Ex-Tiger Clark in Red Sox Lineup
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FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) _ Tony Clark led the Detroit Tigers in RBIs and on-base percentage last year and played in the All-Star game.
Then they let him go.
He wasn’t a free agent. They didn’t trade him. They simply placed a 29-year-old switch-hitting slugger with a good glove, excellent clubhouse presence _ and an expensive contract _ on waivers.
``Over the last three years, I had been rumored going all different directions,″ he said, ``but then it finally came down to the waiver wire.″
If the budget-conscious Tigers didn’t want to pay him, the Boston Red Sox were glad to. He’s penciled into the fifth spot in the lineup as the regular first baseman.
On Monday, his old team could face him when it visits the Red Sox.
Clark was hampered last season by inflammation in his right wrist that contributed to his batting average dropping from .305 at the All-Star break to .287 for the year.
It appears fine now, especially after he lined a double to the right-center field gap Saturday against Minnesota.
``Clark hits the heck out of the ball,″ Boston manager Joe Kerrigan said. ``That kind of power, that kind of swing that can produce that kind of a line drive with that much velocity is something.″
Clark hit 27 homers in just 100 games as a rookie in 1996, then had 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons in 1997 and 1998. One potential obstacle to returning to that level is his back.
He had surgery on it in 1991 and played only 60 games in 2000 because of back and rib problems.
``Right now I’m healthy,″ Clark said. ``The back’s not an issue.″
If he’s right, he can be a big part of a potent lineup _ Johnny Damon and Trot Nixon can get on base, then Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez and Clark can drive them in.
Last season, Clark adjusted his swing to compensate for the wrist problem but still had 16 homers and 75 RBIs.
``I wasn’t able to drive the ball the way I know I’m capable of driving it,″ he said, ``so all I did after those first couple of days here is go back to my own swing.″
Clark was eligible for arbitration and agreed to a one-year contract.
``It was just simply a case of not haggling over dollars and cents and wanting to get a fresh start in a situation I was looking forward to,″ he said.
The Tigers had losing records in each of Clark’s seven seasons. The Red Sox have legitimate playoff prospects. But what will happen after the season, when Clark can become a free agent unless he’s signed earlier?
``I’m a simple man. It doesn’t take much to keep me happy,″ he said. ``One of the big things is winning and we have an opportunity to do that here so, hopefully, this will turn into something where I’ll be here for a long period of time.″
Clark’s presence means Brian Daubach, last year’s first baseman, will rotate between that position, backup left fielder and designated hitter.
``I’ve talked to Tony. He’s a great guy,″ Daubach said. ``It’s not going to be a problem. We still need a DH. I think there’s plenty of at bats for me and Tony.″
In Detroit, Clark was involved with charities and was active in the community. In Boston’s offseason mission to create a better clubhouse atmosphere _ Carl Everett is gone; Damon and John Burkett are here _ Clark is a perfect fit.
``There aren’t too many people I don’t get along with,″ Clark said.
Who would want to clash with an imposing 6-foot-7 athlete who was a basketball standout in high school in California and at San Diego State.
``You talk to people that he’s played with, his teammates, his coaches, they have nothing but great things to say about him,″ Kerrigan said. ``He carries himself by his sheer presence. He’s a big man. He speaks well.″
He also hits well and is eager to do it behind Ramirez in the lineup.
``You’re talking about one of the top RBI men in the business over the last six, seven years,″ Clark said. ``Being in the same lineup with him is beneficial to any RBI man, so I’m looking forward to it.″