12/15/07 3:49 PM EST
Clark has mixed reaction to trades
Free agent is happy for team, sad that he may not return
By Steve Gilbert / MLB.com
A few fans came up to the free-agent first baseman to congratulate him on the acquisition and ask if he thought he'd be back in an Arizona uniform next year.
For the first time since he got the news from D-backs general manager Josh Byrnes a couple of days before, Clark shared something that he had only told his family, close friends and teammates: His days in Sedona Red appear to be over.
Byrnes and Clark had played phone tag for a few days with Clark in Hawaii on a Players Association matter, and when they finally spoke, Clark realized that the decision on whether to return to Arizona was no longer his to make.
"He made it evident at that time that they were moving on and that in light of the time of year, they felt it best to not let any more time pass before they made a decision," Clark said in an interview with MLB.com.
Byrnes told him that they had a few trades that looked like they were going to happen, and they needed Clark's roster spot to make them work. Therefore, the two-year deal that had been on the table since not long after the playoffs ended was no longer available.
"Tony had a significant impact on our club and our maturation as a club," Byrnes said. "As a result, we made a strong offer early and allowed a lot of time to pass. Unfortunately, for this circumstance, we were so deep into the offseason that a series of moves changed the complexion of the roster."
The two sides were approximately $750,000 apart on a two-year deal, but more important than the money, Clark was intrigued when several clubs spoke to him about the potential of playing every day. None of the teams had come up with a firm offer, and in the meantime, the D-backs began working on the trio of trades they consummated Friday.
When the Astros included Chris Burke in the deal that sent closer Jose Valverde to Houston, there was no longer a spot on the bench for Clark.
"I am disappointed," said Clark. "As I've said all along, my hope at the end of the day was to remain a Diamondback. That being said I understand that every organization has to do what they feel is in their best interests. In this instance it means that the organization felt it was best to move forward with new personnel."
A Glendale, Ariz., resident, Clark had long wanted to play for the D-backs and finally got his opportunity in 2005 when he was signed as a free agent by former GM Joe Garagiola Jr.
"It was an absolute blessing," Clark said. "I never envisioned an opportunity to play for my hometown team, so when Garagiola Jr. had called, it was literally the answer to my prayer and my hope to be at home. To think I had the privilege of playing for three years and not just one, I count myself as being very thankful."
Clark hit .304 with 30 homers in just 349 at-bats in 2005. Midway through that season, he agreed to a two-year extension.
After an injury-marred 2006, he rebounded to hit .249 with 17 homers in 221 at-bats.
Numbers, though, don't take into account the impact Clark had in the clubhouse, where he served as a mentor for the team's younger players. It was Clark that came up with the slogan "Anybody. Anytime" that became the team's rallying cry en route to the 2007 National League West championship.
"Suffice it to say, the fan support that I received and continued to receive has been nothing short of amazing," Clark said. "The way the fans have treated myself and my family during my time here, I can't put a value on that, nor can I thank them enough. Rest assured, I will always wish the best for my hometown team, understanding that I had an opportunity to be a small part of the team's history and I'm simply thankful for that."
While not revealing the details, Clark said the phone calls he made recently to his teammates were difficult and emotional.
"They understand and I understand that first and foremost, this is a business, and personal feelings and loyalty are rarely taken into consideration," Clark said. "I called a number of guys on the team and just thanked them and let them know how much I appreciate them and wished them the best moving forward. Any time you spend significant time in one place, you forge relationships that transcend the clubhouse. The relationships that have been built during my time here, both with the players and coaching and clubhouse staffs, will remain indifferent to the team I play for. That says a lot about the content of the character of those individuals."
A telltale sign that Clark never thought things would come to this is that he had did not empty his corner locker in the Chase Field clubhouse after Arizona was swept by the Rockies in the NL Championship Series.
It's a locker that has been occupied by just two other players in team history, Jay Bell and Luis Gonzalez. It holds lots of memories for Clark.
"I wanted to go in there and take care of it when no one else was around," Clark said. "It's going to be tough. I even thought about asking one of the clubhouse guys to do it for me, then I realized that wouldn't be how I do things."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.