- Associated Press - Saturday, January 18, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - His baseball career over at age 37 after 15 major league seasons, Tony Clark wasn’t sure what to do next.

He spent a short time working for the MLB Network as a studio analyst in the summer of 2009. That wasn’t fulfilling enough.

“Literally, I shot awake one morning after trying to determine what route I wanted to go, because I knew sitting at home was not something I was wired for,” he said. “And I told my wife I know what it is I’m supposed to do.”

And that was to accept an offer to join the staff of the Major League Baseball Players Association as director of player relations under new union head Michael Weiner.

So Clark turned to Frances and explained his thoughts and concerns. Their life in Glendale, Ariz., was familiar and comfortable, especially now that he no longer lived the life of an itinerant ballplayer.

“It’s going to cause a lot of travel, and the phone is not going to turn off, but I know this is where I’m supposed to be,” he remembered telling her. “She smiled, and I asked her what she was smiling about. And she said, ‘Well, I could have told you a long time ago that this is where you were supposed to be, but I had to let you make you own decision.’”

Just 2½ years later, the union and Clark were upended in August 2012 when Weiner was diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive malignant brain tumor.

A succession plan was put in place, and Clark was promoted to deputy executive director last July. And after Weiner died in November, the 41-year-old Clark took over as executive director of America’s most successful labor union, the first player in a line of succession that included only Marvin Miller, Donald Fehr and Weiner over nearly a half-century - plus the short, unhappy tenure of Kenneth Moffett.

Prone to soft, grandfatherly tones with lengthy sighs, Miller was an industrial firebrand. Fehr, most comfortable speaking in lengthy, lawyerly and professorial discourses, was viewed by management as a similar gadfly. Then came Weiner, with a smile, informal manner and a laid-back common touch to go along with brilliant intellect.

Now, for the first time, a player is in charge and will put his own imprint on an organization whose members averaged nearly $3.4 million in income last year.

Clark may be 6-foot-8, but players don’t feel like he’s talking down to them. He went to his first executive board meeting in 1999, after his fifth big league season, and joined collective bargaining in 2002 in 2006. He became a voice of authority.

“He was always a guy that everyone looked up to as far as young players coming up. Veteran players always fed him questions. They had a problem, they would go to Tony Clark,” All-Star relief pitcher Joe Nathan said last summer. “He’s still a guy that everyone thinks that’s the guy to go whenever you have a question, and he’ll have an answer.

“He is a natural leader.”

He speaks in measured sentences, focused narrowly on what he intends to say. In a modern media world where partial quotes can become headlines, he eschews polemic sound bites and issues statements that can tend to the anodyne.

“He’s a smart guy. He’s a thoughtful guy. A careful guy. He’s considered in terms of what he does. He has the respect and confidence of the players, which is the absolute essential for the job,” said Fehr, now the head of the NHL Players Association. “He thinks through what he says. There’s no doubt about that. But I think he speaks to players pretty directly and pretty to the point and in a pretty-concise way, at least that’s my memory. It certainly was true in the ‘06 negotiation.”

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