Barry Zito

Nuschler back home where he belongs

Sure, the San Francisco Giants have their faults: zero World Series Titles in over 50 years, the most powerless offense in the game and a free agent pitcher who so far has ranked as one of the top free agent disasters in history. But nobody does nostalgia like the team that calls 24 Willie Mays Plaza home. Will Clark is a Giant once again, and if that doesn’t warm your heart you’re either under 18-years-old or your name is Kevin Mitchell (or Jeff Leonard, or most reporters who ventured into the Giants clubhouse in the late 1980’s-early ’90’s.

It always killed me that Clark followed all the other ex-Giants (like Matt Williams, Mike Aldrete and Bob Brenly, among others) and took employment with the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team that didn’t even exist when Clark played in San Francisco. Now he’s a special assistant to the Giants’ front office, which pretty much means he’s collecting a nice paycheck for acting as a face of the franchise, similar to other former greats like Willie McCovey and Willie Mays.

What’s amazing about Clark is throughout my 31 years he has by leaps and bounds given Giants fans the most memorable moments that aren’t tainted by steroid use. I’ll never forget when my seventh grade math teacher postponed class to listen to the end of Game 5 of the 1989 NLCS on the radio, when Clark hit that famous single up the middle to drive in Candy Maldonado and Brett Butler, the single that clinched the first pennant for San Francisco since 1962. Clark went 13-for-20 in that series against the Cubs with 2 homers (both off Greg Maddux in Game 1) and captured a spot in Giants fans’ hearts for eternity.

Perhaps the biggest legacy Clark left was his posters. Back when every one of my friends had posters plastering every square inch of their bedroom walls, The Thrill was king. “Sheer Will,” “The Natural” and “Pacific Sock Exchange” weren’t just marketing slogans, they signified the most beautiful left-handed swing I’ve seen before or since (all apologies to Ken Griffey, Jr.).

The man they called Nuschler (due to his middle name, perhaps the strangest ever given a child) looked like a lock for the Hall of Fame after his play from 1986 through 1991, but his body betrayed him. Actually, he may have betrayed his body with his disdain for weightlifting and a spare tire that grew larger and larger as the years wore on. However, while we all assume Jeff Kent was never on the juice, we KNOW Thrill probably never even took a vitamin during his playing days, let alone Winstrol or HGH. His career statistics (2,176 hits, 1,186 runs, 1,205 RBI’s, 284 homers, .303 avg., .384 ops.) are pretty solid, even though his career arc took Clark from the guy whose Rookie Card everyone had to have to being surpassed in everyone’s eyes by a fraud like Raphael Palmeiro.

Now Clark is back in the orange and black, where he should have been all along. After all, who else would visit Kruk and Kuip on Opening Day a few years back and give Candlestick Park props when everybody else was drooling over Pac Bell Park? Having Nuschler around probably won’t help the Giants improve on last season’s meager home run total of 91 (cringe), but if he can provide even a hint of the swagger he brought to The Stick every day, the Giants will be better for it.

Final, somewhat related note: Has anyone else noticed the Giants have been blessed with the surliest stars of any baseball franchise in recent history? Willie Mays was the best baseball player of all time but couldn’t stand the media (which was why he somehow wasn’t a unanimous first-ballot Hall-of-Famer), as much as Clark was beloved by fans he was hated by reporters, Barry Bonds set the bar for jerk athletes and Bruce Jenkins mentioned yesterday on “The Razor and Mr. T” how he once did a long and complimentary piece on Kent years ago only to be completely ignored by the second baseman the next time they crossed paths. The only team that comes close to the Giants in terms of poor media relations is the Red Sox with Ted Williams, Jim Rice, Roger Clemens and Manny Ramirez (but definitely not Dustin Pedroia). Even for a sport like baseball that’s known for its red-asses, the Giants are the leaders in the clubhouse.

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