Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Will Clark Incident

Earlier in this blog’s life, we revisited one of the very first Draft Day “Incidents” in the CFCL’s history: the time the Co-Founders found themselves locked in an insane episode of bidding on Phillies’ outfielder Jeff Stone during the 1985 Draft. The end of that write-up teased a similar incident from the following year. It’s now time for the Co-Founders to to reminisce about 1986’s The Will Clark Incident…

I LOVE the history of the CFCL. I LOVE the fact that I have been a part of all the history of the CFCL – many times on the embarrassing end (see Jeff Stone Incident, Mitch Williams Incident, Murphy/Dysktra Trade). But every so often I am able to come out on top (Steve Carlton Incident). And here’s one more – The Will Clark Incident. 

The problem is I don’t remember the minute by minute, blow-by-blow happenings. I remember the before and I remember the after. The during? Not so much. It could be because I was still reeling from the Jeff Stone Incident the year before. It could be that it was 28 years ago and, really, how much can one person remember?

Flashback to spring training, 1986 -- This was in the early days of Rotisserie and fantasy baseball, and information on minor leaguers and prospects was still fairly hard to come by. The minor league overview in Bill Mazaroski's annual magazine was the best of the easily-obtainable sources, and the owner who knew about Baseball America's "Top Ten Prospects" issues, let alone who could find one on a newstand, had an incredible advantage. 

Here’s what I do recall. The Rebels and Copperfields had teased each other with our plans heading into 1985 when we both had our eyes on Jeff Stone. After we squared off in the bidding on Jeff Stone, I think we were both reluctant to lend voice to our intentions for the 1986 draft. 

This time around we both had our sights on a young left handed slugger in the Bay Area. I can’t recall if we gave each other even a bit of indication of our desires or if we figured it out during the bidding.

There was still a good chance of “back-dooring” a young or unknown talent. There wasn’t ESPN and Internet. You had the Sporting News and Bill Mazeroski’s mag. 

And it’s not like Mazeroski was over the moon for Clark. In the positional outlook for the major league team the magazine mentioned Clark as a possible contributor in 1986: 
"[Dan] Driessen’s limitations could help [Bob] Brenly worm his way in here, at least against lefthanders. And don’t count out last June’s No. 1 draft pick, Will Clark, who pumped 25 homers in just 65 games at Mississippi State last year, then jumped to Fresno and hit .305, drove in 48 runs in 65 games, jacked 10 home runs and had an on-base percentage of .458. Clark might not be able to make the jump this year, but it won’t take him long."
The minor league write-up at the back of the magazine said: “He’s a disciplined left-handed hitter with 20-homer strength and Gold Glove potential. Clark will get a chance to take first base this spring because he’s so far advanced in the mental aspects of the game.”

Jackpot! Just what every Rotisserie owner longs for – mental aspects!

Clark didn't even make Maz’s Gold List (the prospects likely to make their presence known in the majors in the coming season). Instead, that list was toting the likes of Todd Worrell, Lance McCullers, Andres Galarraga, and Roger Mason. Maz’s list of secondary prospects did mention Clark, saying that he “could make the leap this year – sometime.”

All-in-all, not exactly ringing endorsements; and not the type of write up that would set our winter hearts a-lusting.

So if you read those periodicals, you knew of a guy named Will Clark. Had a pretty good college career and was expected to make the team and be wonderful in 1986. But to the passive eye, he wasn't that well known. 

It wasn't until March 1986 that stories of "The Natural" came drifting Chicago-way. Tales told of an intense young slugger with only 65 minor league games under his belt who was the hit of the Giants' spring camp. There were rumors that he hit a ball through the outfield fence in a spring training game. 

Clark had a pretty solid spring. This was when the Cubs played the Giants about 450 times during the Cactus League, so now he was becoming less unknown. But one could still be hopeful that the other owners would attribute it to a young kid having a good spring against lesser pitchers (kind of like being Gary Scott before Gary Scott).

Still, Rich and I both hoped -- no, believed -- that each of us was the only one to be hearing this info. We were both certain we would be able to sneak Clark though at the end of the Draft. Of course, this was another textbook case of Hyper-Inflation resulting from Pre-Draft Obsession.

We were both disappointed on Opening Day. Any chance we had of trying to sneak Clark through at a low price ended on April 8, 1986. Keep in mind, back in the early days, we drafted after Opening Day so we knew who was on an NL roster. By the time we drafted there were some games already played and emotions affected (see Brian Littlefield effect in the original Rotisserie Book).

On April 8th, Will Clark came to the plate for the first time EVER in a major league game. And he homered. Homered in the first inning against the Astros. Homered to straightaway center field in the Astrodome. Homered off of . . . Nolan Ryan in his first at bat ever. And the legend exploded.

No more sneaking him through. Now it’s good ol’ country hardball ala 1985 and Jeff Stone.

Flash forward, to Draft Day 1986 -- Our new owner, Dave Holian, received the honor of nominating the first player of the Draft. This ended up being the unofficial institution of what would come to be known as The Ruffin Privilege, which wasn't formally recognized until 1992.  

Of course, it's obvious who he chose to make the first player up for bid in 1986 -- Will the Thrill.

Bidding quickly escalated, with the Bald Eagles, Copperfields, and Dem Rebels the main participants. Bob Monroe, owner of the Eagles, called a conference with Head Copperfield in a side room. The Bald One offered to drop out of the bidding on Clark if In would promise not to bid up another player later in the Draft. I refused, and we returned to the draft table where the bidding continued. Monroe remained in a little while longer, then dropped out, leaving me and Rich as the only two active bidders. Another showdown between the Co-Founders/Co-Commissioners. As the bidding reached the upper 30s, memories of the Jeff Stone Incident crept into both our heads.

I was probably feeling the pain of Stone still so at some point I blinked and the Copperfields got Will Clark for .40.

Perhaps it was the memory of what Jeff Stone did to his team, but whatever the reason, after I said ".40", Rich said "Pass", and I brought his head crashing to the table at the realization of what I had done.

Clark's stats for the year: .287-11-41-4. Respectable, but not worthy of .40.

Clark would go on to hit only 10 more home runs and drive in only 40 more runs all season. So I finally won a showdown against the Copperfields, right?

1985 – Rebels outbid the Copperfields on Jeff Stone for .32 and finish 4th out of seven teams.
1986 – Copperfields outlast the Rebels on Will Clark for .40 and win their first championship (first of three in a row and first of eleven overall).
And that right there in a nutshell is the Rebel/Copperfield rivalry.

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