Jack Clark is most famous for hitting a three-run homer off Tom Niedenfuer to put the Cardinals into the 1985 World Series. There was controversy if Los Angeles Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda should had walked Clark to face Andy Van Slyke. Whitey Herzog Clark’s manager said he would never let Clark bat with the game on the line.
One thing very seldom mentioned in the controversy was that Lasorda intentionally walked Tommy Herr in a tight situation in the seventh to face Jack Clark. Here is something I wrote on another blog:
The Dodgers came into the seventh inning with Orel Hershiser on the mound and a 4-1 lead. However, Hershiser gave up 3 singles and got one out and left the game with a 4-3 lead.
Lasorda bought in Tom Niedenfuer with man on first. Ozzie Smith hit a triple to tie the game. Then Niedenfuer gave Tommy Herr an intentional walk with Jack Clark and Andy Van Syke coming up behind Herr. As most if not all of you know this is the game that Lasorda didn’t walk Jack Clark to face Andy Van Syke and Clark hit a three-run homer in the ninth to win the game.
The move worked in the seventh. Neidenfuer struck out both Clark and Van Syke. However, the move seems strange. I’m guessing Lasorda thought that Herr was more likely to contact the lead run on third. However, Clark was more likely to homer and give the Cardinals a two-run lead. The Dodgers still had three more at bats.
So, there are some things in Lasorda’s favorite. Niedenfuer was a righty. Herr and Van Slyke was a lefty, so that would give them an advantage with Niedenfuer. In the seventh there was one out with the lead run on third. Clark was over 30 and slow. Herr was faster. With Herr on second it would set up the double play. Van Slyke was young and wasn’t the player he would become with the Pirates. I still wouldn’t have walked Herr, but I can see more on why Lasorda did it.
Now about the ninth. Herr grounded out sending the two runners to second and third. There were two outs, so Clark had to reach base. However, Niedenfuer was still pitching. Clark was a righty and Van Slyke was a lefty hitter. I’m guessing Clark was still better, but how much better. Also, walking Clark would load the bases meaning Van Slyke could work a walk for the winning run. Maybe Lasorda could have bought in a lefty to face Van Slyke. The best lefty I saw was Fernando Valenzuela who started game 5 for the Dodgers. That might have worked as Herzog already used up his best two pinch hitters, leaving Brian Harper probably the best righty hitter off the bench. I think the decision was closer than stated at the time and the decision could have gone either way.
Clark was a power hitter who could take a walk that didn’t play in very good homerun parks compressing his statistics. However, this was recognized in the baseball world when he played and was known as a great hitter at the time.
In part due to playing in low hitting parks Clark never led the league in any hitting category until 1987. He had a super year that year leading the league in walks, on base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS plus, meaning he was arguably the best hitter in the league. He led the Cardinals to the division title but was injured for the playoffs as the Cardinals lost the World Series to the Twins.
Clark was always good at taking a walk, but his walks increased quite a bit in 1987 and stayed that way the rest of his career. Starting in 1987 he had 4 straight years of 100 walks. The fifth year he had 90 walks in less at bats.