Courtesy of Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
SAN FRANCISCO — The 2022 season hasn't gone very well for the Orange and Black. After an amazing 107 win campaign in 2021, this year's squad is a .500 team and barely contending for the third wild card spot.
The team needed a spark and on a night when Will "The Thrill" Clark had his No. 22 officially retired by the team, it turned out to be a win-win situation. Following his ceremony, the Giants got impressive back-to-back home runs by Luis Gonzalez and Joey Bart to beat the Cubs 5-4.
Clark was one of the most exciting players in the game in the late 1980s. Alongside teammates Kevin Mitchell and Matt Williams, Clark was part of a division winner in 1987 and the pennant in 1989.
He was simply amazing in the National League Championship Series. He hit a grand slam off future Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux in Game 1. And who could forget his two-run single off Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams in Game 5 that punched the Giants' ticket to the World Series.
In that series, Clark really was "Superman" batting .650 (13-for-20) with two home runs and eight RBIs.
The 1993 team was really good thanks to the acquisition of Barry Bonds and new manager Dusty Baker leading the Giants to a then San Francisco record 103 wins. Unfortunately, fans weren't thrilled when Clark left for the Texas Rangers as a free agent and never wore a Giants uniform again as a player.
I asked him if he regrets never having the opportunity to play at the current ballpark at Third and King and he said, "This is an absolutely gorgeous ballpark...absolutely. But Candlestick made me the man I am."
“And you had to have a little guts and glory to play at Candlestick. Being out here, I would actually like hitting here not necessarily because of (McCovey) Cove, but believe it or not the ball goes out of left field pretty good. Candlestick, there were some days you couldn't hit a cannon out of left field.”
But one thing everyone remembers and the passage of time has not lessened Will's facial expressions and he always delights with his mannerisms.
Both myself and Bay Area Sports Wrap Editor-in-Chief Marko Ukalovic are nearly the same age and we cherished Will "The Thrill" Clark as one of our childhood heroes. I’ll never forget the moment I got a photo with him in 2011 after an Old Timer’s game.
From 1986-1993, Marko was 11-18 years old at the time. Baseball was everything to him and rooting for the San Francisco Giants was his main passion in life. Marko continues with his recollections of No. 22:
One of my great childhood memories was being at my grandfather's house sitting together and listening to the Giants game on his transistor radio. When the Giants won, I would be on cloud nine for the day, if they had lost (and they did that a lot from 1983-85) I would be pretty bummed out. So in comes 1986 and out with the old veterans that were way past their prime like Manny Trillo and Duane Kuiper and in with this new young blood of talent in Robby Thompson, Jose Uribe, and Will Clark.
The moment Clark hit a fastball off of the legendary Nolan Ryan for a home run in his first at-bat of his career on April 8, 1986 I knew right then and there the Giants had someone special. For me it was a feeling that washed over me that I was about to witness greatness.
Many highlights from Clark's career with the Giants include the 1987 NL West Division Championship, winning the pennant in 1989 along with Clark's magical performance in the NLCS that year where he won MVP honors. Even the 103-win season in 1993, his final year with the Giants, was special despite them not making the playoffs with a walk-off home run off Padres’ Gene Harris on Sep. 24.
To this day, Clark was the only player I ever cried over when he left after the '93 season. I was heartbroken that my baseball hero was not going to be playing for the Giants anymore. That was the day the innocence of baseball died to me. I realized that sports are a business and that nothing can stay the same. I never felt the same way about a player again.
Former Giants owner Bill Nuekom asked Clark to come back to the organization as an ambassador for the team in 2008, which Clark proudly accepted. Seeing him in the clubhouse during the 2014 celebration of the NLDS, was the first time I was able to interact with him since getting his autograph after a baseball clinic in 1986 at San Jose's Municipal Stadium.
From time to time I would see him before games during batting practice lending his wisdom to the current players at the time. This year, management finally did the right thing and did what every Giants fan has been wanting for a long time now, to have the number 22 retired on the Giants wall of fame in Oracle Park.
The ceremony was a great tribute to “The Thrill” with a long list of dignitaries which included teammates Mitchell, Williams, Bonds, Robby Thompson, Dave Dravecky, Mike Krukow, Jeffrey Leonard and managers that gave their testimonies to what Clark meant to them. Krukow’s speech left everyone teary eyed, including Kruk himself as he was choked up at the end of it.
When the man of the hour spoke he thanked everyone from family members to former teammates and everybody in between that helped him have the career that spanned for 15 years.
After the ceremony he spent some time with members of the press and Marko asked him if the moment of having his jersey retired by the organization he helped turn around, Clark’s response was humble and genuine.
“Yep, that’s an understatement, full circle,” Clark said. “In 1993, I really, really wanted to stay with the team. I did not want to leave and it’s one of those things it’s a baseball decision, stuff happens it’s a business. But to be a part of it like I am now. Not only helping the current major leaguers but also the minor leaguers as well, and then getting to reconnect with our fan base by doing a lot of suite appearances.”
When asked what seeing the No. 22 will mean to him in the future, Clark said, “To be recognized and to know that what you did on the field got you up there with those other names up there, Oh my God, that is thee cream of the crop.”
I'll leave you with the end of Clark’s speech because that’s all that needs to be said about the man, the myth, the legend.
Marko Ukalovic contributed to this report.
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