Ratto, a columnist with the San Francisco Examiner, wrote that Clark’s final weeks with the Cardinals proved the perfect endcap to his career:

His decision to retire after only 2 ½ months as a St. Louis Cardinal made perfect sense, at least to those who knew his inner drives and torments. He needed to go out a .300 hitter, and he needed to go out as an impact player, the way he began 14 years ago. He needed to be on a good team, so that people wouldn’t forget that he once was just that important.

“It would have been tougher to retire (if he’d still been an Oriole), because of all the questions,” Clark said. “You know, ‘Can he still play?’ I think the last 2 ½ months answered those questions. I can still hit. I can still play. I can still field my position.”[11]


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[1] Joe Strauss, “Surhoff, Clark join exodus,” Baltimore Sun, August 1, 2000.

[2] Rick Hummel, “Cards stack deck, nab Clark on deadline,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 1, 2000.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Cards stack deck, nab Clark on deadline,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 1, 2000.

[4] Lloyd Courtney, “Where are they now: Will Clark focuses on family,” Shreveport Times, May 17, 2015.

[5] Lloyd Courtney, “Where are they now: Will Clark focuses on family,” Shreveport Times, May 17, 2015.

[6] Mike Eisenbath, “Clark goes out a Cardinal,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 3, 2000.

[7] Mike Eisenbath, “Clark goes out a Cardinal,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 3, 2000.

[8] Bernie Miklasz, “Congrats to Jocketty; now let’s make a deal,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 4, 2000.

[9] Mike Eisenbath, “Clark goes out a Cardinal,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 3, 2000.

[10] Mike Eisenbath, “Clark goes out a Cardinal,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 3, 2000.

[11] Ray Ratto, “Clark spotted his exit in the Cards,” San Francisco Examiner, November 3, 2000.

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