The name Doug Clark shouldn’t mean much to fans of Major League Baseball. His name is in the record book — he appeared in eight games for San Francisco in 2005 and six for Oakland the next year. He went 1-for-11 with a walk and five strikeouts in his 12 plate appearances. On June 29th, 2006, Clark pinch hit for Dan Haren in the top of the seventh inning. Brian Sikorski struck him out, and his MLB career was over.
Most Americans never knew Doug Clark as a baseball player, and those who did likely forgot him quickly. But Clark’s baseball life was far from over.
Last night — and this morning — saw the epic conclusion to this year’s Caribbean Series. Clark’s Yaquis de Obergon, representing Mexico, and the Leones del Escogido, representing the Dominican Republic — battled for 18 innings. Rodrigo Lopez and Angel Cabrera each took quality starts into the eighth inning. Luis Ayala blew a save for the Yaquis in the ninth. Karim Garcia put Mexico back on top in the 14th, but Miguel Tejada knocked in Jordany Valdespin to push the game to the 15th and beyond.
Hermosillo, Mexico — the Caribbean Series site this year — runs on Mountain Time, and it was about 2:30 AM local when Clark stepped up to the plate in the 18th. The game was getting sloppy, rife with failed sacrifice bunts and players pulling up sore after seemingly every ground ball. The Hermosillo stadium, filled with Mexican fans cheering on their country’s representative club, was starting to quiet down, waiting for something to wake them up.
Doug Clark woke them up. With one out, he ripped an Edward Valdez offering deep into right field, pushing Leones right fielder Abraham Almonte back to the wall. Almonte jumped, but he knew it was a futile effort — Clark’s blast landed some 10 feet beyond the fence and the Yaquis took a 4-3 lead.
The game was on Mexican soil, but the Dominican’s 5-1 performance in the round robin part of the tournament earned them home team designation in the final, so Clark had to wait one more half inning for his go-ahead home run to turn into the game — and tournament — clincher. But Marco Carillo navigated through four Dominican hitters — including Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Tejada — to give the Mexican side the championship.
It was nearly 3:00 AM when Marlon Byrd squeezed the last out in right field for the Yaquis, but the Mexican crowd was raucous in celebration.
Perhaps the scene isn’t adequately captured by a grainy screenshot, but still, you don’t see a baseball field rushed every night (or early morning).
Clark’s baseball life on the sport’s grandest stage was over in a flash, finished six and a half years ago before it even started. But really, it was just the beginning.
Clark finished off the 2006 season with Triple-A Sacramento after the Athletics sent him back down to the Pacific Coast League. The Springfield, Massachusetts native was a corner outfielder, and despite his decent speed — he stole 115 bases in parts of seven seasons (661 games) in Triple-A — a .797 OPS in the hitter-friendly PCL screams below replacement level. He moved on to the Braves organization in 2007, where he put up an .803 OPS in the more pitcher-friendly International League. Still, he hit just 15 home runs in 520 plate appearances and had a middling .168 ISO — simply not the kind of power major league teams look for out of the corner outfield spots.
So when a Korean scout said he liked what he saw at Richmond, Clark made the next step. He donned a Hanwha Eagles jersey for the 2008 season, his age-31 campaign and first of three seasons in the top Korean league, the KBO. He enjoyed relative success in Korea despite suiting up for teams outside the playoff hunt. Baseball-Reference doesn’t have his 2009 statistics, but Clark slugged 36 home runs in 217 games over the next two seasons, and he put up a sharp .280/.362/.472 line. He was, in his own words, the Jacoby Ellsbury of Korea.
Clark really found his groove in Mexico. Friday morning may have been Clark’s biggest in a Mexican baseball uniform, but Clark has been great ever since he arrived in 2011 with the Tigers de Quintana Roo of Mexico’s summer league, representing Cancun. Clark, then 35, led his squad with a 1.002 OPS (.315/423/.579, 141 wRC+) and his 21 home runs tied for 10th in the league. His Tigres swept Mexico City’s Diablos Rojos in four games to bring home the Mexican League championship.
Clark was a star, earning the headline “Doug Clark, pelotero clutch de Tigers,” which should be understandable for those with even the most rudimentary Spanish knowledge.
The article also notes Clark as “biólogo de profesión” — a biologist by trade.
Clark continued to rake in 2012, as he posted a .328/.405/.567 line with another 141 wRC+, including 17 home runs and 18 stolen bases. In the winter league, his Yaquis have won three straight Mexican Pacific League titles. Clark’s go-ahead home run gave the Yaquis’ their second Caribbean Series title in three years. He finished the series with a .393 batting average and earned a spot (along with Yaquis teammate Marlon Byrd, Leones opponent Miguel Tejada and Royals starter Luis Mendoza) on Caribbean Series All-Star team.
It was an unlikely story, going all the way back to Clark’s decision to walk on to the baseball program at UMass after eschewing baseball in high school for football, basketball and tennis. He remains an afterthought in the mind of major league baseball — one of the necessary organizational cogs teams run through year in and year out who got his two weeks in an MLB uniform. But his story didn’t stop once he wore out his brief major league use. Early Friday morning in northwest Mexico, after a 15-year career spanning at least six organizations and three countries, Clark created one of those moments we all dream of as kids.
Maybe it wasn’t where or how he expected it. But as Clark said back in 2010, “Baseball will tell you when you’re done.” Apparently, Clark hasn’t heard from the game quite yet.