Mark Clear (THE TOPPS COMPANY)

Mark Clear

This article was written by Karl Cicitto

Mark Clear (THE TOPPS COMPANY)Mark Clear was a hard-throwing righty pitcher who was released by the Phillies after one year in the minors but became a durable two-time All-Star after converting to a reliever. He played from 1979 through 1990 for the Angels, Red Sox, and Brewers. The 6-foot-4 inch, 200-pound hurler, earned nicknames “The Elongated Man” and “Horse,” and had a pitching delivery described as “a jerky, sweeping, dump truck motion.”1 But his leg kick made him susceptible to base stealing.

He developed a nasty curveball to go with an above average fastball, and overcame chronic finger blisters and a back problem on his way to success.2

Mark Alan Clear was born in Los Angeles on May 27, 1956, to Gene Clear and Audrey (Choate) Clear. His father played in the St. Louis system for the Willows Cardinals in 1949 and 1950 and was a union carpet layer for more than 30 years.

Mark grew up in Covina, California. He played baseball and football for Northview High School, graduating in 1974.3 Drafted by Philadelphia in the eighth round in June 1974, he was assigned to Pulaski of the Appalachian League. Things did not go well there. “I was 0-7 there. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing on the mound. I’d just rear back and throw. I walked a lot of guys.”4 The 18-year-old posted an 8.65 ERA with a 2.275 WHIP. He had back problems.

Clear stepped up his efforts over the winter, pitching in a semipro league at Sawtelle Field in West Los Angeles. He worked on mechanical problems in his delivery with his uncle, Angels bullpen coach Bob Clear.5 When the Phillies released him just before the 1975 season started, he called his uncle, who suggested he see a physician about his back. The doctor put Clear in a back brace and assigned him an exercise program. Soon Uncle Bob had him pitching on the weekends.6 On June 16 he was signed by the Angels, who sent him to Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League. Switched from starting to relieving, he thrived, recording a 1.93 ERA in 28 innings.

For the next three seasons he pitched for Quad Cities and Salinas, starting and relieving.

One thing that helped him was a tip from the team trainer in Salinas. Anytime he pitched six or seven innings his fingers would break out with blood blisters that lasted up to five days. The trainer instructed him to soak his fingertips in formaldehyde. This made his skin leathery and stopped the blood blisters. He continued the soaking well into his major league career.7

In 1978, after a promotion to injury-struck El Paso (AA), Clear registered a 2.42 ERA while working almost exclusively as a reliever (30 of 31 games).

In spring training the next year, Clear told the press that coming out of the bullpen helped him. “I had a lot of control problems early in my career,” he said. “Working out of the bullpen seems to improve my concentration.”8 Used strictly in relief, he was a sensation in the Angels’ 1979 spring training. On March 19 he struck out all six Cubs he faced. He struck out 16 batters in his first nine innings,9 He notched a 1-0 record and a 0.75 ERA. Angels manager Jim Fregosi announced that Clear had made the big club, joining a staff that included starters Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana. 10

Clear made his major league debut in Seattle on April 4, 1979, in the Angels’ first game of the season. He relieved Tanana, down 5-3, with two out in the sixth, finished the inning with a fly ball out, then pitched a scoreless seventh and eighth. The Angels lost, 5-4. Three days later he earned his first win while relieving Chris Knapp with 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. The year began well for the Angels. Fregosi guided them to a 15-8 record and first place at the end of April, which was where they remained at the end of May. By May 31, Clear had made 17 appearances, striking out 46 batters in 46 1/3 innings; his ERA was at 1.87.

He continued to rack up appearances through the All-Star break, pitching in 15 more games, allowing no runs in 12 of them. At the break, he was 10-2 with eight saves and a 2.45 ERA. The Angels continued to do well, too, holding down first place with a 4 1/2 game lead. Clear had emerged as the Angels closer. He was rewarded with an All-Star berth. The All-Star Game was played on July 17 at the Kingdome. Clear was the only rookie on either roster. He was elated. “Two years ago, I was watching it on TV at a party. I didn’t ever think I would make the jump this quickly. It’s really a thrill,” he told the press.11 After retiring Dave Parker, Steve Garvey, and Mike Schmidt for a clean fifth inning, he gave up a game-tying run in the sixth on hits by Dave Winfield and Gary Carter.

The 1979 Angels were loaded with hitting talent. They led the major leagues in scoring with 866 runs. Brian Downing, Rod Carew, Bobby Grich, and Don Baylor made the All-Star team. By contrast, the pitching staff was the sixth-worst in the league as measured in runs allowed (768) and ERA (4.34). For the first time in their 19 years of existence, they won the AL West but lost to the AL East champion Baltimore Orioles, three games to one.

Although Clear developed a sore shoulder and missed two weeks in September, he finished with an 11-5 record, 3.63 ERA, a team-high 14 saves, and 98 strikeouts in 52 appearances. He was rewarded with a trio of awards: The Sporting News Rookie of the Year, the Topps Rookie of the Year, and the Baseball Digest Rookie of the Year. He finished third in the voting for the AL Rookie of the Year and sixth for the Rolaids Relief Man award. “We would not have won the division without Mark.” said Fregosi. “He ended up as our short man in the bullpen. There was a great deal of pressure on his shoulders.”12

Clear’s offseason was marked by two momentous events. He married Jamie Roth, a former Quad Cities Cubs Usherette.13 on October 27, 1979, at Grace Lutheran in Covina.14 For their honeymoon, the couple traveled with NL and AL All-Star teams on a 14-day, nine-game Japan exhibition tour before returning home to Brea, California.15

The Angels declined in 1980. Nolan Ryan signed with the Houston Astros. The team’s ERA was the 13th worst in the American League. Don Baylor played in only 90 games; his RBIs dropped from 139 to 51. The Angels finished in sixth place. Unlike his team, Clear was every bit as good as the year prior, registering more strikeouts, fewer walks, and fewer home runs while pitching three less innings. He lowered his ERA by one-third of a run. With his value well established, he was included in a trade with the Red Sox on December 10, 1980, going with Carney Lansford and Rick Miller in exchange for Butch Hobson and Rick Burleson.

In the 1981 split season he appeared in 34 games for the Red Sox, earning an 8-3 record with nine saves, the most on the staff. He was the A.L. Pitcher of the Month in May on the strength of a 6-0 record with three saves and a 1.09 ERA. But his last outing marred his final statistics; he gave up five earned runs in two-thirds of an inning, jumping his ERA from 3.55 to 4.11. Clear and his wife’s lives were blessed with the birth of his first child, Lyndsi Clear, born on September 21. The Red Sox missed the playoffs, but manager Ralph Houk liked what he saw in Clear. When asked if he would be adding bullpen talent in the offseason, he said he preferred to rely on Clear and fellow reliever Tom Burgmeier. His confidence was rewarded when 1982 was one of Clear’s best seasons. He notched a 14-9 record with 14 saves in 55 appearances, and 109 strikeouts in 105 innings pitched. He was named to the All-Star team but did not see action.

Clear’s teammates told the press what specifically made the big righty effective. “That,” boomed Bob Stanley, “is the funkiest hook in the history of the game.” Gary Allenson, said, “[His curveball] makes every right handed hitter know what it’s like to be the kid on your Little League team that batted ninth and played right field.”16 Seattle’s Richie Zisk declined to bat against Clear. “I’ve never even gotten as much as a foul ball against him, so why not send up someone else.”17 Texas’s Larry Parrish, who had just played eight years with Montreal, said, “There’s nothing like that in the National League.”18

But there were troubling signs during the 1982 season. After the All-Star break, batters got to Clear more frequently, notably in six of his last 30 games. Whether due to increased familiarity or fatigue, this trend continued into 1983. In his first game, he was hammered for five hits, one walk, and three earned runs against the Rangers at Fenway, blowing a save. After seven appearances, including two more debacles, Clear’s ERA stood at 9.39 on April 30. His last April game was awful; he faced four batters, retired one, yielded a walk, a single, and a home run: three earned runs in one-third of an inning.

What had happened? There was talk that Clear’s terrible start was a case of streakiness that would naturally correct itself.19 More likely, the decline was due to a tender elbow that he had developed by the end of 1982 season. Houk, with deference to Clear’s elbow, had used him sparingly in spring training, damaging his rhythm for the 1983 season.20 Houk took all the blame. “It was my fault for giving him only 10 innings of work in spring training. … That had him messed up all season.”21

According to the media, leads were being erased by Clear’s “continuing struggle to find his control” in May, a “mystifying control funk”22 that persisted into July.23 Although he bounced back for some good outings, he finished 4-5 with a 6.28 ERA. His performance paralleled the Red Sox, who finished 78-84, sixth in the AL East, as Carl Yastrzemski was honored in his final season.

With Clear’s stock down and the Red Sox in need of right-handed pitching, the Sox offered him with Dennis Eckersley to the Angels for Mike Witt and Daryl Sconiers in November. The deal did not go through. Clear then effected a major turn-around in 1984. His return to form did not begin right away. As much as Houk believed in Clear, he did not pitch him as frequently as the pitcher wished. In April, Clear pitched just once on two days or less of rest. On May 5, with his ERA at 6.17 after just 11 2/3 innings of work, he told reporters he could harness his killer curve “only if I pitch. If I’m going to work once a week they might as well shoot me.”24 Houk then stepped it up in May and June. This was an essential change and Clear knew it. He pitched effectively for the balance of May and all of June, and finished the year 8-3 with eight saves, Batters hit .187 against him. He gave up only two home runs, both to Dave Kingman. Before the year ended, Clear and his wife welcomed a second child, Tyler Clear, on December 6.

By 1985 the Red Sox already had most of the players who would win a pennant the following year, but Clear was not among them. But before he left he performed durably in 41 games, with a 3.72 ERA, and 55 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings. He was used in just six save situations, saving three and blowing three. The club had struggled through a difficult August in which they won eight games and lost 20. Relievers blew 32 leads in 28 games, losing 19 of them.25 Clear contributed an 11.37 ERA for the month; on August 28 he gave up a grand slam that lost the game, 7-4. Afterward, he admitted, “I stink. I don’t believe I’m a bad pitcher. But I’m pitching stupidly right now. … I’ve worked very hard this season. … But I keep going into games and making the same mistakes.”26

Clear was on the trading block. The Red Sox wanted to add bullpen strength by trading utility man Jackie Gutierrez to the Orioles for reliever Sammy Stewart. But first they needed a utility man like Ed Romero from the Brewers to fill that gap. The swap sending Clear to Milwaukee was made on December 11. The trade for Stewart happened on December 17. Brewers manager George Bamberger was hopeful. “If we can get some relief pitching and score 725 runs, we’ll be alright this season,” said Bambi. “I’m happy to have Clear. He’s a guy who’s given up fewer runs than innings pitched. His biggest problem…was he didn’t get much work behind Stanley … I want to pitch Clear every other day in spring training. I think most of his problem has been mental.”27

“I’m happy to get the chance to pitch,” Clear told the Daily Tribune months after the trade. “I’m going to go out and do the best I can…I’ve had some control problems in the past…but I’m not afraid to work to get better.”28 In spring training, Bamberger revealed a plan for closer-by-committee, platooning the right-handed Clear with the left-handed Ray Searage.29 Bambi’s plan worked well but with a twist. Searage got off to a poor start and the left-hander in the equation turned out to be a 24-year-old rookie named Dan Plesac.

At 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5, respectively, Clear and Plesac made a towering pair. Clear nailed down 16 saves in 19 opportunities; Plesac secured 14 saves in 18 opportunities. Both men earned sub-3.00 ERAs. The two combined for 160 strikeouts in 164 2/3 innings. Clear cut his walk rate from 8.1 to 4.4, and registered 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings. He reduced his WHIP from 1.707 to 1.208 — all career bests for the lanky veteran. Bamberger was ecstatic over Clear. “He’s been outstanding. He’s throwing strikes and his control is great.” He repeated his belief that Clear’s prior problems in Boston were due to his lack of work. “We knew he had good stuff.” 30

Bamberger retired near the end of the 1986 season. The Brewers announced that Tom Trebelhorn was the new manager. Trebelhorn wondered about his two closers. “I don’t know if Plesac and Clear can be as effective as they were a year ago. That’s asking a lot.”31 In April 1987, Plesac registered a 0.66 ERA in 10 games while Clear had a 5.00 ERA. The young lefty outpaced Clear in saves and strikeouts, too. Trebelhorn went with the youthful closer for the balance of the season, giving Plesac 36 save opportunities versus nine for Clear. Plesac earned an All-Star berth, 23 saves, and a 2.61 ERA, out-classing Clear’s six saves and 4.48 ERA.

In 1988, Clear became a mop-up man, pitching in 25 games and finishing 16, most of them already lost. Despite battling a strained muscle in his right elbow, he had a 2.79 ERA when he was shelved for the season on August 23.32 Released in October, he signed with California in January, but returned home from spring training due to persistent pain in his right elbow.33 He underwent elbow surgery later that year.34 In 1990, Clear was assigned to the Angels’ AAA affiliate in Edmonton. He joined the Angels in May and appeared in four games, posting a 5.87 ERA. He was then asked to return to Edmonton but instead asked for his release. He did not pitch in the major leagues again.35 His career included two All-Star berths, a Sporting News Rookie of the Year Award, 804 strikeouts in 804 1/3 innings, and a 3.85 ERA. Twice during his career he had struck out more than 100 batters; during that time only one other reliever, Steve Bedrosian, had done that.

In addition to family, hunting, and fishing, Clear has long had a love for tree farming and co-owned a tree nursery in his playing days. After baseball, he started Loma Vista Nursery in Douglas County, Kansas. His business sprawls over 900+ acres. Loma Vista is a wholesale supplier of plants, trees, and shrubs for independent garden centers, landscape contractors, and wholesale distributors in the Midwest. He runs the company with his daughter, Lyndsi.36

Last revised: June 24, 2021

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Bill Nowlin and Norman Macht and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources shown in the Notes, the author made use of official media guides of the Angels, Red Sox, and Brewers, and baseball-reference.com.

 

Notes

1 Peter Gammons, “Mark Clear, Chopping His Way,” Tampa Tribune, July 7, 1982: 12.

2 Gammons.

3 William J. Weiss, 1977 and 1978 player questionnaires.

4 Dick Miller, “On a Clear Day Angels Can Find Relief,” The Sporting News, May 12, 1979: 8.

51980 Angels Media Guide.

6 Gammons, “Mark Clear, Chopping His Way.”

7 Gammons, “Mark Clear, Chopping His Way.”

8 Dave Zaslawsky, “Clear Path for Young Halo Hurler,” Palm Springs Desert Sun, March 20, 1979: 15.

9 UPI, “Clear Leads Angels,” Ukiah Daily Journal, March 20, 1979: 6.

10 Dave Zaslawsky, “It’s Tougher to Earn a Halo,” Desert Sun, March 28, 1979: 13.

11 Ron Sutton, “All Star Clear was Non-Prospect,” Moline Dispatch, July 17, 1979: 17.

12 Dick Miller, “Reliever Clear Wins AL Rookie Laurels,” The Sporting News, January 26, 1980: 50.

13 Murray Hurt, “It’s None of My Business,” Rock Island Argus, July 8, 1979: 27.

14 Wedding Notices, Rock Island Argus, October 28, 1979: 21.

15 Hal Bodley, “Nippon No Gold Mine, Stars Find,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1979: 48.

16 Gammons, “Mark Clear, Chopping His Way.”

17 Gammons, “Mark Clear, Chopping His Way.”

18 Gammons, “Mark Clear, Chopping His Way.”

19 Peter Gammons, “Clear’s Problem Not Exactly Clear,” Boston Globe, May 8, 1983: 42.

20 Larry Whiteside, “Clear Working OT to Find Solution,” Boston Globe, February 22, 1984: 27.

21 Peter Gammons, “Everything Looks Rosy According to Houk,” Boston Globe, December 10, 1983: 31.

22 Peter Gammons, “Johnson Brought the Heat of Night,” Boston Globe, July 24, 1983: 44.

23 Gammons, “Johnson Brought the Heat of Night.

24 Peter Gammons, “Houk Gets a Clear message,” Boston Globe, May 5, 1984: 27.

25 Larry Whiteside, “Indians Slam Red Sox, 7-4,” Boston Globe, August 29, 1985: 52.

26 Whiteside.

27 Doug Zellmer, “Bamberger an eternal optimist,” Oshkosh Northwestern, January 21, 1986: 21.

28 Jeff Mayers, “Can Brewers Bullpen Spell Relief?” Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, April 3, 1986: 11.

29 Doug Zellmer, “Bamberger an eternal optimist,” Oshkosh Northwestern, January 21, 1986: 21.

30 Susan Shemanske, “Brewers Bullpen Woes Clear up,” Racine Journal Times, Aug. 17, 1986: 17.

31 AP, “Dan Plesac striving to repeat,” Wausau Daily Herald, March 29, 1987: 14.

32 UPI, “Injuries forcing Brewers,” Chippewa Herald Telegram, August 23, 1988: 9.

33 AP, “Dodgers’ Hershiser is back,” Arizona Daily Star, February 21, 1989: 8.

34 “Angel Game Notes,” San Pedro News-Pilot, June 7, 1990: 30.

35 “Angel Game Notes.

36 https://www.ksre.k-state.edu/news/stories/2020/05/kansas-profile-loma-vista-nursery.html

Full Name

Mark Alan Clear

Born

May 27, 1956 at Los Angeles, CA (USA)

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