Clark hits town swinging New Oriole arrives shooting from lip

December 19, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Sitting in the visitor's dugout at Camden Yards this summer, Will Clark made a few observations about the Orioles. On paper, they were pretty solid, he said. But on the field?

"There was a very good nucleus," he said, "but it looked like something was missing."

Intensity was the quality Clark found most lacking on a club that never lived up to its advanced billing, and he's viewed by the organization as a large part of the solution.

Clark made his first appearance in Baltimore yesterday since agreeing to a two-year, $11 million contract earlier this month, posing for photographs with general manager Frank Wren and taking questions from the media. He'll wear No. 12, which had belonged to Roberto Alomar the past three seasons, and attempt to replace some of the offensive produc

tion lost when first baseman Rafael Palmeiro returned to the Texas Rangers as a free agent.

"He has the kind of character and leadership -- and I know he doesn't like to keep hearing this -- the intensity that we desire," Wren said. "We're thrilled to have him."

Clark, in turn, seemed happy to be here.

His time with the Rangers ended with the signing of Palmeiro, whom he had replaced five years earlier after receiving serious interest from the Orioles. A deal almost was struck back then, but owner Peter Angelos reviewed Clark's medical history and decided it was too risky.

Those negotiations made this deal much easier to consummate, Clark said.

"They sort of set the stage," said Clark, 34, a six-time All-Star whose .302 career batting average is sixth-best among active players with at least 1,500 hits. "This was a place that I had looked at before and was very familiar with the area and very comfortable with the area. And it's still true to this day.

"It's weird how this game comes around and goes around," he added. "Five years ago, Mr. Angelos made a decision. There were no bridges burned at all because you know in the future that something may happen where you end up in Baltimore and that's exactly what happened."

Clark appeared in 149 games last season, the most since 1990 while with the San Francisco Giants, and aided the Rangers' drive toward the AL West title by batting .305 with 41 doubles, 23 homers and 102 RBIs. He hit .300 or better in four of his five seasons in Texas. And he usually wore the same scowl on his face, his eyes fixed with a glare that could burn a hole through wood.

"I'm a very intense individual. I like to win. I like to play for winners," he said. "And also adding a guy like Albert Belle, with his intensity, I don't think it can do anything but help this ballclub.

"Leadership isn't something where you sit there and say, 'I'm a leader.' Leadership is more the way you go about your job, the way you prepare for your job. And if something is missing, you're not afraid to say something about it."

Clark won't be shy about speaking up.

"If I feel a guy's not putting out, he'll have something said to him -- quickly," Clark said. "The quicker you nip it in the bud, the better off the whole ballclub is."

Clark also believes his power numbers will be better at Camden Yards than in the spacious Ballpark in Arlington. And not because he'll be taking aim at the right-field scoreboard.

"The thing that's attractive to me about Camden Yards is the fact you look at left-center and it's 364 feet, and I come from a ballpark that was 390 feet with a 14-foot wall. It was almost impossible going the other way," he said.

It's just as difficult to separate Clark and Palmeiro. They were teammates at Mississippi State, but became rivals as their professional careers took root. Palmeiro voiced his feelings of betrayal when Clark forced him out of Texas, and both players have been answering questions about each other ever since.

"When the decision was made five years ago, Raf came out and said a few things," Clark said. "I guess if you ask him now and look back on it, he'd probably say he said the wrong things. But he and I have had a decent relationship over the last five years."

Have they broached the subject during that time?

"You ought to hear some of the discussions we've had at first base," Clark said, laughing but not giving away any secrets.

NOTES: Clark also revealed yesterday that his son, who turns 3 next week, was diagnosed last May with a form of autism, and vowed to become involved with the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. "I'll be donating quite a bit of money to them," he said. The Orioles will announce the signings of reliever Ricky Bones and utility player Rich Amaral by Monday. Wren said there wouldn't be any trade news by then and added the Orioles weren't in the running for pitcher Roger Clemens.

Pub Date: 12/19/98

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