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1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
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The Clark Bar
2003-07-11 08:49
by Jon Weisman

I didn't expect such a big news day today, otherwise I would have held out on revisiting Jack Clark. But on Thursday, I got great feedback on the past, present and future of Dodger hitting coach Jack Clark, and I don't see any compelling reason to hold back on it. So let's get to it.

From Kent Whitaker of Newcastle, Maine (the only person in his county who wears a Dodger cap, he says):

...a quick thought about replacing Jack Clark. If the team doesn't significantly improve in the second half, I'm all for letting him go. I wonder if Rick Down would be available (hitting coach for NYY). He was with the Red Sox last year and seems to have a good track record. Did Ron Jackson leave the Las Vegas 51s to become the Red Sox hitting coach this year? The Sox are hitting close to .300 as a team right now. That isn't too shabby.
Down is quite an interesting nomination, to say the least; he was the Dodger hitting coach in 1999-2000 under Davey Johnson and the runner-up to Jim Tracy to replace Johnson as manager. In those two seasons - admittedly with some different personnel, like Gary Sheffield - the Dodgers hit 187 and 211 home runs and had OPSeses of .759 and .772. I wonder how Tracy and Down would get along...

Here's letter No. 2, from Clay Landon of Los Angeles:

... Lots of rhetoric here, only a little research - so you might want to edit judiciously. (Editor's note: just touched up a word here and there.)
The argument for Clark:
Hitters do not make sudden improvements like pitchers. That's why pitching coaches are more renowned than hitting coaches. I remember Bill James saying no one has ever learned how to hit in their twenties. His point was a bad hitter is almost always going to die a bad hitter. Good hitters who go bad can suddenly become good again (like Tim Wallach) but a guy who is bad with the bat, like Cora and Izturis, usually stays that way.

I don't know of a hitting coach in the league who can make the Dodgers a good offensive team. I don't think it can be done without changing the personnel on the field. Additionally, a player who has great success in the past (Shawn Green) is now slumping terribly. What can be done about this, right now? Again, not much. Green's problems are essentially inexplicable. Green's been a streaky hitter but this past losing streak was a little hard to take. I think Clark is doing the right thing by trying to get him to relax but beyond that, what else can you do?
There is also this: Clark was exactly the kind of player the Dodgers need today. A low-average guy who hits for power and draws walks. In his best season in St. Louis, Clark drew 136 walks. Along with Pedro Guerrero, Bill James described Clark as the best hitter of the 80's. James wrote that had Clark played in Wrigley, he would've hit .350 with 50 homers and 150 RBI's. In the 1980's! If the Dodgers are looking for a guy for younger hitters to model after, Clark is that guy. Overall, he was a much more effective hitter at his best than Steve Garvey ever was.
The argument against Clark:
Two words: Adrian Beltre.
You all know his story: Adrian was a player who at 21 years of age wasn't just a prospect, he was producing. A guy with Beltre's numbers at 21 almost always turns out to be a major league star. (John Sickels wrote these words in response to a letter I sent him.) We all know what happened: the botched surgery, sorry numbers since then, and Beltre is now the constant subject of trade rumors.
Wouldn't a guy like Adrian Beltre be the kind of challenge a hitting coach looks forward to? And wouldn't a guy like Jack Clark, a giant clubhouse presence when he played (ask Tony Gwynn) be the perfect complement to Beltre? Clark as a player was similar to Adrian: physically gifted, sometimes thought to be a little removed from his teammates, questionable work ethic but known as a hard worker in the minor leagues. That's a word-for-word description of Adrian Beltre. They seem well-matched but Beltre is deteriorating before our eyes.
Clark cannot be held responsible for the Dodger hitters who are bad and will probably stay that way (i.e.: Cora, Izturis). Nor can he be held entirely responsible for a star who is having an off-year (Green). But I think a hitting coach should be held accountable for young players who have a proven ability to hit the baseball. Today, Adrian Beltre is worthless offensively. I think Clark needs to be held accountable for that.
Verdict: We haven't reached the All-Star break. The Dodgers could catch a little offensive fire if Green and Beltre start to hit (last season, Beltre hit very well after the All-Star break). If Green and Beltre continue to deteriorate, then the Dodgers should go in another direction at the end of the season. I can't see that firing Clark now would make a helluva lot of difference. Additionally, it would seem callous to fire him now after his life-threatening accident.
Hitting coach nominee if Clark is fired: Steve Garvey. True, he didn't walk and was always a little overrated offensively but he got 175-200 hits a year like clockwork. Plus, it would be fun to see Garvey back in the clubhouse.

Clay makes convincing points to me everywhere but his last paragraph. Fun is a judgment call, but Garvey's resume offers little indication he could nurture some more on-base percentage out of the Dodgers. But that's a quibble - I thought it was a terrific letter.

I also sought opinions about batting coaches at Baseball Primer's Clutch Hits. Here are some selected postings:

From "Catch-22":

The Texas Ranger's Rudy Jaramillo also has stellar reputation, given his work with (currently) Hank Blalock, Michael Young, as well as Juan Gonzalez, A-Rod (with whom he spent 8 years working on his swing) Jeff Bagwell, Sammy Sosa et al. (Hell, he got Gabe Kapler to hit in 28 straight games - and for that he is a genius.) That all of those players go out of their way to thank him is a pretty strong endorsement.

I'm surprised at the anti-Jack Clark sentiment. Given his high OBP, SLG, walks, and his absolute refusal to swing at outside pitches (take a look at how far away he stood from the plate), I thought he would be a favorite around here.

Also, Mitchell Page might deserve some mention as a good hitting coach, given the consistent hitting success of the Cardinals (e.g., Renteria's improved AVG, OBP, and Ks; Matheny and Marrero's general improvements; and - if you attribute any of his success to Page - Pujols).

And from "Rally Monkey":

Jack Clark the hitter:Jack Clark the hitting coach::Joe Morgan the player:Joe Morgan the broadcaster?
What I am relieved to find in this discussion is that the question of who should be the Dodger hitting coach should not be dismissed. There are alternatives to consider.

To me, the most compelling reason to retain Clark is that the best candidate may not be available in midseason. I don't know that an interim hitting coach would be helpful to the Dodgers.

Part of me also thinks that perhaps Clark shouldn't be judged until the end of the season. But who else in baseball has that luxury? Do the players? Does the general manager? If the Dodgers were last in the league in wins, would Tracy's job be safe?

I sympathize that Clark was hurt badly this spring, but I also question his thought process in taking a motorcycle ride without a helmet just before Opening Day. The accident wasn't his fault, but he certainly could have mitigated the outcome.

The Dodgers scored some runs in St. Louis, and figure to score some more in Colorado. But let's see how they do when they get back to Dodger Stadium. If the Dodgers are serious about trying to win in 2003 - if they make a move toward that end - than I still don't think I see how you can justify having that offense managed by Jack Clark.

This question is not independent of ones like the Odalis Perez-Brian Giles question. All of the Dodgers' moves need to reflect a consistent direction.

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