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Original Issue

The 18-Car Barrage

Jack Clark's most-astounding stat is his list of autos, which contributed to his bankruptcy

1. 1992 Mercedes 500 SL Coupe (VALUE: $103,000). I AM transfixed by a list. It appeared in my local newspaper a week and a half ago, part of the chronicle of the financial misadventures that caused Jack Clark, a baseball slugger for the town team, the Boston Red Sox, to declare bankruptcy. The list, included in the paperwork detailing Clark's $6.7 million in debts, enumerated the 18 cars that he owned.

2. 1992 Mercedes 500 SL Sedan ($106,312). Eighteen cars? I have been around sports long enough to take money figures for granted, the stories that say Shaquille O'Neal has "inked a pact" with basketball's Orlando Magic for a "reported" $40 million for seven years and that Ryne Sandberg is playing baseball in Chicago for $7 million a season. The decimal points and the dollar signs and the numbers are a convenient blur. Who pays attention to any of this stuff anymore? It is as removed and boring as stories about the GNP and the commodities market and the boardroom maneuverings of The Donald with Miss Maria at his side. Eighteen cars, however, is a return to reality.

3. 1992 Mercedes 600 SL Sedan ($142,948). There are players in professional sports who own 18 cars? How many are there? Does every player on every team own 18 cars? Every starter? Every star? Am I watching the owners of 54 cars in action when I see a 6-4-3 double play, 72 cars if I include the poor sap who hit the ground ball? Is the total number of cars for an NFL offense 198, with 198 more cars on defense, not to mention the special teams? Can this be possible?

4. 1989 Ferrari Mondial ($197,197). I will be generous, [will say that if a man does a good job and makes a lot of money, he is entitled to a large and fancy automobile. A big ride. I will say that his wife should also have a good car, probably just as large and fancy, in these days of political correctness, as her husband's. Maybe there should be a van or something for big jobs, and a fun jeep for vacations and maybe a vintage special as a toy in the garage. That's five cars. Maybe throw in a sixth, just for a whim, an extravagance. I do not understand 18 cars.

5. 1990 Ferrari F-40 ($717,000). Do you print out a little domestic schedule when you have 18 cars, telling you which car to use on which day? Or do you decide by chance, throwing the 18 sets of car keys into a large fishbowl and picking a daily random winner? Is there confusion when you have, say, three Mercedes and two Ferraris? Are you always asking, "Where's the Ferrari?" only to be answered by the question "Which one?" Can you remember which of the 18 cars are filled with gas and which are not?

6. 1991 GM Safari van ($26,253). Do you boast about the fact that you have 18 cars? Do you walk into taprooms and shopping malls to engage strangers in conversations about how many cars they own and how many you own? Or are you guilty, ashamed? Do you sheepishly admit, "Yeah, I own a couple of cars. Always have liked cars. Even as a kid"? If you own 18 cars, are you always going through the automotive ads, looking to purchase a 19th and 20th and 21st?

7. 1991 GM Safari van ($26,253).

8. 1992 GM VT-Typhoon ($29,659).

9. 1992 GM van ($22,360).

10. 1992 GM Suburban ($30,178).

11. 1991 GM Syclone pickup ($26,120).

12. 1932 Ford Coupe hot rod ($65,000).

13. 1955 Ford Crown Victoria ($42,000).

14. 1955 Ford Thunderbird ($80,000).

15. 1957 Lincoln Premiere convertible ($63,000). I would like to be sympathetic to Clark's plight. He always has seemed to be a decent man, though strangely paralyzed in recent years by the sight of a breaking ball on a two-strike count. I can understand the $55,955 outstanding bill with American Express and the $19,820 Visa bill and the $37,000 bill with Nordstrom department store and certainly the $400,000 owed in taxes. We all push the far edge of the financial envelope sometimes. Just last week I bought a necktie that I knew I could not afford. Jack Clark makes $3 million a year, so I also can understand the big house on the golf course in California and the $1 million investment in a drag racing team. A man needs a home and a hobby. Maybe a couple of hobbies. Fair enough. I do not understand the 18 cars.

16. 1957 Lincoln Coupe ($39,000). I suppose they were investments. I know Reggie Jackson, the retired slugger, buys cars and sells cars as if they were motorized baseball cards, presumably making money in a collectors' market. I suppose, as Clark claims, the gulf war and the general recession might have affected that market. I still...18 cars? The figure suddenly has made all of the other figures jump from the sports page again.

17. 1957 Plymouth Fury ($36,000). When some athlete asks to have his contract renegotiated because "I have to do what's best for my family," is he saying that his family is being forced to survive on a mere 15 or 16 sets of wheels? When he says that he wants to be "set for life," does he mean that he needs enough money for an infinite number of spark plugs, a ceaseless rotation of fat-boy tires? Are we ever going to be able to take any of these bleats and whines at contract time seriously again?

18. 1934 Ford Sedan ($30,000). Ralph Kiner, another free swinger, long ago proclaimed, "Home run hitters drive Cadillacs." I wonder why none of us asked him how many Cadillacs he meant.