Like Frank in '66, O's need Will to win

KEN ROSENTHAL

November 20, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Let's get one thing straight.

Will Clark isn't Glenn Davis.

He's Frank Robinson.

In 1966, the Orioles were coming off back-to-back third-place finishes, just as they are now. Robinson's arrival was a defining moment in franchise history. Clark's could spark a renaissance of the glory years.

Assuming Clark is healthy -- and he certainly looked it in September -- this decision is practically a no-brainer. Clark's recent statistics aren't as impressive as Rafael Palmeiro's, and his past injuries are legitimate cause for concern. But even Robinson is intrigued by the '66 analogy.

"He could have the same effect," the Orioles' assistant general ,, manager said yesterday. "He's a fiery, determined guy. He reminds me a little bit of myself in that respect. He can help this ballclub achieve what we're trying to achieve -- take the next step and win a championship."

Indeed, the similarities are almost eerie. "Frank Robinson is an old 30," former Cincinnati GM Bill DeWitt said after trading Robinson for Milt Pappas in December 1965. Clark turns 30 in March. His critics point to back-to-back off-years and claim "The Thrill" is gone.

Robinson was coming off a far better season -- .296, 33 homers, 113 RBIs in '65 -- but as Orioles GM Roland Hemond said: "They're both fierce competitors, and very talented. It would be nice to have a duplication of the results."

Hemond and club counsel Lon Babby can start by taking the initiative today in their first negotiating session with Clark's agent, Jeff Moorad. Clark is probably seeking a five-year, $25 million contract. A year from now, after the parade down Charles Street, it might seem like a bargain.

The San Francisco Giants seem prepared to lose Clark, figuring they could match his 14 homers and 73 RBIs with a combination of Mark Carreon, Todd Benzinger and rookie J. R. Phillips at first base. Clark wants to stay in San Francisco. Changing teams will only make him angry.

That's exactly what the Orioles want -- a man possessed, with something to prove. Palmeiro is just the opposite, a laid-back player coming off a career year. The Orioles have a clubhouse full of Palmeiros. They need an agitator. They need a Will Clark.

"I like Clark a lot," an American League scout said this week. "Clark is a guy you hitch your wagon to and he says, 'Let's go.' Palmeiro is more of a fine player on a good team. Palmeiro will not take a team over the top. Will Clark can."

In fact, he nearly did it last season. NL MVP Barry Bonds got most of the credit for rallying the Giants in September, but Clark went 19-for-39 in the final 10 games -- including back-to-back four-hit games in the final series against Los Angeles.

The talk-show callers fret: What about the injuries? What about coming to the AL? What about -- gulp, swallow, choke -- Glenn Davis? It's so much hogwash. Davis retreated to the whirlpool. Clark competes like Michael Jordan.

Changing leagues, now there's a real concern. For every Davis and Kevin Mitchell who struggles after moving to the AL, there's a Palmeiro or Roberto Alomar who explodes. Clark's sweet swing would look good on Jupiter. It's just a guess, but he probably can hit Jose Mesa.

Best of all, he wants to hit Jose Mesa -- two outs, bases loaded, bottom of the ninth. Want to know what impressed Clark most about Camden Yards? The number of rainouts last season (one). "Guys like myself like to play," Clark said. "We don't like to sit in the clubhouse hanging around."

Heck, Clark doesn't even like being the No. 2 man on his own team behind Bonds. The Orioles probably wouldn't know what to make of him. He's supremely confident -- "I never doubt my abilities" -- and frighteningly intense.

We're not talking about Mr. Congeniality here. Every year, the Giants players vote on an award for their most inspirational player. For all the talk of Clark's leadership ability, he has never won the award in eight seasons with the club.

That doesn't make him a problem for the Orioles -- quite the contrary, it makes him the perfect fit. Team Sleepwalk needs a shot of No-Doz. Was Michael Jordan always popular with his teammates? Was Frank Robinson?

"He's got a fire in his belly that won't stop," Moorad said. "If anything, the injuries that slowed him this past season have motivated him even further to have an outstanding second half of his career."

That's why a five-year contract isn't as risky as it might appear: Clark plays at full throttle, even when nagged by minor injuries. Ever see his glare after he strikes out? "This guy's face is what we're looking for," manager Johnny Oates said.

It's the face of a killer.

( A face the Orioles need.

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