In baseball, first impressions are important, appearances are important, and context is, at times, everything.
After all, five o'clock home run power doesn't always translate into clutch hitting in the late innings.
Let's apply these truisms to Will Clark, Mark McGwire's stand-in at first base for the Cardinals these days.
Clark, who joined the Cardinals during a late July trip to Montreal, has certainly made a great first impression while wearing a Redbird uniform.
Clark looks great smacking home runs, he looks great breaking up double plays, and he looks great playing defense as well as ever...all in the context of a pennant race, a pennant race that might look a lot different if Will Clark wasn't wearing a Cardinal uniform.
Context is especially important in baseball: Mr. Clark's heroics wouldn't mean as much in April.
But the on-field aspects of Will Clark's contributions to the Cardinals' baseball efforts are evident to all interested parties.
What is less obvious is Will Clark's demeanor in the Cardinals' clubhouse.
And at least in the part of his clubhouse demeanor that is observable by media, at first glance Will Clark's contributions in this area are also substantial.
Subtle, but substantial.
It's a good bet, though, that the Cardinals management like what they see when it comes to Will Clark.
In order to try to describe the clubhouse persona of Will Clark, what this column needs is a frame of reference.
If you're a fan of televised sports, you've no doubt noticed the series of Budweiser "whazzup" commercials.
Even if you've grown tired of them...the highly-publicized commercials are undeniably on-the-mark in terms of depicting (a) how a large number of American males relate to other males; and (b) what it is that makes many guys feel good.
The atmosphere of "guyness" depicted in these ads is hard to describe, but "guyness" is like pornography in that it is hard to define... but you know it when you see it.
In the eyes of this viewer, it was the very first "whazzup" commercial that was most effective in this regard.
It opens with a man sitting on his couch, smoothly talking on the phone with his buddy, watching TV while cradling a bottle of Budweiser.
It's that guy, Whazzup Guy #1, the first guy seen in the ad for a few seconds before his call-waiting kicks in, who defines the whole ad campaign.
The image of that man exudes cool, and the couch that he's sitting on appears to have been custom-fitted for his body.
The image of that man exudes happiness and control, and he communicates that fact to the parties on the other end of the line.
The image of that man also exudes contentment; he would rather be nowhere else that right where he is--talking to his buddies on the telephone, all the while cradling that bottle of Bud.
In the make-believe world of TV, Whazzup Guy #1 and his buddies are creating and living an atmosphere, their own atmosphere, that enables everybody to feel their best.
And it all seems to flow from Whazzup Guy #1.
Post-game, win or lose, when the clubhouse doors open, Will Clark strikes a pose very reminiscent of the sofa-bound Whazzup Guy #1.
Indeed, on two different post-game occasions at Busch Stadium (one a win, one a loss), Will Clark sat on a chair with his back to his locker...facing the center of the Cardinals clubhouse...uniform mostly off, eye black streaking down his cheeks, various body parts wrapped, sitting quietly...occasionally chatting with teammates...soaking up his surroundings, and all the while nursing a bottle of Bud Light.
In this setting, Will Clark seems to look as comfortable in the Cardinals clubhouse as Whazzup Guy #1 does in his sofa.
The odd rumor that Clark was poison in a baseball clubhouse is nowhere to be found in the 2000 Cardinal Nest.
Instead, it is obvious that Clark relishes a pennant race.
It is obvious that Clark relishes every minute of his time in the clubhouse.
It is also obvious that Clark relishes wearing the Cardinal uniform.
And it is very obvious that the St. Louis Cardinal edition of Will Clark is all about baseball.
No doubt Cardinals management hopes that Will Clark is as adept at instilling a baseball-first attitude in his new teammates as Whazzup Guy #1 is at instilling a hip brand of friendship amongst his buddies.
Sure, the Whazzup Guy is fictional, but he and Will Clark share the attributes of coolness and self-confidence, and Clark's brand of baseball-first veteran leadership is one that, in the words of one Cardinals official, has not existed in STL for a long, long time.
The St. Louis context may be just right for Will Clark.
Look for Will Clark to wear a Cardinal uniform in 2001.