Jack Clark, who has spent the spring rejoicing over his return to the National League as a first baseman for the Padres, paused briefly Wednesday to issue a farewell address to American League friends.
“The umpires over there are awful, they don’t have a clue . . . I don’t know whether they don’t practice or what,” Clark said of American League umpires after being ejected by the AL’s Tim McClelland following a disputed third-strike call in the sixth inning of the Padres’ 11-3 exhibition victory over Oakland at Phoenix Stadium.
“Bad umpires is maybe the biggest reason I’m glad I’m back over here (NL),” Clark continued in even tones. “There’s a lot of bad umpires over there (AL); that’s why Billy Martin kicks dirt on them, trying to cover them up.”
Clark’s only kicks at McClelland Wednesday were verbal. After arguing a called third strike in the fourth inning, Clark became incensed in the sixth after another call put him down one ball and two strikes. He then cursed McClelland.
“I told him, ‘I’m glad I never have to see you (expletives) again,’ ” said Clark, who spent his first season in the AL last year with the New York Yankees after spending most of 13 years in the National League.
“Yep,” McClelland confirmed. “He cursed me.”
But Clark was not thrown out until after the next pitch, a high, outside fastball that was also called a strike. Clark dropped his bat at the plate, flung his helmet and walked off as McClelland shot his fist into the air with the ejection.
“That pitch was in the dugout. I think Honeycutt (A’s pitcher Rick) was almost laughing.” Clark said. “They’ve got a lot more low-lifes umpiring over there (in the AL), a lot of scabs. They must have a code of ethics where they all stick together, like collusion. See today, the guy can run back and tell his friends--guys like (AL umpire) John Shulock, he’s the absolute worst--tell them, ‘Hey, I got Clark for you.’
“Maybe the AL umpires are jealous of the NL umpires. I think a lot of them get their jollies throwing out million-dollar ballplayers.”
McClelland, who listened to Clark’s comments just as calmly, disagreed.
“We don’t have notches on our belts, we don’t want to throw guys out, it’s more of an aggravation to us,” McClelland said. “And there’s no difference to us between a million-dollar ballplayer and a rookie. We don’t even notice who is up there. When the ball is coming 90 mph, you don’t have time to notice who’s batting. You’re just trying to call balls and strikes.
“And there’s absolutely no difference between the umpiring in the two leagues. Absolutely none.”
Clark begged to differ.
“I’ve notice the difference, and it’s not just in the strike zone, it’s in the quality of umpires,” Clark said. “I think they try so hard to be different from the National League. I’ve always thought umpiring was just umpiring, no matter what.”
As Clark was finishing his discourse in the clubhouse underneath Phoenix Stadium, in walked pitcher Bruce Hurst. In five innings, he had allowed two runs on five hits with five strikeouts but had looked distressed on some close ball and strike calls.
“Who had a longer day, me or you?” Hurst asked Clark.
Coincidentally, it was McClelland who issued a normally calm Hurst one of his two major league ejections, in Game 3 of last year’s American League Championship Series. Although Hurst was not pitching, he was upset because he claimed McClelland had laughed at him during an argument in Game 2.
“So I’m arguing over something else from the dugout, and I ask him, ‘Why don’t you laugh at me now?’ ” Hurst recalled. “So he threw me out, and I gave him my hat, my coat, my glove and told him, ‘Take all this, you’ve already taken away my game.’ ”
If nothing else Wednesday, the Padres, who have cruised through the first 24 days of spring training doing little more than preening and shaping, finally found emotion. Two batters after Clark’s ejection, catcher Benito Santiago hit his second homer of the game, a shot over the left-field fence that Santiago admired before defiantly celebrating by tossing his bat near McClelland’s feet.
“Then I think, maybe I should run, what if the ball goes down--bloop--inside the fence?” Santiago said. “That happened once in Las Vegas, I think I have homer, I was thrown out at second base, I not play for three days. This not happen again.”
Following this, the game became so captivating that Manager Jack McKeon was able to pull off the move of the spring. In the eighth inning, in the middle of leading his team in another cheer, McKeon sneaked out of the dugout and into the clubhouse, where he quickly showered and changed and caught a van for the airport and a flight to San Diego. The Padres ended their 10-game Phoenix trip here and with an off day today, they weren’t required to report back to Yuma until Friday afternoon. Not even McKeon.
“It was an awesome move, I think I was the only one who saw him,” Tony Gwynn said. “He was clapping and saying ‘C’mon guys, c’mon guys’ and then--boom--he’s gone.’ ”
McKeon missed the game’s biggest blow, as struggling prospect Sandy Alomar Jr. hit a ninth-inning grand slam off Eric Plunk. It was Alomar’s second hit in 18 spring at-bats. The Padres hope it gets the attention of the league’s scouts, who have been looking at the Padres’ chief bit of trade bait with interest. The closer they have watched, the more Alomar, 22, has squirmed.
“I finally think now, I can be the Sandy Alomar of last year and the year before,” Alomar said. “I can be me.”
And hopefully for him and the Padres, he can then be gone. McKeon spent much of the pre-game workouts in conversation with New York Mets scout Harry Minor, who has followed the club throughout the spring. Trade talks could be heating up between those two clubs; the Padres would send Alomar Jr. to the Mets for center fielder Len Dykstra and infielder Howard Johnson. Alomar Jr. is also being watched closely by the Yankees, who might be persuaded to send the Padres third baseman Mike Pagliarulo.
The Padres leave Phoenix with an 8-4-1 spring mark and begin a nine-game “home stand” at Yuma’s Desert Sun Stadium beginning Friday at 7:05 p.m. MST against San Francisco. That game will be telecast back to San Diego on KUSI-TV Channel 51, with the pregame beginning at 5:30 p.m. . . . Outfielder John Kruk missed Wednesday’s game with a sore neck, which he twisted when he broke up a double play Saturday against Seattle. “It’s been every little thing with me this spring,” lamented Kruk, who was sporting a new wavy haircut. “It’s a new hairstyle,” he said. “It’s called a comb.” . . . On Wednesday Bip Roberts was once again misidentified as “Biff,” this time on the Phoenix Stadium scoreboard. Unfortunately, until Jack McKeon quits calling him “Biff,” the infielder has little reason to complain to anyone else.