Saturday, August 10, 2013

In Other Words: Jack Clark and 'The Accusation'

AUGUST 9th, 2013-Well, here we go again.

Former ML outfielder-first baseman Jack Clark, in his first week of co-hosting an afternoon drive show on St. Louis's WGNU (920 AM), decided to stir the PED pot a bit.

After his partner on the show, Kevin Slaten, mentioned the possibility that former Cardinals first baseman, current LA Angels' DL denizen and living legend Albert Pujols had used steroids in the past, Clark responded in the resoundingly affirmative:

I know for a fact he was. The trainer that worked with him, threw him batting practice from Kansas City, that worked him out every day, basically told me that's what he did.”

The four-time ML All-Star Clark, who played with the Cards from 1985-87, has now twice made this claim in his first week on the show. Slaten didn't even finish his statement about Pujols' alleged use of steroids before Clark jumped in. Commenting on trainer Chris Mihlfeld, who worked with Pujols (as well as Jason Grimsley, who was busted after being caught shipping PEDs directly to his own home), Clark said the following:

(Mihlfeld) had told me what he was doing with 'Poolie' (Pujols, in lame baseball nickname-speak). He threw him batting practice, worked him out, shot him up, all that stuff.”

OK. Let's start with the character of the man making said statement.

Clark was not one to shy away from expressing his opinions during his MLB career. For that matter, he seemed to engender negative feelings from his teammates from time to time.

In his time with the San Francisco Giants in the early-80's, Clark often complained about the playing conditions at old Candlestick Park. In fairness, I remember The 'Stick: it was cold, windy and damp. Frequently. But this sort of attitude, along with concerns from manager Frank Robinson and the front office that he was, perhaps, 'milking' his injuries, led to his trade to the Cards in 1985 for SS Jose Uribe, pitcher Dave LaPoint and 1B-OFs David Green and Gary Rajsich.

In 1987, Clark had managed to get on SS Ozzie Smith's bad side. In 1988 he had signed a two-year contract with the New York Yankees, but while he enjoyed playing for manager Billy Martin, he didn't much care for Martin's replacement Lou Pinella. At the end of '88, he was on his way out of The Big Apple and heading to San Diego, traded with Pat Clements for Ps Lance McCullers and Jimmy Jones, and OF Stan Jefferson. He took one last shot at NY and the American League, in general, saying “I hate that damn league. Every game lasts 3 ½ to 4 hours. No wonder the fans are bored over there.”

In San Diego, Clark's newest target for criticism was OF Tony Gwynn (of all people). Clark felt that Gwynn was more concerned about his batting average than he was about winning, and that he often bunted in situations which seemed inappropriate in order to preserve said average. “No one bothers Tony Gwynn because he wins batting titles, but the Padres finish fourth or fifth ever year”, said Jack the Ripper, ostensibly a nickname gained from his run-producing talent, though it could just have easily come from his frequent character attacks on other players.

As much as Clark (supposedly) hated the AL, he returned there in 1991 when he signed with the Boston Red Sox. Again, he took aim at one of his former comrades:

(Padres manager) Greg Riddoch is a bad, bad man, and he's sneaky. He's a snake. Well, not just a snake, but a s-s-s-n-n-n-a-ke.”

...as well as firing off a few rounds at the Padres' fans:

Everything that they should cheer for, they'd boo for, and everything they should boo for they'd cheer for...Tony, he's perfect for them. He just plays the whole thing up, and the town is so stupid that they can't see (emphasis added).”

It was around this time that Gwynn decided he'd had quite enough:

Let's talk about him walking 104 times, being a #4 hitter. Let's talk about his not flying on team flights. Let's talk about him getting booted out of games on a called strike three.”

Clark had his own faults, beyond his need to point out the flaws of others. In 1992 his lavish spending habits led him into bankruptcy, driven primarily by his obsession with luxury cars. His bankruptcy filing stated that he was paying on 17 car notes at the same time. Seventeen. He would sometimes get bored with a car and simply get rid of it in favor of a new and different one. In the end, he lost his home (valued at approximately 2.4 million) and his drag-racing business, but was once again financially stable by the late-90's.

This leads us to thirteen years ago. In 2000, he was working as hitting coach for the LA Dodgers. It was in this season that he supposedly was told by the trainer Mihlfeld that he was giving Pujols steroids.

Now, the easiest flaw to point out in Clark's statement is that it's pure hearsay; just because Clark says that someone else said that so-and-so was being given steroids, that doesn't make it true. Granted, Mihlfeld was involved with Grimsley, who was most assuredly using PEDs. But this sort of 'guilt-by-association' strategy is what's being used against a number of former players even now, with reporters and fans alike making reckless assumptions (in some cases).

Beyond Clark's assertion that Mihlfeld said he gave steroids to the Angels first-sacker, what else does he have to offer to back up that claim? Not to mention this little tidbit, where he said:

...basically told me that's what he did.”

“Basically told me...”. OK, so did Mihlfeld come out and say it, point-blank, or did he simply allude to the possibility that he might be doing so? Either he said it or he didn't. This 'basically' crap is close to slander, the way I see it. At first, Clark says that he was told by Mihlfeld that the trainer was giving Pujols steroids. The follow-up statement says “basically...”. So which is it?

For that matter, why are you bringing this up now? I would have to assume that your concern in this matter is that fair play and a clean game are paramount to the success and reputation of Major League Baseball. But if that's what you believe, then why are you coming out thirteen years after the fact with such an accusation, at a time in which you'd be hard-pressed to prove the the conversation even took place, about one of the biggest stars in the last 50 years? What could your motivation possibly be?

Actually, as I was researching for this post, writer Ray DeRousse had already written an excellent article about Clark's possible motivation for making such a (potentially) reckless comment. In this post, he noted that Clark seemed to be jealous of the success of both proven and suspected PED users, citing Clark's own words:

They got the money, that's what they went for. But when they get off the juice and that stuff's not around, their body starts breaking down and obviously you start seeing some results go away...The greed...they juice up, they grab the money and it's just a free pass to steal is the way I look at it.”

Well, now. That certainly clears up some things, doesn't it? At least it gives some insight as to why Clark might feel the way he does, as well as the timing in which he's chosen to make his accusations.

Granted, there has been some suspicion about Pujols since his earlier days with the Cards, but never has he even been remotely linked with anything in the way of concrete evidence of PED use. Yes, he was associated with Mihlfeld, who was actually cleared from involvement in PED distribution back in 2006 when Brian McNamee was instead linked to the Grimsley affidavit as the guilty party in question. Deadspin.com, on June 8th, 2006, also pointed the finger at Mihlfeld, going so far as to name Mihlfeld as the individual who connected Grimsley (and others) to a dealer who provided the players with “amphetamines, anabolic steroids and HGH”.

People in the sports media who play this sort of game, in which they may do no more than insinuate the guilt of a player, are on thin ice as soon as they start. Pujols has already stated in the press that he is planning to sue Clark and WGNU, as well.

Pujols told MLB.com:

It is irresponsible and reckless for Jack Clark to have falsely accused me of using PEDs. My faith in Jesus Christ and my respect for this game are too important to me. I would never be able to look my wife or kids in the eye if I had done what this man is accusing me of.

"I know people are tired of athletes saying they are innocent, asking for the public to believe in them only to have their sins exposed later down the road. But I am not one of those athletes, and I will not stand to have my name, and my family's name, dragged through the mud."

Of course, these are just words. We've all seen the 'Indignant Major Leaguer' card played many times before, and it's a pretty tired approach at this point. All that will matter in the end is whether or not Pujols used PEDs, and following the progression (or lack, thereof) of the libel suit that Pujols plans to file could tell a great deal as to whether Clark was right. Remember: it's only libel if it isn't true.

And Pujols has, to our knowledge, never failed a drug test. It will certainly be interesting to see how this plays out.

(UPDATE: Early Saturday morning, insideSTL announced the firing of both Clark and Slaten. The company is doing its best to distance themselves from the former co-hosts, as well as their comments. Best of luck with that. )
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