In 1988, Will Clark’s first All-Star season, José Canseco led MLB with 42 home runs. Wade Boggs led baseball in bases on balls with 125.
Last season, five players hit as many or more homers than Canseco in 1988. 2021’s top five hitters in on-base plus slugging (OPS) each recorded higher marks than Boggs, 1988’s OPS leader, did.
There’s more of an emphasis now on reaching base and hitting home runs now than there was then. It’s become more of a three-outcome sport — walks, home runs, and strikeouts — as hitters emphasize launch angle and exit velocity in favor of making contact.
And Clark, who’s set to have his jersey retired at Oracle Park on July 30, isn’t a fan of the decades-long trend.
“Put it this way,” Clark said on the Murph & Mac Show Tuesday. “The new hitting approach, launch angle, catching the ball up, getting the ball in the air and all that. That’s absolutely bullshit, to tell you the truth.”
Clark, who’s worked as a special assistant for the Giants since 2009, still gives players advice. The career .303 hitter says players should still strive to hit line drives and hard grounders, so that when they miss below the ball, it can fly with that “launch angle” batters seem to covet.
Now, with players modeling their swings to have upper cuts for lofting the ball, they’re susceptible to swinging too far underneath pitches — particularly high fastballs — too frequently. Clark said the key to hitting high fastballs is throwing your hands up to meet the pitch and get through the ball.
Back when Clark played, he remembers adjusting his approach; if he knew a pitcher likes throwing a specific pitch in off the plate in a specific count, he’d anticipate and try to drive that even if it was outside the zone. For him, it was all about driving in as many runs as possible.
Today’s game isn’t lost, though. There are still players like Mike Trout and Juan Soto whom Clark admires. Clark spent countless hours chatting with Buster Posey about hitting through the years and considers him his favorite hitter to watch. He loved how Posey would catch the ball out in front of the plate but keep his head behind it.
Clark admired how the 2021 Giants waited for pitches in the zone, worked deep in counts and drove starting pitchers out of games, he lamented an approach he considers too patient and a game too reliant on analytics.
“To be perfectly honest, Rogers Hornsby and Ty Cobb would be rolling over in their grave right now if they knew what the hell was going on with hitters now,” Clark said.
Listen to the full interview, which included Clark’s thoughts on postgame handshake lines, below. You can listen to every KNBR interview on our podcast page at knbr.com/podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Catch Murph & Mac weekdays from 6 – 10 a.m. on KNBR 104.5 / 680 and streaming live on KNBR.com.