January 6, 1988: Jack Clark signs with the Yankees

With the holidays in the rearview mirror and spring training just a few weeks away, Jack Clark finally lost patience. On January 6, 1988, the Cardinals’ leading home-run hitter during their National League pennant-winning seasons in 1985 and 1987 signed a two-year, $3 million contract with the Yankees.

Since the Cardinals acquired Clark from the Giants on February 1, 1985, he had been the primary source of power in a lineup that was built around speed. In his first season in St. Louis, he hit .281 with a team-leading 22 home runs (Andy Van Slyke was second on the team with 13). In that season’s NLCS against the Dodgers, Clark hit a three-run home run in the ninth inning of Game 6 to lift the Cardinals to a series-clinching 7-5 win.

A torn ligament in his thumb limited Clark to just 65 games the following year (his nine homers ranked second on the team behind Van Slyke’s 13), but in 1987, Clark again paced the Cardinals’ offense. In what proved to be his final season in St. Louis, he hit .286 with a league-leading .459 on-base percentage (buoyed by a league-high 136 walks) and .597 slugging percentage.

With 35 homers and 106 RBIs, Clark placed third in the National League MVP vote and won the Silver Slugger Award at first base despite suffering an ankle injury on September 7 that limited him to only a few pinch-hit at-bats the remainder of the season.

“We’d have never won the 1985 and 1987 pennants without him,” Herzog wrote in 1999. “He was one of the scariest fastball hitters I ever saw. Some of his shots to the opposite field didn’t just scatter the fans, they left the seats in splinters. There wasn’t a pitcher in baseball that didn’t fear Jack Clark.”[1]

Herzog wrote that he didn’t have to see the batting cages to know when Clark was taking batting practice.

“He was the only guy I had who didn’t sound like he was hittin’ underwater,” he wrote.[2]

After the Cardinals lost to the Twins in the 1987 World Series, however, the Cardinals seemed in little rush to sign the four-time all-star. In December, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that both sides believed they could come to terms on a two-year deal that could pay Clark approximately $2 million per year.

The Cardinals, however, wanted a lower base salary with incentives for the number of games played, with the contract reaching full value at 145 games. Clark and his agents, Bill Landman and Tom Reich, weren’t opposed to the concept but wanted the contract to max out at 125 or 130 games.[3]

“Dal and I have to be a little creative,” said Landman, referring to Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill. “On one hand, the Cardinals have to protect themselves a little bit if Jack can’t play a full season. On the other, you have to acknowledge his contribution to the team and his value.”[4]

Clark also wanted a $250,000 loan that was part of his last contract with the Giants included in addition to the $2 million salary. The Cardinals wanted it to be included as part of the $2 million deal.

“It’s not really a loan anymore,” Maxvill said. “It’s just more money that he wants the way he’s dealing with it. Instead of him wanting $2 million, he wants $2,250,000.”[5]

Clark had an option of filing for salary arbitration before the December 19 deadline, but opted to remain a free agent. [6]

“The last thing I heard was that we were pretty much at an impasse,” Clark said. “I think I should be concerned. I don’t understand what’s so difficult. I’m not frustrated, but I’m discouraged enough that I don’t even care to get involved. This should be an exciting time. It seems like such an easy thing. I guess it isn’t.”[7]

On December 7, after months of negotiating solely with the Cardinals, Reich announced that he would begin to actively pursue opportunities with other teams.

“There’s no animosities, no hard feelings for the Cardinals,” Reich said. “We respect the Cardinals. We’re not closing any doors, but we’re going to absolutely attempt to negotiate with other teams. We’re just not getting anywhere.”[8]

With no progress toward a deal since November, Reich said, he and Clark had no intention of coming back to the Cardinals to see if they would match or top it.[9] Despite Clark’s growing frustration, Maxvill still thought that an agreement was just a matter of time.

“I can’t imagine why Jack wouldn’t sign and stay here, with the numbers we’re talking about,” Maxvill said. “If he squirms out a few dollars more somewhere else, is he going to uproot himself? I can’t imagine him wanting to do that. This is a great place to play. I don’t know if clubs out there, based on his past health, would go into the $2 million category where we are.”[10]

Maxvill noted that he had left several messages with Landman but that none had been returned.[11] According to Major League Baseball rules in place at the time, the Cardinals had until midnight on Friday, January 8, to re-sign Clark or they would lose their rights to talk to him until May 1.[12]

Maxvill said he planned to call again on Monday, January 8.

“I’m sure they’re going to wait until Friday to use that as a pressure tactic … but A-B (Anheuser-Busch) doesn’t move because of applying pressure,” he said.[13]

New York Daily News — January 7, 1988

Clark and his agents didn’t wait until Friday, and it wasn’t a pressure tactic. On Wednesday, January 6, the Yankees held a press conference announcing that they had signed Clark to a two-year contract. The deal paid a guaranteed $3 million with the chance to climb to $4 million if Clark played 145 games a season.

Clark admitted that the contract called for less money than what the Cardinals had offered.

“In St. Louis, we’ve been negotiating for what amounts to about three years and nothing was really happening,” he said. “I felt we were getting to a point we didn’t want, so I asked Tom to step in and find me a job.”[14]

Negotiations with the Yankees moved much more swiftly than they had with the Cardinals.

“This is one of the quickest negotiations I’ve ever been involved in, or will be involved in, as a general manager,” Piniella said. “I spoke with Jack Clark’s agent Monday, we spoke yesterday, and signed today.”[15]

Clark said the Cardinals had made two last-minute offers – one for $1.75 million guaranteed per year and a $250,000 signing bonus and another for $1.6 million per year with a chance to make $1.9 million if he played 140 games, plus the $250,000 signing bonus. Ironically, the Cardinals wound up paying the $250,000 that had been so contentious anyway due to a clause in Clark’s contract that required the Cardinals to pay him that amount if they did not re-sign him.[16]

“There’s no question that if the proposal had been made a week, two weeks, six weeks earlier, they would have had a deal, but by that time we had given our word,” Reich said.[17]

Clark also was upset about a comment he claimed Maxvill made in which he allegedly said, “If you won’t play here, just go to Cleveland.” Maxvill said he had mentioned Cleveland in a conversation with Landman, but not in that context.[18]

“We had been negotiating three long years and nothing was really happening,” Clark said. “The fact is, I took a lot of stuff there that made me look bad. They kept beating me down about my injuries and they said stuff about me not being a good first baseman after I agreed to play there to help the team.”[19]

In New York, Clark joined a Yankees lineup that also included Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield, and Rickey Henderson. With Mattingly at first base and Winfield and Henderson in the corner outfield spots, Clark was slotted as the Yankees’ designated hitter.[20]

“He’s a hitter,” Piniella said. “That’s what we got him for. We just want him to hit. Plus, he comes from a winning organization. I’ve stressed that in all our dealings we get people who know how to win here. This is a signing the magnitude of Reggie Jackson.”[21]

In St. Louis, perhaps no one was more disappointed than Herzog, who noted that the process reminded him of the 1984 offseason when the Cardinals lost their star closer, Bruce Sutter.

“All I ever heard was, ‘We’ll sign him, we’ll sign him,’” Herzog said. “I heard that about Sutter too.”[22]

St. Louis Post-Dispatch — January 7, 1988

While the Cardinals continued to thrive in Sutter’s absence thanks to relievers like Jeff Lahti and Todd Worrell, the Cardinals didn’t have another first baseman waiting to fill Clark’s shoes. Herzog said he might use left-handed-hitting Mike Laga and right-handed-hitting Jim Lindeman at first base, and that David Green also was an option.[23]

“In all honesty, without Jack Clark for 162 games, we’ll be lucky to play .500,” Herzog said. “I’m not saying we can’t get a surprise, but where’s that surprise going to be? We just lost our only threat we’ve got. You’ve seen us play.”[24]

Clark’s former teammates were also disappointed.

“Wow! That’s not good,” said Bob Forsch, who was also a free agent and in the midst of his own contract negotiations with the Cardinals. “I mean, it’s good for Jack Clark. I’m happy for him and his family, but it’s not going to help our ball club. I really thought he’d end up here. Boy, that’s a shame. Boy, that’s going to hurt, losing 120 runs batted in. The Cardinals are going to have to scuffle to find another first baseman.”[25]

“I just had a feeling after the last week or so that he was gone,” Willie McGee said. “They dragged it on so long. I know that’s it. I know Jack.”[26]

Maxvill said he wasn’t surprised either. After all, Clark and his representatives hadn’t responded to his phone calls in three days.[27]

“I guess (people) will probably be upset with me because I didn’t get the job done, but I don’t know what else you can do when you offer someone more money and they still leave,” Maxvill said. “We’re all upset. Obviously, he wanted to play in New York. Obviously, he likes the city better. He likes the media better. He likes their fans.”[28]

Rather than taking blame for the way things worked out, Maxvill said Clark was simply impatient with the process.

“He felt Bill Landman and I were dragging our feet, although Bill and I didn’t feel that way. I don’t feel anything more could have been done. Jack felt that Bill and I were not making process, even though we both felt that we were, and he decided to call another agent in.”[29]

Reich was quick to point out that he wasn’t to blame for Clark leaving St. Louis either, noting that Clark had given ground considerably in negotiations, including accepting two years instead of the three he originally sought.

“I’m the same guy that told Jack when he was traded by San Francisco to St. Louis that it was a great opportunity, and that’s what I reiterated to him after the season was over,” Reich said. “They do business tough in St. Louis. They run it like a hard business, and they’re entitled to do that. They have the right to play hardball, but you also know that carries a risk. Deals can get away sometimes. This one did. Jack just got fed up with it. Jack simply had enough of their style. He didn’t like being depreciated.”[30]

1988 Donruss

Eight days after Clark signed with the Yankees, the Cardinals signed Bob Horner to a one-year deal. Horner played just 65 games before what proved to be a career-ending shoulder injury ended his season. Desperate for a first baseman, the Cardinals traded John Tudor to the Dodgers for Pedro Guerrero in August.

Clark spent one season in New York, batting .242 with 27 homers and 93 RBIs. As the season progressed, however, he found himself disillusioned with the Yankees lifestyle and wished to return to the West Coast. Harvey Araton of the New York Daily News noted that shortly after Clark signed with the Yankees that their new designated hitter already seemed wistful about his days in St. Louis.

“At 5:30, Clark walked in and stood at the podium with Piniella,” Araton wrote. “He said he was excited to be a Yankee, but he didn’t look very excited. Truth is, he looked subdued. He made sure to say how sorry he was to be leaving all his friends – Ozzie (Smith) and (Terry) Pendleton and Danny Cox – behind in St. Louis.”[31]

In October 1988, the Yankees traded Clark and Pat Clements to the Padres for Stan Jefferson, Jimmy Jones, and Lance McCullers. Clark played two seasons in San Diego, then signed with the Red Sox as a free agent. He retired after the 1992 season, ending an 18-year major-league career that included 340 homers and 1,180 RBIs.


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[1] Whitey Herzog and Jonathan Pitts (1999), You’re Missin’ a Great Game: From Casey to Ozzie, the Magic of Baseball and How to Get It Back, New York; Berkley Books, Page 75.

[2] Whitey Herzog and Jonathan Pitts (1999), You’re Missin’ a Great Game: From Casey to Ozzie, the Magic of Baseball and How to Get It Back, New York; Berkley Books, Page 121.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Clark, Cardinals On Hold As Deadline Approaches,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 4, 1988.

[4] Rick Hummel, “Negotiations With Clark Hit Snag,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 6, 1987.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Clark, Cardinals On Hold As Deadline Approaches,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 4, 1988.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Negotiations With Clark Hit Snag,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 6, 1987.

[7] Rick Hummel, “Negotiations With Clark Hit Snag,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 6, 1987.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Clark To Consider Other Teams,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 8, 1987.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Clark To Consider Other Teams,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 8, 1987.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Clark, Cardinals On Hold As Deadline Approaches,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 4, 1988.

[11] Rick Hummel, “Clark, Cardinals On Hold As Deadline Approaches,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 4, 1988.

[12] Rick Hummel, “Clark, Cardinals On Hold As Deadline Approaches,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 4, 1988.

[13] Rick Hummel, “Clark, Cardinals On Hold As Deadline Approaches,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 4, 1988.

[14] Rick Hummel, “Impatience Motivated Clark,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 7, 1988.

[15] Bill Madden, “Boss’ great hi-Jack,” New York Daily News, January 7, 1988.

[16] Rick Hummel, “Clark Agent: Bid By Cards Too Late,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 8, 1988.

[17] Rick Hummel, “Clark Agent: Bid By Cards Too Late,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 8, 1988.

[18] Rick Hummel, “Impatience Motivated Clark,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 7, 1988.

[19] Bill Madden, “Boss’ great hi-Jack,” New York Daily News, January 7, 1988.

[20] Bill Madden, “Boss’ great hi-Jack,” New York Daily News, January 7, 1988.

[21] Bill Madden, “Boss’ great hi-Jack,” New York Daily News, January 7, 1988.

[22] Rick Hummel, “Herzog: ‘We’ll Be Lucky To Play .500,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 7, 1988.

[23] Rick Hummel, “Herzog: ‘We’ll Be Lucky To Play .500,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 7, 1988.

[24] Rick Hummel, “Herzog: ‘We’ll Be Lucky To Play .500,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 7, 1988.

[25] Tom Wheatley, “Losing Clark Will Hurt, Ex-Teammates Say,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 7, 1988.

[26] Tom Wheatley, “Losing Clark Will Hurt, Ex-Teammates Say,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 7, 1988.

[27] Rick Hummel, “Herzog: ‘We’ll Be Lucky To Play .500,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 7, 1988.

[28] Rick Hummel, “Herzog: ‘We’ll Be Lucky To Play .500,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 7, 1988.

[29] Rick Hummel, “Herzog: ‘We’ll Be Lucky To Play .500,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 7, 1988.

[30] Rick Hummel, “Clark Agent: Bid By Cards Too Late,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 8, 1988.

[31] Harvey Araton, “Mets: Thank you, George,” New York Daily News, January 7, 1988.

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