Why I hate the number twenty-two "A tribute to the Thrill"
Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think that the number twenty-two on the back of a Giants jersey would bother me this much. But it does. Growing up in northern California where you picked an allegiance to one of the sports teams based on several factors. It could be based on family influences, color scheme, or maybe that team won it all that year, so you jumped aboard. I came up in a family that told stories about Mays and McCovey, Marichal and Perry. At nine years old I had already attended probably the equivalent of two full seasons. Tickets were cheap, seats were available, and the team was horrible. I started to wonder if I was following the right sport. See, I have an allegiance to the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers as well. I love bay area sports. But the San Francisco Giants love is on a different level. Had the Giants continued the way they were playing, I might be just as passionate about the Warriors or 49ers, but then something happened.
In 1985 the Giants were 62-100, the only Giants team to lose 100 games. But they did draft a kid out of Mississippi State by the name of Will Clark. When he burst on to the scene, hitting a home run off Nolan Ryan to begin his major league career, he showed a desire to win that I hadn't seen before. As an impressionable ten year-old, I grew up around men who "played hard" to win. But this man was able to win without playing hard, and he played hard anyway. He was Hunter Pence, well before Hunter Pence. The years prior I had seen a different Clark with a #22 on the back. That would be Jack (no relation). I just remember when I was watching him play, it was about time for him to leave. So just by luck, the number is open and another player with the same last name comes aboard and the magic begins. "The thrill" as he would come to be called, was the type of player all teams want. A gritty, determined, lead-by-example player who didn't choose or necessarily want to be a star, but became one anyway. If you throw 9 players out on a field with his heart, it wouldn't matter if all 9 guys are normally right fielders, they would figure it out and beat you. There is a right and a wrong way to play baseball. Thank you William Nuschler Clark Jr, for assisting my dad in steering me right.
Should the San Francisco Giants retire the number 22?
The fact that one man can have that much impact on a fan may seem jaded and it probably is. If the team had continued to go south, I may have lost focus, but they didn't. Clark kept interest in the team before wins and a ballpark could. He brought promotions and advertising back to the team. How many bay area kids had a "Pacific Sock Exchange" poster in their room? So for my uncle, it was Mays. For my dad, it was McCovey, and for me, it was Will. I almost named my son William because of that, but got vetoed. But I digress. The Giants, in my mind would not have the deep and passionate fan base without players like Will Clark.
Through the years we have seen the number on the cob-webbed backs of Osvaldo Fernandez and Dustan Mohr. It was worn three different times in 2002, Mike Matheny at least had it somewhat covered by his catcher's gear while he was on defense and the number had a good seat while Eli Whiteside was Buster Posey's backup. But "Clark" above that 22 just seems right. It's even different now that the uniforms have changed. The Giants stopped putting the last names on home jerseys in 2000. It's beautiful to see the amount of Clark jerseys at the games.
Will Clark Tribute on Youtube
I understand the Giants only retire numbers of Hall-of-Famers. But as we have seen recently, the Hall of Fame should not be as much of a measuring stick as it once was. As we all know, performance enhancing drugs were starting to become more prevalent during Clark's prime years. He didn't have a spike in performance and was consistent his entire career. What would his numbers be? Should we adjust the qualifications for average players during the steroid era to figure out who really was an all-star. With players like Mark Mcgwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and our own Barry Bonds gaining fortune, fame, and perhaps one day "Hall of Fame status", players like Clark are left to wonder how many home runs should have led the league? It's why a player who hit .263 for his career in Mcgwire is a hitting coach and Clark's .303 batting average gets him a "special assistant" role.
It's time to put this thing to bed. When it was out of sight, it was out of mind. But with Jake Peavy wearing it, who is a one-time Cy Young winner, it is back in my face and I don't want it. Even if you want to bring Jack back and have a dual ceremony, I don't care. Why not allow Giants fans the lasting memory of Clark being synonymous with the number 22? To some it may be trivial, to others it may seem childish. But when your first smells growing up were of the steam coming from the hot dog cart behind the bleachers at Candlestick. When you consider Hank Greenwald, Ron Fairly, Gary Park, Mike Krukow, Duane Kuiper, and Jon Miller part of your family, And when there is one player who kept you going back to see them on those cold and windy school nights, when homework was done on the San Mateo Bridge. There is one more memory I want to keep and that is Clark #22.
© 2014 Gary Oversen