Pujols Ready to Jack the Ripper

Albert Pujols may not have been able to hit as customary for the last couple of seasons, thanks to nagging trouble with plantar fasciitis in his heel. But if you prick him in just the right place he can swing big with words just as deadly. Fellow former Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark may be preparing to learn the hard way just how deadly that might be.

In his first, and what turns out to be final, week co-hosting a St. Louis radio sports talk show, Clark threw down a nasty charge that Pujols has been using actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances for a very long time. The moment the news of Clark's outburst reached the now-disabled Angels slugger, Pujols swung back. Almost as hard as he's hit enough of his home runs.

With a no-holds-barred threat of litigation against Clark and WGNU-AM, after show owner inside StL unloaded Clark and his air partner Kevin Slaten, who opened the door in the first place after first commenting he merely "believed" Pujols to be on the juice, provoking Clark's rant — following a mere seven programs. "I am currently in the process of taking legal action against Jack Clark and his employers at WGNU 920AM," said Pujols in a formal statement issued Friday.

If Pujols follows through with that threat despite Clark's and Slaten's executions, the most likely charge would be slander. There could be one or two more, depending, in that instance. Pujols wasn't the sole target of Clark's anti-PED tongue, but Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander merely dismissed Clark's comments about him as "moronic." So far.

The more jarring note in the Pujols statement is that it's fashioned in perhaps the strongest language yet fashioned by any player fighting off or trying merely to ward off accusations of using actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances. The statement continues:

"I am going to send a message that you cannot act in a reckless manner, like they have, and get away with it. If I have to be the athlete to carry the torch and pave the way for other innocent players to see that you can do something about it, I am proud to be that person. I have five young children and I take being a role model very seriously. The last thing I want is for the fans, and especially the kids out there, to question my reputation and character.

"I've said time and time again that I would never take, or even consider taking, anything illegal. I've been tested hundreds of times throughout my career and never once have I tested positive. It is irresponsible and reckless for Jack Clark to have falsely accused me of using PED's. My faith in Jesus Christ, and my respect for this game are too important to me. I would never be able to look my wife or kids in the eye if I had done what this man is accusing me of.

"I know people are tired of athletes saying they are innocent, asking for the public to believe in them, only to have their sins exposed later down the road. But I am not one of those athletes, and I will not stand to have my name and my family's name, dragged through the mud."

Clark may have shot himself in the proverbial foot most profoundly when he based his accusation on a decade-old conversation he claimed to have with Pujols's former personal trainer, Chris Mihlfeld, at a time Clark was working as the Dodgers' hitting instructor and Mihlfield also worked for that team.

"The trainer that worked with him, threw him batting practice from Kansas City, that worked him out every day, basically told me that's what he did," Clark said of Pujols. "[Mihlfield] had told me what he was doing with Poolie — threw him batting practice, worked him out, shot him up, all that stuff."

The problem is that Mihlfield himself denied such a conversation. "I haven't even talked to Jack Clark in close to 10 years," he told NBC Sports Friday, when Clark's rant began whipping around the country. "His statements are simply not true. I have known Albert Pujols since he was 18-years-old, and he would never use illegal drugs in any way. I would bet my life on it and probably drop dead on the spot if I found out he has. As before, once again both Albert and myself have been accused of doing something we didn't do."

Clark isn't exactly unknown for pronouncing strongly and nastily about actual or alleged PED users in the recent past. He once said the sight of Mark McGwire in a Cardinal uniform, after McGwire's public confession and hiring as the Cardinals' batting instructor (a job he now holds with the Dodgers) "makes me sick to my stomach."

He's also no stranger to the legal world. A little over two decades ago, Clark was the most infamous bankruptcy case in professional sports, filing in 1992 with a listed $6.7 million in debts he couldn't repay, involving a drag racing team in which he invested heavily, 18 high-ticket cars and 17 of which he could no longer pay the still-active notes, a third luxury home, and a middle five-figure credit card debt.

Five years later, with most of his financial trouble resolved, Clark would blame his own foolishness for his initial trouble. But he'd also tangle with a financial adviser and two attorneys he accused of mishandling the large dollars he received as a settlement from one of baseball's 1980s collusion cases. You'd think the last thing he would want now is to have another round with the legal system, period, never mind one in which he might stand as the accused.

Once upon a time, Clark hit such monstrous home runs when healthy that he was known as Jack the Ripper. (His then-Giants teammate Vida Blue hung that sobriquet upon him.) Especially the 3-run bomb he hit in Game 6, 1985 National League Championship Series, when Tommy Lasorda was foolish enough to let reliever Tom Niedenfeuer pitch to him with first base open and the Dodgers one out from going to the World Series.

Now, Clark's tongue has cost him a radio job and provoked Albert Pujols to the single most emphatic, least weaseling denial of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances on record. Even if it had to come on the heel of threatening to Jack the Ripper in court.

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