Reopening Will Clark’s Hall of Fame Case

It’s Hall of Fame debate season, so now seems like as good a time as any to reopen Will Clark’s Hall of Fame case for discussion. Clark was on the ballot back in 2006 when he received 23 votes (4.4% total), falling just short of the threshold necessary to remain on the ballot for the following year. His case isn’t rock-solid, but from a pure numbers standpoint, he’s worthy.

Right off the bat, Clark’s case is hurt because he doesn’t hit the typical arbitrary “Hall of Fame milestones.” At 2176 career hits, he’s far from 3000, and the 284 home run total doesn’t come close to what’s generally considered to be Hall of Fame worthy. Clark only played 15 seasons, so he didn’t stick around long enough to compile great counting stats. Additionally, he’s hurt without attention to context. His peak years occurred from 1987 to 1992, during which time he hit .303/.378/.515 with 151 homers. That’s quite good, but it’s even better when you consider how weak offense was during that period. In four of those six years, the National League OPS was below .690, and in two of them, it was below .680. In particular, 1988 and 1989 were historically bad years for offense. It’s thus no surprise that Clark rates very well by the park/league-adjusted numbers. In that six-year period, his 147 wRC+ was the fifth-best mark in baseball, behind the likes of Barry Bonds, Fred McGriff, Rickey Henderson, and Frank Thomas.

In terms of peak value, Clark isn’t particularly special. If we say 5 WAR is elite, Clark only had three “elite” seasons — and it’s two if you go by Baseball-Reference’s implementation of WAR. Clark wasn’t consistently elite, but he did post above-average numbers with great consistency. He exceeded 3 WAR in ten different seasons, and by wRC+, not once was he below average with the bat.

Fangraphs has Clark at 54.4 career WAR; Baseball Prospectus has him at 50.09; and Baseball-Reference has him at 57.6. Those aren’t eye-popping totals, but that’s right in line with current Hall of Famers. As Sean Forman wrote back in 2010, 55 WAR is the midpoint level for all Hall of Famers:

A high career WAR marks a Hall of Fame career better than any other statistic. Among the top 100 players in career WAR not under current or future Hall of Fame consideration, only five have not made the Hall of Fame: Bill Dahlen, Tony Mullane, Bob Caruthers, Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich. In general, 55 WAR has been the midpoint level for all Hall of Famers as three-fourths of the eligible players with 55 or more WAR are in the Hall of Fame. Whitey Ford, Andre Dawson and Jim Bunning are good examples of median Hall of Famers.

For comparison’s sake, let’s look at another Giants 1B, one that was inducted into the Hall of Fame: Orlando Cepeda. Clark and Cepeda, interestingly enough, finished with rather similar PA totals — Clark at 8283, and Cepeda at 8695. Cepeda has the advantage in terms of career hit totals (2351), and he blows Clark out of the water in terms of home runs (379). Throughout his career, however, Clark proved better than Cepeda in two areas: drawing walks, and avoiding double plays. Despite otherwise fantastic numbers, Cepeda’s career OBP sits right at .350. It’s a solid mark, but for a first baseman in the Hall of Fame, it’s relatively low. Over his career, Cepeda walked in just 6.8% of his plate appearances, and never once posted a walk rate above 10%. In fact, he was consistently below average in that regard. Clark, on the other hand, was very skilled at drawing walks (11.3% clip), and nearly totaled 1000 for his career. Clark wasn’t speedy, and he actually finished with half as many (67) career stolen bases as Cepeda (142), but he grounded into far fewer double plays, which — over the course of an entire career — makes a rather significant difference. Clark grounded into 100 double plays, whereas Cepeda grounded into 218. In the end, the two have pretty similar qualifications. They played the same position (mostly), and were both similarly great hitters (Clark – 135 wRC+, Cepeda – 131 wRC+) over similar career lengths. It’s hard to say that Clark is any less deserving than Cepeda; in fact, by Adam Darowski’s wWAR, Clark is in and Cepeda is out.

I guess I’m more of a big-hall kind of guy, but I’d say both are worthy. In any event, none is much more so than the other.

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33 thoughts on “Reopening Will Clark’s Hall of Fame Case

  1. My favorite Giant growing up and I’m not alone. I’m way too biased to add anything constructive besides HELL YEAH, but I will say I am quite sick of the Giants letting scrubs trot out in the #22 Uni. Its been in continual circulation and that needs to STOP.

      • So we have the cart before the horse here? You are correct about retiring the numbers. I don’t think anybody is going to don #25 anytime soon no matter what the BBWAA throw around.

        Its too bad the Giants decided to issue the uni, and its also sad Clark won’t make the hall. Maybe Murph will give young Gary Brown the Double Deuce. At this point I’d just settle for no scrubs wearing it.

    • there were many times will clark was HOF worthy and most of them have already been stated. I am as big a will clark fan as they get, but I have to admit that will does not deserve the hall. We shouldn’t bother to compare his stats to members we feel are less deserving, but rather focus on the fact that he just wasn’t dominant for as many years as you need to be. I think he is far more deserving then palmerio, who has the numbers. Not just because he took roids, but because he was never truly the best first baseman at any one time. At least you can say that at one stretch clark was as good a clutch hitter as there was in the league. Without a doubt the MVP was his and not Mitch’s (I love Mitch too).

  2. Figuring out WAR is arbitrary…isn’t it just a guesswork stat? I get the principle but where do the numbers come from?

  3. It’s unfortunate that many of the so-called “milestones” and “counting stats” seem to be the things keeping Clark out of the HOF. He was afflicted with injuries many years in the early 90′s and that hurt him. Plus, he retired somewhat early in order to take care of his son, Trey, who is autistic.

    It’s too bad we’ll never know what he could have accomplished if he’d had, say, 3-5 years more worth of statistics. And I’m not just talking about adding on at the end of his career. He missed enough of his rookie season due to injuries, for example, that it might have cost him the Rookie of the Year Award.

    Clark had some massive years; he batted .333 in ’89 and just missed out on the batting title to Tony Gwynn and just missed out on the MVP award to teammate Kevin Mitchell! And he had some massive post-season series performances: I’ll never forget how he single-handedly destroyed the Cubs in the ’89 NLCS. He was one of the dominant players in the late 80′s and early 90′s and was the starting 1B at the All-Star Game for like five years in the row… so he was respected throughout baseball.

    Will Clark was one of the greatest players of his generation, which should be a factor in getting into the HOF, but too often it’s a matter of counting stats and nothing more. (And, I hate to say it, but comparing him to Cepeda to show that he should be in the Hall is a fallacy. More likely, I’d say maybe Cepeda doesn’t deserve it. Don’t hate!)

    Will the Thrill will always be my favorite player for his intensity and talent. Too bad he’ll most likely never be in the HOF.

  4. It is still the Hall of Fame rather than the Hall of Best Stats. Cepeda won an MVP and he won a WS with the Cards, and appeared in 2 WS. I’m not saying Clark should not be in, but the MVP and ring are likely pretty big reasons why Cepeda is in and Clark isn’t.

    Will the Thrill was like a savior for this team though. He almost singlehandedly ended a decade and a half of the Giants fielding humiliatingly awful teams. He was the face of a pretty darn good team that made the postseason several times and the WS once. You could be proud of a team that had Will “The Thrill” Clark on it. For that, I think he deserves to be in the HOF as much as for his stats.

    • Cepeda won an MVP and he won a WS with the Cards, and appeared in 2 WS. I’m not saying Clark should not be in, but the MVP and ring are likely pretty big reasons why Cepeda is in and Clark isn’t.

      I actually don’t understand your response. Are you justifying the fact that Cepeda’s MVP and WS appearances were big reasons that he’s in the Hall and Clark isn’t — Do you think it makes sense that those play such a big role in it? I’m sure that’s right, at least to an extent, but I don’t know that it’s justifiable.

      Clark arguably should have won the MVP in 1989. On the other hand, Cepeda arguably shouldn’t have won the MVP in 1967. I think it’s hardly justifiable that flawed single-season awards voting has an effect on eventual HOF voting. And the WS appearances are such a function of team performance that they should be given little to no weight, in my opinion. If you want to talk about actual postseason performance, that’s another story, and Clark actually performed well in the postseason (particularly that awesome NLCS). I think it’s ridiculous that Cepeda might have actually been rewarded for a .482 OPS in 19 World Series games.

      The big reason I think Cepeda is in and Clark isn’t is merely the difference in home runs, though I’m sure there are other factors involved — as you noted.

    • Just to set the record straight, Cepeda was in three WS. Two with the Cardinals (67-68) and one with the Giants (1962). He also should have 2 MVP awards. He got one with St. Louis in ’67, but he deserved one in ’61 with the Giants: 46 homers, 142 RBIs, both tops in the league, .311 Ave, in a 154 game season. 1961 was one of many years that they just gave it to the best player on the Pennant winning team, and in this case it was Frank Robinson. I wish that they would make up their mind on that: best player, or best team!! The next year,1962, they gave it to Maury Wills of the Dodgers, who finished 2nd! Mays had 49 homers, 141 RBI, 130 runs scored and a .304 average. Wills’ totals were lower across the board, except for stealing 104 bases… Anyway, I love Clark! He was my favorite Giant from ’86, until they had to get rid of him, because the clubhouse wasn’t big enough for Bonds, and anyone, who was any good!!! But between Clark and Cepeda, I saw them both, and Cepeda was the better player………

  5. A great player, but not a Hall of Famer. He sure looked like one from 1987-1992 though. Actually, he LOOKED like a hall of famer every time he stood on the field.

  6. Still my favorite Giant of all time (never saw the Golden Age players). Unfortunately, I don’t think he’ll ever make the hall, and if he does, it’s only on a last-ditch ballot. It isn’t fair, of course. If Clutch Hitting were a stat, he’d be near the top. Sweetest swing we’ve ever seen.

  7. Great article, I cannot think of any other way to better illustrate/prove (besides just showing some video of that sweet swing) that The Thrill should be in the HOF.

    Everything I love about baseball is because of him. My favorite ball player of all time with a far too short career…

    I agree he only needed another 3 to 5 years of decent play, he would not even have to repeat the peak performance of the ’87 to ’92 seasons, just solid play and his numbers would have been there to make him a stronger case for the HOF.

    Loved the comment that Clark always looked like a hall of famer on the field – totally agree!

  8. From Osvaldo Fernandez to Eli Whiteside this giving out #22 nonsense has to stop. Burns my eyes and breaks my heart seeing that number being given out. If they can’t retire it figure out a way to honor it something.

  9. I met Will Clark at spring training in Scottdale Arizona in his rookie year 1986. Itook a 2 week vacation with a couple of friends and followed the Giants around the state watching their games. I started talking to him while he was in the batting cages. He was polite, very friendly, confident and very engaging. After seeing him for the first 2-3 days we became friendly to each other. I would make it a point to find him before the games, say hi and start a friendly conversation. From that point on we met at a couple of bars, dinner houses etc. and had nice times. He was so nice he would take my programs from the various cities they wouls play in and have all of the players sign them for me, we took pictures together. What a Thrill..pun intended..In my estimation he was a leader by example on and off the field, backed his works with all out hustle, knowledge of the game and good enough stats. His fielding was exceptional also. One of the sweetest swings that has ever played the game. Not to mention his first at bat was a home run off Nolan Ryan to dead center field at the Astrodome. He has my vote!!!!

  10. The Thrill was why I became a Giants fan, from 1,500 miles away in Houston. I divorced the Astros after they let Nolan Ryan walk, so I embraced the Astros killer and the way his team played the game, at exactly the right time, for that glorious 1989 season! :) I didn’t like Bonds at all, so I divorced the Giants in ’94 after they let Will walk. I made up with and remarried the Giants after 2007. Magic 2010, as well as Will a strong member of the organization again, was my reward! :)

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  12. Will the Thrill was one of my favorite players during his playing career. I wouldn’t give him a vote for the Hall though. Outstanding competitor, possessed one of the sweetest swings in the history of the game (and one of the best nicknames too, the Natural). If you put Will in though, then Keith Hernandez would have to be enshrined as well. I don’t have a problem with Cepeda being inducted, but I’m not sure I would have voted for him.

  13. Will Clark was a excellent Giant player and is worthy of induction into the Giants Team Hall of Fame, but there is no way that is will ever be inducted into Cooperstown. Sorry guys, it’s just not going to happen.

  14. I am in total agreement concerning the Will Clark Hall of Fame sentiment. I live in Chicago, and having witnessed the push over the last few years to get the late on Santo in, I always felt if Santo (who was very good statistically I admit) deserves to be in, then so does Will Clark. I even told my friends once it was announced that Santo was in that I would be starting my Will Clark for the HOF campaign. I am happy others agree with me!

  15. I was lucky that my father took me to the Fresno Giants game the first time Will was there. We were rewarded with a home run in his first at bat and another later. Will always was a clutch player. I would like to see him in the HOF, but do not know if it will happen. Part of me feels if he would have played in the National League his entire career he would of had the numbers. Remember when he came back to the Cardinals and had a streak of 6-7 games in a row with a homer. I wish Will all the best and am glad he is still part of the Giants organization.

  16. Wow. OK, jumping in again on this. Looking at Ron Santo and Barry Larkin (possibly this year, mind you), Clark is comparable in many ways, and better in some stats. The only difference was that he played 1B and they played 3B and SS, respectively. His career line dictates that you need to look at him again for the Hall, seriously.

    And even if he doesn’t ever make the list, he’ll always be a Forever Giant.

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