Some breakups in sports are understandable. Dennis Green and the Cardinals weren’t good for each other. Kelvin Sampson cheated on Indiana University. Wayne Gretzky and Mike Barnett were better friends than business partners.
But Tony Clark and the Diamondbacks should have stayed together until death do them part.
Theirs was the perfect marriage.
Clark makes his home in the Valley. He treasured playing for an organization that valued his leadership as much as his left-handed swing, and Arizona thought so much of Clark there was talk he would one day be the Diamondbacks’ manager.
So why is Clark here, in Peoria, playing for the San Diego Padres and carefully choosing his words when it comes to the Diamondbacks.
“It’s unfortunate,” Clark said. “I thought that was going to be the last uniform I put on.”
Clark is not interested in smearing the Diamondbacks. In fact, about an hour after being interviewed, he called and said he doesn’t want the story to make him sound like he’s bitter.
“They chose to move forward,” he said. “I wish them the best.”
The good wishes are genuine. But it would be a lie to say Clark isn’t disappointed at how things turned out.
He believes the Diamondbacks misled him. He said that when the team made him an offer shortly after the 2007 season — reportedly a two-year, $3 million contract — it was agreed that he would be given a final opportunity to accept or reject the offer sometime in the offseason.
Instead, general manager Josh Byrnes called Clark two days before the Diamondbacks traded closer Jose Valverde to the Houston Astros for three players — including Chris Burke, who took Clark’s roster spot — and said the team was moving in a different direction.
“I was caught off guard and disappointed when I received that phone call,” Clark said. “Again, they have that right. They have to do what they have to do. My disappointment lies in how decisions were made.”
He said that when the Diamondbacks didn’t hear from Clark or his agent for two months after the offer was made — including through the winter meetings, where Clark didn’t receive a contract proposal from another team — they decided to move forward.
He also said it was impractical to hit the pause button on the Valverde deal, along with the same-day trade that sent six players to Oakland for pitcher Dan Haren, in order to determine if Clark still wanted to be a Diamondback.
Asked if he was disappointed at how the organization is being portrayed, Byrnes said, “I am. I think we take a lot of pride in how we do business. I think we put a lot of thought into our offers and why we make them.”
In retrospect, both sides could have handled things better.
Clark deserved one final call from the Diamondbacks, even if they believed enough time had passed for him to weigh their offer.
Clark and his agent, on the other hand, could have done a better job of keeping the lines of communication open. And they clearly misjudged the free agent market. Rather than accepting two years and $3 million from Arizona, Clark signed a one-year, $1 million deal with San Diego.
The saddest part of all of this?
Just before the Diamondbacks told Clark his services were no longer need, he was working on a counterproposal that would have included opportunities in the organization after his playing career.
“Based on how everything worked out and how the decision was made for me … San Diego is where I’m supposed to be,” Clark said. “I am thankful for that. I can’t be any happier than I am right now.”
If the Diamondbacks are smart — and I think they are — they’ll reach out to Clark once his playing days are over.
He belongs here, in Sedona Red, at Chase Field, mentoring the next generation of Diamondbacks players.
It would be a shame if one botched contract negotiation forever turned a good man against the team he loved.