Will Clark – Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame
Jesuit High School/Mississippi State/MLB
Will Clark is one of the all-time great baseball players to come out of the talented baseball city of New Orleans. He played in the World Series for Babe Ruth Baseball, American Legion Baseball, College Baseball and Major League Baseball while adding in a high school state championship and an Olympic Silver Medal.
A three-year letterman (1980-82) on the baseball team at Jesuit, he helped lead the Blue Jays to the Louisiana Class 4A baseball title in 1980. In 1981, as a junior, he belted 10 home runs in 14 games. He hit .560 as a senior in 1982, but didn’t qualify for the district batting title as opponents walked him more than three times a game. He also had 81 career runs batted in and 71 career runs scored.
He also helped his 14-15 year old team finish third in the 1979 Babe Ruth World Series in Arizona while keying his Jesuit-based American Legion team to a third-place finish in the Legion World Series in 1980.
He went onto a stellar career at Mississippi State University. Not only did he earn All-America honors twice, but in 1985, he won the Golden Spikes Award, given annually to the top collegiate baseball player in the nation after leading the Bulldogs to the College World Series.
After taking over the starting first-base job late in his freshman season, he batted .337 with nine home runs and 29 RBI in just 95 at bats. As a sophomore in 1984, he belted 28 home runs with 98 RBIs, but amazingly, those numbers were only second on the team – to fellow superstar Rafael Palmeiro. He also flirted with the magical .400 number all season, finishing at .386.
Following his sophomore season, Clark was selected to the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team. He batted .397 and hit 16 homers in a 35-game pre-Olympic Tour, and then, during the five-game tournament of the 1984 Olympics, batted .429 with three home runs and eight runs batted in.
In an interview with Baseball America in 1991, Clark said of his Olympic experiences, “It was so loud at Dodger Stadium. That was unbelievable. It was a big-time goose bump feeling. That was the most goosebumps I’ve ever had when I’ve been on a field. More than winning a division or going to the World Series, definitely.”
As a senior in 1985, Clark batted .420 with 25 home runs and 77 RBI. The Bulldogs swept their way to the SEC Championship and rolled through the NCAA South Regional before finishing third behind Miami and Texas at the College World Series. In addition to the Golden Spikes honor, Clark was named the SEC Male Athlete of the Year, the only time a baseball player had won the award – the runner-up was Auburn football legend Bo Jackson.
In an October 1989 interview with the Times-Picayune, Mississippi State baseball coach Ron Polk commented about Clark’s time at the university, “Will came to Mississippi State a highly motivated, confident kid, and he never changed. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone harder on himself. He played just as hard in intrasquad games as he played in games that counted. And when crunch time came, he always wanted the bat in his hands.”
The San Francisco Giants selected him with the second overall pick in the 1985 draft. In his first professional at bat in 1985 with Fresno, he belted a home run and then in his first Major League at bat, on April 8, 1986, he smacked a home run off future Hall-of-Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan. He would go on to be recognized as one of the best first baseman of his generation. In eight years with San Francisco, he was a five-time All-Star and finished in the top five in MVP voting four times.
A Sports Illustrated article described Clark’s swing as “the sweetest swing anyone had ever seen, an uppercut with a long, loopy follow-through that made it seem as if he was wielding a buggy whip instead of a 32-ounce bat.”
In the Giants’ run to the 1989 World Series, Clark registered one of the most productive performances in MLB postseason play with a .650 batting average. He was the MVP of the National League Championship Series victory over the Chicago Cubs.
He left the Giants as a free agent following the 1993 season and would spend five years with the Texas Rangers, though injuries were starting to wear him down. After signing wit the Baltimore Orioles for the 1999 season, he was traded to the St. Louis late in 2000. His performance down the stretch keyed the Cardinals’ advancing to the postseason.
He retired following the 2000 season at the age of 36. During his 16-year MLB career, he batted .303 and hit 284 home runs in 1,976 games.
Clark was inducted into the New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007 and the Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2012. In 2019, he was part of Mississippi State’s inaugural Baseball Ring of Honor class – the honor was accompanied by the unveiling of a larger-than-life statue in from of the school’s baseball stadium.
Clark’s uniform number 22 was retired by the San Francisco Giants in 2020. “To know I’m going to be out on that wall with Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Barry Bonds,” Clark said, “is absolutely unbelievable. I came up as a Giant, this is my first organization. This is where I learned to be a big leaguer. To be linked with the greatest to ever play the sport here in San Francisco, it’s absolutely amazing.”