He stood tall as an athlete in San Diego, stood tall in the batters box as a Detroit Tiger, and stands even taller as the head of the Baseball Players Association.
Tony Clark, the San Diego native, who went to SDSU as a basketball recruit, but turned into a 6’7″ 1st baseman, and put together a nice career with Detroit-Arizona and a cameo appearance with the Padres, has ‘gone to the next level’. He has elevated himself to the leadership role with the Baseball Union.
Smart-slick-sensitive and open to conversation, Clark met with the veteran players on the Padres roster yesterday as he made his tour of the Cactus League, and then he met with us.
Clark answered questions openly and honestly for nearly a half hour, saying heart felt things about the big issues in the game, talking at great length about baseball and the business model the Union and owners have forged thru Labor piece, and jokingly talked about wishing he could hit against Padres manager Bud Black, when the lefthander was a 38-year old veteran at the end of the career, and Clark, an upstart Tigers prospect.
He referenced rule changes, the pace of the game, the new commissioner Rob Manfred, and wildcards in baseball, even a 154-game schedule.
Unlike initial Union Chief Marvin Miller, who was militant about everything, or the guarded Donald Fehr, who trusted no one and answered few questions, Clark was more like the late Union chief Michael Weiner, who passed from cancer at an early age a year ago, strong in opinions, open to discussion, and willing to serve his clients and the game.
Clark talked about the great economic growth of the game; talked about the sadness he felt with the Biogenesis scandal that came on the heels of the new laws about HGH and drug testing in the game.
Insightful, he however spoke out about one issue that raised eyebrows.
In a city that just lost icon Tony Gwynn to cancer of the mouth from years of chewing tobacco, it was hard to hear Clark tell us in the San Diego media, that any move to ‘ban’ chewing tobacco in the game, has to be bargained with the union. I ask why?
We remember the final days of Mr. Padre, and the damage inflicted to his mouth, face and neck from the spreading cancer and resulting surgery. We see Curt Shilling on TV-who has fought back from cancer of the mouth, from years of chewing.
You walk thru a Padres clubhouse and you still see players loading up before practice; you find canisters of smokeless on tables in the clubhouse still. Despite Clark’s insistence, chewing is down across rosters, it does not seem that way. It may be banned in the minors, but players tell me it still goes on.
Unions are great to represent players for salaries, benefits and working conditions. I don’t understand why players health, fighting off potential cancer, has to be a bargaining chip as Clark wants it to be.
Addictive, damaging, dangerous, and life threatening, I don’t know how the Union thinks they have a right to protect the players right to chew. They should be trying to stomp this out and protect their health.