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Clark Bar on North Shore still home to great baseball stories and memorabilia

| Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, 9:03 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Angelo Lamatrice, owner of the Clark Bar, is reflected in some of the signed baseballs in his extensive collection at the North Side restaurant on Friday, October 4, 2013.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Angelo Lamatrice, owner of the Clark Bar, sits near some of the signed baseballs in his extensive collection at the North Side restaurant on Friday, October 4, 2013.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Angelo Lamatrice, owner of the Clark Bar, stands with his son, Joe, in their bar, a famed sports bar on the North Side on Friday, October 4, 2013.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A photo Angelo Lamatrice, owner of the Clark Bar, and Barry Bonds hangs in the North Side establishment on Friday, October 4, 2013.

In a different era, a fan could go to Three Rivers Stadium, watch Barry Bonds smack a majestic home run and then cross the parking lot to a bar for a post-game beer with the slugger himself.

Ballplayers don't visit the Clark Bar and Grill on the North Shore much these days. But the bar, with all of its tales and mementos, remains.

“The players, the media, the umpires — they all came in here,” said Angelo Lamatrice, who opened the Clark Bar in 1989.

“And in here, they were all normal guys,” said Debbie Doucette, a former bar manager who became office manager. “Believe it or not, Barry Bonds was a normal guy here. When he was standing with Angelo, he wouldn't turn down an autograph, he wouldn't flip anyone off. He was a nice, normal guy. All of them were.”

Times have changed.

The neighborhood underwent a transformation when PNC Park and Heinz Field replaced Three Rivers Stadium, torn down in 2001. Bars, restaurants, hotels and concert venues opened — even a casino.

Yet, said Lamatrice, “This place is tradition. This is old-school here. If you're a fan and you want to talk sports, the Clark Bar is still the place.”

The Clark Bar sits on the ground floor of the building where Clark candy bars once were manufactured. When it opened, Lamatrice recalled, it was the only bar near Three Rivers. It became a haven for professional athletes — in part because Lamatrice's co-owners were former Pirates Mike “Spanky” Lavalliere, John Smiley and John Cangelosi.

“I'm just some guy from Steubenville. Who's going to come here to see me?” Lamatrice said, sitting in the bar's cigar room. “But the players knew those guys were involved, and we'd take care of them.”

Lamatrice and Doucette have many stories but won't spill the good ones — not to some guy with a notebook. Scrawled on one table in the cigar room where Lamatrice sits are these words: “Tales told here remain here.”

“Jim Gott, remember him?” Lamatrice said, referring to the former Pirates relief pitcher. “He was here one day and he says, ‘Angelo could write a book.' Then he thought about it and said, ‘Wait a minute. We should pay Angelo not to write a book.' ”

Instead, Lamatrice offers G-rated stories of how much former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda loved the Clark Bar's meatballs. Former Mets pitcher Roger McDowell would get a mountain of quarters to play video games. Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux used to hustle the pool table.

The walls tell the story, displaying the most expansive collection of sports memorabilia on the North Shore.

Take, for example, the big painting of Spanky crashing into Mets catcher Gary Carter. In real life, Lavalliere was out on the play. In this picture, in this bar, the ball came loose and Spanky scored.

“So one day Carter's standing here and he's looking at that picture,” Lamatrice said. “I walk over to him and he says, ‘There's something wrong with that picture. Spanky was out. I held onto that ball.'

“I told him, ‘What can I tell ya? The guy owns the place!' ”

And the bar has scars. Doucette pointed to a wooden table with serrated crescents pressed into the grain. They're from 1992 customers pounding bottles on tabletops, she said, the night the Atlanta Braves beat the Pirates in a heartbreaking Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.

“We left them,” she said. “Why get rid of them?”

When Three Rivers fell and new development rose, the players stopped coming around, Lamatrice said. Old-timers stop in now and then — including Spanky, when he visits from his Florida home — but in this era of social media and smartphones, pro athletes don't belly up to the bar with Average Joes like they used to, he said.

Yet, Lamatrice keeps signs of the past: Hundreds of signed baseballs, dozens of game-worn bats, and autographed photos.

Says one: “To Angelo: Friends are hard to find. I'm glad I found you. God Bless. — Barry Bonds.”

Chris Togneri is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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