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.
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