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Right at Home : Jack Clark Returns to National League, Hoping to Earn a Title for Himself and Padres

Times Staff Writer

Jack Clark came to town Thursday with his right hand dressed in a diamond ring, a ring the size of a pleasure cruiser. For 30 minutes, as he talked with local media, he fidgeted with the ring until somebody finally asked the obvious question.

Jack, is that a championship ring?

“No, no,” he said with a hint of embarrassment. “Just a family ring.”

The point being, for all his 12 big-league seasons, for all his headlines and bright lights, the newest Padre doesn’t have a championship ring.

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That, he said, is what he has come here for.

“My last goal is obviously a world championship,” said Clark, a four-time All Star who has two National League pennant rings from St. Louis and only two seventh-game World Series losses to show for them. “With St. Louis, we let it slip away. We always felt we were going to win no matter what, and we didn’t, and it was really disappointing. Once you get the taste of that, there’s nothing like it. You’ve got to have it. I’m still hungry for it. I want it back.

“Coming here makes me feel like I have a chance at getting it back.”

The Padres showed off their newest jewel Thursday in Clark’s first appearance in San Diego since he joined the team. He came from the New York Yankees with pitcher Pat Clements in a trade that sent pitchers Lance McCullers and Jimmy Jones and outfielder Stan Jefferson to New York.

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With the exception of referring to Jefferson as “Jefferies,” understandable considering the Padres never really knew who he was either, Clark said all the right things, and plenty of them, speaking the volumes you’d expect from a man who has been stranded for a year on a desert island. Or with the New York Yankees.

“This is not an interview,” said one observer. “It’s a filibuster.”

In the course of the 30 minutes, Clark gave credit to everyone from Whitey Herzog to God. He rarely smiled and promised nothing, but he gave Padre fans reason to expect everything.

Not the least which is that he wouldn’t mind being a Padre for life.

“There’s a good chance of that,” said Clark, 32, when asked if this was going to be his final stop. Unless management decides otherwise, he’s here for at least 4 years. He can’t become a free agent again until 1992 because he was one after the 1987 season, and you must wait 5 years before testing the market again. Also, he revealed Thursday that he had waived his right to demand a trade, which he could have done because he was traded in the middle of a multi-year contract.

“There’s a good chance (of staying), because there’s no other place I’d like to go,” he said. “I want to just play for the Padres. They could have a good thing going for a long time.”

How happy is he to be here now?

“Coming here is like God saying, ‘You’ve been a good guy, you deserve a break,’ ” he said. And he was just getting started.

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A sampler:

--About winning: “I expect to win. Jack (McKeon, the manager) expects to win. We have the nucleus of a good team and one that with some more trades can be even better. For me, it’s the perfect situation.”

--About leaving the Yankees: “The Yankees aren’t patient. They expect it right away. Every game is like the seventh game of the World Series. You can handle it, because the game has to go on, but . . . you lose a game there, and they have a hard time understanding. They want to make changes. It’s difficult at times.”

--About returning to the National League after just one season in the American League: “I feel I’m back to where I’m supposed to be. I’ve got peace of mind now. I’m relaxed. This is my old stomping grounds. I’m not an East Coast person. I didn’t think the ballparks, the cities, the hotels, anything in the American League was up to par with the National League. Now I’m back at home.”

--On playing in generic San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium after fighting the unusual conditions in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, St. Louis’ Busch Stadium, and Yankee Stadium: “This is the time time I will play in a normal ballpark. It has good background, good weather. I won’t feel like I have to pull a ball down the line to hit it out. I will be able to just go up there and hit it.”

--On how his veteran presence can effect the Padres emotionally: “Just by showing up and playing. Just by being here, you can have an effect on a team. I like to have fun, but you have to be serious. You have to be serious right from the start. Your work hard, and then you hope your work habits can rub off on guys. Jack (McKeon) won’t have to say anything, the players can say it. Sometimes you have to call a meeting just to make sure everybody knows what direction you are going. This is not a team sport, everybody has to be individually motivated. Sometimes you have to remind them of that.”

--About playing first base full-time after being a designated hitter and outfielder in New York: “When Whitey Herzog brought me in at first base in St. Louis, I wasn’t sure about it. But he told me it looked like I had been over there all the time, and it felt that way. I don’t like being a designated hitter. I like being in the game all the time. I like knowing what I’m going to be doing.”


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