Jack Clark talks about Derek Jeter’s hitting struggles

Clark retired from Major League Baseball after the 1992 season. Over the course of his career he went to four All Star games, had 340 career home runs and posted a .267/.379/.476/.854 line. Clark knows over the course of a major league career the opposing teams will try to expose any weakness in a hitter.

“You don’t get to the big leagues and stick around very long, let alone win World Championships and be a guy getting ready to get 3,000 hits without making adjustments, “ Clark said about Jeter. “You are constantly adjusting.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to make those changes at the plate. Pitchers adjust, and something that’s worked for years now has turned wrong.

“The muscles get used to doing the wrong thing and only know one certain thing,” said Clark. “What ends up happening is you end up shortening the muscles doing the wrong thing. Then when you want to elongate them … and really get that extension and drive through there, it won’t happen.  No matter how much you think about it and no matter how much you want it, because you mechanically have done the wrong thing so many times it will not operate in a way to free you up.”

Clark believes Jeter’s struggles at the plate have nothing to do with age. “He [Jeter] always keeps himself in shape and he can get a lot of hits,” Clark said. “He’s a future Hall of Famer, [he’s] a great guy, a tremendous player, one of the great short stops. He’s going to wear that uniform from start to finish and go into the Hall of Fame as a Yankee.” But right now, Clark sees some things out of whack for Jeter.

Derek Jeter is a big guy. He should have more power and be more of a slugger. He stays inside the ball really well. He doesn’t really get the barrel of the [bat] there. It tends to drag. The barrel drops below his hands a lot. He’ll get hits. He hits the ball the other way. His hand- eye coordination and his agility are so good he can actually take bad swings — bad mechanical swings — that really look kind of ugly and do something with it.  He’ll get a base hit. Get a ball in the four hole (between first and second) and squeeze it through there into right field. He’s gotten hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of those types of hits.

“He might be making some adjustments right now, but I haven’t seen him make the one he needs to: that’s either choke up a little bit or split his grip a little bit and get more top hand.”

Clark believes Jeter’s bat is not getting to the ball late, but that his bat is pulling down and casting the barrel towards the catcher when he should be pulling the barrel and keeping the barrel up.  “He needs more top hand,” said Clark. “He needs the top hand to trust his hands. He’s just swinging right now instead of hitting.”

Watching Jeter hit, one can tell there’s nothing on the ball and Clark see’s this is because he’s rolling over it. He’s behind the ball instead of in front of it.

“When you hit the ball out in front, you take the dips and dives and cuts … all the way,” Clark said. “You get a chance to hit it before something happens. You hit it at the highest point. You hit it at the fastest point. So, the shortest distance between two lines. … When the barrel goes towards the catcher and the umpire, well, that’s a negative spot right there and you can’t make that [spot] up.”

That approach, says Clark takes far too long. It’s a hundredth of a second but it makes all the difference in the world.

Clark is a hitter’s guy. He wants hitters to succeed and believes a player of Jeter’s caliber should never look confused.  Clark will give a few select pitchers credit, but when it comes to hitting he’ll never put pitchers on a pedestal. But what should pitchers be thinking about Jeter right now?

“When he walks up there he [Jeter]should be a guy that you’re not only afraid he’s going to get a base hit and put the ball in play, but a guy that can slug and hit the ball over the fence; and to all fields,” Clark said. “He’s that big of a guy. … He’s got tremendous leverage that way.”

Sure, it’s almost impossible to reinvent the wheel when it comes to hitting, but Jeter just needs to adjust and not reinvent.  Jeter’s 2011 story of a new batting stance which was never abandoned because maybe it never really began, confirms this. Clark believes in the end, the best players always find a way.

“It’s amazing how it all works. As simple as it is, it can be very difficult. There is timing. There is a rhythm but bottom line is you got to let the tool – the bat – do the work. The barrel of the bat, where you hit the ball on the sweet part of the bat has to get to the baseball.”

Clark knows he doesn’t have all the answers for Jeter, but what a beautiful game this is: Retired players like Clark, observing and caring about the guys who play now because they remember what it was like when they won those battles at the plate.  And maybe, like everyone who knows what it feels like to hit a line drive, they stay close to the game because it’s a way to have it all back, if only by looking in from the outside.

Clark believes Jeter will figure out the adjustments that need to be made. It is a part of the game that only the best can accomplish.

“The game within the game is the difference between winners and losers,” said Clark.  “Jeter has always been a winner.”

Jack Clark currently hosts Jack the Ripper Clark Show on KTRS in St. Louis and he spends a lot of time talking to little league teams about developing good hitting techniques — that important muscle memory—which once learned correctly, he believes will allow kids to have more fun hitting the baseball.

You can follow Anna on Twitter @Anna__McDonald.

10 thoughts on “Jack Clark talks about Derek Jeter’s hitting struggles

  1. Good stuff. I could listen to a pro talk about hitting and analysis of it all day. I was attempting to explain characteristics of an ideal swing to a friend recently in terms of Lean/Six Sigma and what position your hands and the bat would be in for optimal power, and the part that hit home here is Clark's observation that Jeter drags the barrel through the zone and doesn't really take the optimal swing path (bringing the barrel back toward the catcher would be the waste). I realize that Jeter doesn't have a teachable swing, I mean if you were teaching your 5 year old how to hit, surely you wouldn't use Jeter's swing as a model. Anyhow, I'm still fascinated by the subject of hitting since there are so many different approaches and styles that are successful, yet all the best swings still share a certain set of characteristics.

  2. Mike, Thanks for the comment. Agree, I could listen about hitting forever and Jack Clark’s insight has always amazed me. This … If you were teaching your five-year-old to hit… Reminds me of something I left out b/c of time that was really interesting. I’ll put it here because you reminded me of it.
    He talks to young kids a lot and he mentioned to me they have to get out in front. The game is out in front of players. Clark tells kids all the time with each year they continue in baseball the game speeds up. They have to learn to make the bat go get the ball. Thus, it seems, hitting from a Tee is not real valuable. He pitches to kids instead. So, even for Jeter, taking good swings, even if he doesn’t get immediate results is really important right now.

  3. I remember Clark talking about how his horrible performance at the end of his career had nothing to do with age, too. He put up a .661 OPS with Boston and then hung them up at age 36. It had nothing to do with age tho. Jeter is done.

  4. Anna, outstanding! I know the hard work it takes to turn an interview into a column. You make it look easy. Also, I love the respect you show for the subject area and the person you're interviewing.

    Just beautiful stuff.

  5. Nice article, Anna. Jack Clark was a great MLB player for a long, long time. But I doubt he even thought about the science of hitting much over that 18 years. Yeah, he changed. When he faced a Herb Score or a Bob Feller – someone approaching 99 mph – he shortened up, chocked up a little. But not much because he was known as a power hitter. But he's wrong about one thing. You don't hit with your arms, you hit with your legs and wrists. Henry Aaron typified the home run hitter who didn't overpower the ball. If the ball is traveling over 90, all Aaron did was perfect his wrist action and timing and the balls literally flew out of the parks. I'm a big believer in Jeeter. I think he will come back, but not until he quiets down his bat. There is absolutely too much movement in his bat and body prior to shifting the weight from back to front leg and getting out in front of the ball. But muscle memory be danged. He can change his memory muscle if he wanted to. I don't buy the idea of a player always hitting to right field. Of course, I was not a placement hitter like Jeeter. I would swing hard each time, connect most times and either pull the ball – depending how fast the pitcher was – or connect late and send it to right field. Most successful MLB hitters are like that. Very few have mastered the art of keeping the arms in tight so he can drive the ball behind the runner and to right field when he wants. Jeeter is a rarity, and that turns out to be one of his weaknesses. I'm pulling for him to work it out by himself, just as jack Clark says he must. Don White, Yankee Wizard

  6. I'm tired of people running down the Yankees. My dad and I used to sit on Saturday afternoons and watch the yankees play when I was a kid. I am now in my fifties. And when the Yankees were not on it would the Red Sox. SO what!!! Just enjoy the game and stop ranting and raving all the time. Did your mother ever tell you "if you can't say anything nice then don't say it at all?' Man, everyone's a critic. Thank you Anna for the POSITIVE article!

  7. Thanks so much for the comments. Really appreciate it. The sports really are about the people who play the game and it’s nice to see it when they respect. Thanks again. BCyr: I was a little worried at first:)