Former Big-League Star Clark Rebuilds After Bankruptcy

PLANO, Texas - Jack Clark doesn't have 18 cars anymore. And the $2.4 million California home, that's gone, too.

But, five years after his baseball career sank in a sea of red ink, Clark still manages. He gets around in a Mercedes, a Suburban, a couple of motorcycles and a '55 Chevy. He doesn't command a prime-time athlete's salary any more, but he lives in Deion Sanders' neighborhood.

"I have the things I need in my life," he said. "Nice home, nice cars, nice motorcycles, great kids, great wife, very cool dog.

"I don't know how much more there is."

Clark, 41, would like to find out, though, as he shops for business opportunities after one of sports' most publicized bankruptcies.

The son of a coal miner, Clark was one of the game's richest and most feared sluggers - Jack the Ripper - when he hit 340 home runs for San Francisco, St. Louis, the New York Yankees, San Diego and Boston from 1975-92. He was in the middle of a three-year, $8.7 million contract with the Red Sox when he filed the July 1992 bankruptcy, in which he listed $6.7 million in debts he could not pay.

He never played baseball again, leaving the game like Jack the Pauper. The image wasn't accurate, he said, then or now.

He listed debts in 1992 that included a $55,955 American Express bill and 18 vehicles ranging from a $26,000 van to a $717,000 Ferrari. He couldn't pay for his new multimillion-dollar home in Danville, Calif., and he owed $400,000 in back income taxes.

"This shows everybody what can happen to you if you don't manage your money well," Clark said in 1992. " ... I did it to myself."

He has since softened that stance. He is suing a former financial adviser and two attorneys who worked out the bankruptcy arrangements.

`I take some of the blame'

Bad financial advice, if proven, is nothing new in sports.

"I'd say it was a frequent occurrence," said San Francisco attorney Edward King, who regularly sues agents and represented Clark in the 1980s in a suit. "A lot of players get a lot more money than they ever thought they would. There's no rational basis for choosing an adviser, and often times it's the agent's fault."

Clark agreed. "I take some of the blame, but I was a victim," he said. "I didn't know any better. I was a ballplayer. I drove a race car. I'm not a financial wizard, but you learn from things like that. I wish I knew then a lot about what I know now."

He said he would like to apply his hard-earned knowledge to business deals.

He is the president of a friend's marketing company. He and his Plano attorney, Steven Jones, also are working on projects that include a restaurant in San Francisco and endorsement deals in St. Louis, where Clark remains popular.

Clark knew of the North Texas area because of his baseball travels and his drag-racing team, which was based in suburban Irving, Texas. He said he moved his family from California to the Dallas area last year for the business climate and the educational opportunities it affords his four children.

"I like the way people think about business opportunities here," he said. "I give this town a lot of credit. The business mentality is what a lot of people like me are interested in."

He also cited the friendliness of North Texans. "You don't get that most places," he said.

He left a couple of stops in baseball on less than friendly terms. His financial problems in Boston were compounded by his poor production in his second year: .210 batting average, 33 runs batted in and five home runs in 81 games, statistics that led Red Sox officials to negotiate a buyout of his contract.

His last four years in baseball, in fact, bore little resemblance to the prestige and popularity he built in San Francisco and St. Louis. Even in San Diego, where he hit a total of 51 homers in two seasons, he is remembered more for his well-publicized rift with batting champion Tony Gwynn.

Clark questioned the commitment of some teammates at a 1990 team meeting. He called it a "wake-up call" for everyone, including Gwynn, who would hit .309 in 1990, one of his worst seasons.

"If it was challenging the star of the team to get everyone to wake up, including that guy," Clark said, looking back on his remarks, "then that's what needed to be done."

Gwynn didn't take it as well, particularly when someone leaked the comments. The team's two biggest stars exchanged insults in the media, to the point that Gwynn eventually posted a sign over his locker: "Please, no more questions about Jack Clark, and I don't want to know what he said."

Because Gwynn went to college at San Diego State, Clark lost in public relations. "His roots were there, and you're not supposed to challenge anyone who's as popular as him," Clark said, shrugging.

Clark said he meant no ill will. He called Gwynn "a tremendous player ... a tremendous hitter."

A book with a happy ending

He said he may soon revisit his feud with Gwynn, as well as other topics in his sometimes controversial career, in a book.

He said it would have a happy ending. On any given day, he might be coaching his 12-year-old son Anthony's baseball games, or taking a motorcycle trip to Colorado, or visiting his parents, whom he moved from California to nearby Addison, Texas.

They are a long way from their coal-mining days in Pennsylvania, when Clark said he "didn't have much and didn't need much."

His priorities changed, apparently. The 18 cars became a symbol of a pro athlete's hedonism, which he said was unfortunate.

"Everybody gets caught up in that," he said, "but I had the cars because they were a direct reflection of me."

At least one of his vehicles still is, he said. The '55 Chevy was built the same year he was born.

He sat in the den of his five-bedroom house recently and called himself "an average guy who never changed." He said he would like to have played long enough to reach 400 home runs and 2,000 hits (he finished with 1,826). He also said he would have liked to play with Nolan Ryan, who finished his career with the Texas Rangers.

But he has no regrets. Asked what he would change, Clark smiled and said, "Nothing. Everything couldn't be better."