Clark ends painful year early

Sidelight

Elbow surgery leaves vet at .303, career power lows

August 22, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Will Clark will have surgery this week to remove bone chips from his left elbow, ending his first season with the Orioles with six weeks remaining and assuring career lows in most offensive categories.

This is Clark's second trip to the disabled list since signing a two-year, $11 million contract over the off-season. He missed 31 games after fracturing his left thumb on April 18 and also had been kept out of the lineup because of soreness in his knee and ankle.

Clark, 35, will have the surgery performed on Thursday by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala. A recovery period of four to six weeks will follow.

This is the third procedure on Clark's elbow since 1986, when he broke into the majors with the San Francisco Giants. The most recent had been in 1996 while with the Texas Rangers, also to remove bone chips and spurs. Unlike that surgery, Clark said next week's procedure will be arthroscopic.

"If I have it done now, I can come back to the team and start Clark rehabbing immediately. That would put me in a better position to get ready for next year," he said.

Clark has been on the disabled list seven times in the past four seasons. He avoided a stop there last year while appearing in 149 games, his highest total since 1990.

The elbow began to swell while the Orioles were in Tampa Bay two weeks ago and got worse during the ensuing series in Cleveland. Clark hasn't played since Aug. 13 against the Indians, leaving his average at .303 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs in 251 at-bats. He appeared in only 77 games.

Clark received a cortisone shot on Monday and expected to return in a few days. But the pain became worse, and an examination on Friday by Dr. Michael Jacobs, the team orthopedist, confirmed the injury to be more serious.

"Will has played through this type of thing in the past so we were trying to get through it," said general manager Frank Wren. "He was still available to pinch-hit [Friday] night, but it had gotten to the point that when we talked after the game he needed to go ahead and get something done."

Wren said one of the chips has become lodged, which has prevented the elbow from improving. Though still able to take batting practice, Clark has been prohibited from throwing since the condition flared up.

"After a cortisone injection, normally it calms down and gets a little bit better and you can throw for at least a few more weeks after that. But it got progressively worse the next three days," Clark said.

"As soon as it started to swell up, I had a feeling what was wrong with it. This is definitely a disappointment. You set out in the middle of the winter to get ready and get geared up for spring training, and then you go through spring training to get into the postseason. To cut it short like this definitely isn't the way you want to do it."

Asked if this is a condition he'll be burdened with for the rest of his career, Clark said, "The rest of my life. I've been dealing with this since '86. I've played my whole big-league career with a broken elbow."

Clark will return to Baltimore after the surgery rather than stay at his Texas home while the Orioles finish up.

"I still have teammates and I have a commitment to this organization," he said. "I'll be on the bench every day, trying to give as much support as possible."

Clark, who had only six RBIs after the All-Star break, was signed by the Orioles once Rafael Palmeiro spurned their five-year, $50 million offer to rejoin the Rangers. Palmeiro began yesterday hitting .334 with 34 homers and 111 RBIs.

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