Fred vs. Will: First comes respect for NL's two best there

July 14, 1992|By Bob Nightengale | Bob Nightengale,Los Angeles Times

SAN DIEGO -- They were surrounded by chaos. Friends were trading punches with one another. Their bosses were wrestling on the ground. Pandemonium was everywhere.

Standing next to the batting screen, perhaps 80 feet away from the brawl at Candlestick Park, were the San Diego Padres' Fred McGriff and the San Francisco Giants' Will Clark. Their shirts ripped open, and bodies aching, the two stood together with their arms around each others' shoulders.

It was the first time, perhaps, they realized the respect they had for each other.

"I think we all kind of did a double-take on that one," San Francisco Giants pitcher Bud Black said. "Everybody's going at it in the middle of the field, and then we look up, and there's Will calming down Fred.

"That kind of stopped it for everybody right there."

It was shocking enough that chilly night 3 1/2 weeks ago to see McGriff -- the quiet one -- charge the mound after being hit by a Trevor Wilson pitch. It was the most emotion anyone has seen from McGriff on a baseball field.

But to see Clark -- the loud one -- ram his body into McGriff and take him away from the melee was almost bizarre. It was as if their personalities got mixed up in a baseball remake of "The Fly."

"It was like something came over me," Clark said. "I saw Fred in the middle of that mess, and I knew I needed to get him out of there. The next thing I knew I was tackling him, and putting on a bear hug.

"I said: 'Fred, I'm not letting go of [you], anyway, so you might as well listen to me. We've got a whole season to play. I don't want to lose you. We need you around in this game.' "

It didn't matter that the Giants and Padres are divisional rivals in the National League West. It didn't matter that the teams have come to hate each other the past few years.

Clark was not going to stand by and allow McGriff to get hurt in a senseless brawl.

Said McGriff: "I'll never forget what he did that night. That showed me a lot of class.

"We hardly know each other, but I think that night showed just what we think of each other."

Who knows, perhaps one day Padres All-Star Fred McGriff and Giants All-Star Will Clark will become the best of friends.

Their personalities are as different as those of Ross Perot and Bill Clinton. Their styles are as different as those of Arsenio Hall and Jay Leno. Their tastes are as different those of as Eddie Murphy and Bill Cosby.

Yet they share a unique distinction in baseball.

They are the two finest first basemen in the National League.

The emergence of McGriff, who spent the first 10 years of his professional career in the American League, has sparked a debate in the National League that can be heard in every city.

Fred vs. Will.

To be settled over time.

"I think right now," said Don Baylor, St. Louis Cardinals hitting coach, "the sentiment is for Fred. He hits the ball as hard as anybody in either league. You stand around the batting cage, and you have that ringing in your ear when Fred hits the ball. I can keep my eyes closed and tell when he's up. You hear a bink, bink, bink . . . and then a pow.

"I don't think there's anyone in this league who's more underrated. But you watch, once he's on a winning club, everyone will realize what kind of player he is. If he hits a home run or even a double at the All-Star Game, the whole world will know who he is."

Said Clark: "That's what gets me. My God, this guy might be a Hall of Fame player, and it's like people don't know who he is."

Although McGriff is the only player in the major leagues to have hit 30 home runs in each of the past four seasons, this is his first All-Star Game.

In the past 4 1/2 years, since McGriff became an everyday player, he is batting .286 with 154 home runs and 437 RBI. Clark is batting .304 with 110 home runs and 472 RBI.

For the first time in five years, Clark enters tonight's All-Star game as the backup. McGriff, with great help from the Toronto fans, edged Clark by 16,000 votes to win the starting job.

Clark says the fans made the right choice. After all, McGriff is hitting .317 with 18 home runs and 55 RBI. He also is the only player in baseball who has hit three home runs of at least 442 feet this season. Clark is batting .318 with 10 home runs and 41 RBI.

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