The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on March 29, 1998 · Page 54
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March 29, 1998

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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 54

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West Palm Beach, Florida
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Sunday, March 29, 1998
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.,,.,.,nr.(MinncT CIIMniV MARrHq 1998 ISC 1 C Int rALIvl DCMon ruoi "u"""1'" Baseball '98 Cardinals' gamble on McGwire p jwWJ UJ Slugger feels at home in St. Louis; the fans are crazy about him; and Cards are reaping the rewards. By Dave George healthy. Tony La Russa, McGwire's manager at St. Louis today and at Oakland during the A's World Series glory years, is Willing lO guess as nigu m v. vu - i . T r-.. .ill - t . . grows weary ot tne question. There's no reason to talk about it, he said. "Really, I can't say I'm going to do it and I can't say I won't. If it happens, it happens. How can n De a goal? I don't even know if I'm going to wake up the next first game against the Florida Marlins and nonchalantly hit two home runs into the upper deck at Pro Player Stadium. "I don t sit back and rate them," McGwire told reporters when asked where those longdistance drives ranked in his career. Baseball's MCI home-run estimate program credits McGwire with five home runs 500 feet or longer. Twice more after that spectacular night in Miami, McGwire hit two home runs in a Cardinals game. That brought his career total of multihomer games to 42, tied with Reggie Jackson and 14th all-time. None of these theatrics measured up, however, to the day McGwire announced he would remain a Cardinal. On the afternoon of Sept. 16, McGwire appeared at a news conference to answer questions about the contract that would keep him in St. Louis through the 2000 season with an option on a fourth year He explained that making more money else- JUPITER Already burned by the Great One, wary St. Louis sports fans weren't exactly sure what to make of Big Mac at first. Would the Cardinals' trade for Mark McGwire with 55 games remaining in the 1997 season be just another tease, as it was when Wayne Gretzky gave the St. Louis Blues a couple of months of flash in 1996 and then skated for the free-agent market? Could this great California redwood of a slugger feel at home in a modest Midwestern city of contact hitters and fundamental baseball values? Cardinals General Manager Walt Jocketty, the man who traded three pitchers to Oakland for McGwire on July 31, confesses to battling the same concerns. St. Louis was 7V4 games out in the NL Central at that moment, a defending division championship team that opened the season 0-6 and reached .500 only once thereafter. There was risk in the trade, all That's a somber tone for a man of 34, but McGwire must go out of his way sometimes to remind fans he is human. The expectations have never been less than outrageous, beginning with McGwire's league-leading 49 homers as an Oakland rookie in 1987. Ever since that debut, the pressure to maintain a certain c7cA nf pvrpllpnce has come ' V?- i i X''-- if - - :f I J J I 7 j from all directions, sometimes from a teammate, ime jose Cv N m Canseco in the early years, ana something from within McGwire's own family. Mark's younger brother, Dan, a star quarterback at San Diego State, was the first-round pick of the Seattle Sea-hawks in 1991 and later was one of nan Marino's backuos in Miami. Cardinals fans immediately welcomed 1 Mark McGwire after St. Louis acquired him from Oakland last August. McGwire celebrated his arrival to the National League with a home run in his second at-bat with the Cards. 4tf "i i THE ASSOCIATED PRESS There have been glorious professional highs along the way (three consecutive American League pennants at Oakland from 1988-90) and devastating personal lows (the breakup of his marriage, and a long-term relationship that followed sent McGwire to a therapist in 1991). The result is an enormously strong athlete (McGwire is obsessed with weight training) and a very tender soul (he admitted to Sports Illustratedhe often cries at movies). At this stage of his career, the Cardinals' warm cocoon of encouragement is very inviting and the desire to please the franchise's regional legion of supporters quite sincere. Jocketty guessed that might happen if only he could get McGwire to St. Louis last summer. The clincher was addressing McGwire's need to see his son as often as possible. Matthew McGwire, 10, lives in California with his mother but the Cardinals arrange for the boy's plane transportation whenever his father "It makes me float every time I come to the ballpark and play in i this stadium in front of these fans," McGwire said on the day of his contract signing. ' J k,..- f ' f V f at i- .- L, Q , ' i 1 1 r-'K II I "S SHERMAN ZENTStaff Photographer I I ' 1 1 g r where was less important than being happy. He told of a $1 million gift he pledged to make for each year of his St. Louis contract and broke down in tears when asked to elaborate on the cause, a foundation to help abused children ; A few hours later, when McGwire stepped to the plate in the first inning of a game with Los Angeles, the moment called for something legendary. Big Mac came through right on cue, hitting a Ramon Martinez pitch over the scoreboard in left-center field. It was the longest home run measured at Busch Stadium, traveling an estimated 517 feet. There was a standing ovation that night when he came to the plate," said Jocketty, "and they stood throughout the entire at-bat. Then he hits this towering home run. It was incredible, the kind of thing that sends chills through your body." A place in history Mark McGwire is often compared to another of baseball's great hitters Babe Rufh And the numbers justify the comparison Here ,s a . ok at how McGwire rates in baseball history in several home run statistics. 11.76 11.94 " 14.11 That's the incredible lightness of being appreciated. At some point McGwire will insist on more in St. Louis, such as a return to the playoff excitement he once knew in Oakland, but for now to match his power against the more aggressive pitchers of the National league is enough. McGwire says he likes batting in the NL better and there is something very ominous about that He homered 363 times while in the American League and picked up the pace at St. Louis last year, averaging one homer for every 7.2 at-bats. Altogether, McGwire leads active major-leaguers with 387 homers. A modest average of 38 homers over the course of his St. Louis contract would get McGwire to 500 by the end of the 2000 season. Sounds easy enough for a batter who Uocn-t Kit fpwpr than 38 in a season since 1. 2. 3. 4. right, particularly if the Cardinals stayed bad and McGwire, whose late-season try-out cost the team $2 million, got bored. Then, far easier than anyone expected, came the reward. "Mark took the initiative, aggressive trying to get a deal done," Jocketty said. "His agent called me in September and within 48 hours the major part of the negotiations was done. I'd like to say that 1 believed things were going to be as big as they were, but it was really beyond anything we could have expected." How big? Try 58 homers, including 24 in two months after the trade to St. Louis. Try a three-year Cardinals contract worth $30 million, considerably less than McGwire might have gotten as a free agent, and a significant portion of that money deferred until retirement so the team can pay other players. Try finding another player capable of stepping so quickly into the inner circle of beloved Cardinals legends such as Stan Musial, Bob Gibson and Lou Brock. Can t be done. "1 don't think I'm being overly dramatic when I say he saved our season last year," said Jack Buck, the Cardinals Hall-of-Fame broadcaster. There is the theme for this Redbird romance story, a flabby fourth-place season made meaningful, even fulfilling, by one 6-foot-5, 250-pound giant. McGwire was charmed by the enthusiasm St. Louis fans directed toward him, a far cry from the sagging attendance and sour feelings of his past few years at Oakland, and he went right to work proving himself more than a mercenary, hollow this trail of lump-in-the-throat moments from last summer and a grander profile emerges, that of a budding Babe Ruth for the new millennium. McGwire had gone three weeks without a home run, the second-longest drought of his 11-year career, when he suited up for his first Cardinals home game Aug. 8. His second at-bat a 441-foot fhot that rattled off the top of the left-field foul pole solved that and soothed the fears of anxious St. Louis fans. A week later Tom Glavine took a two-run lead into the ninth inning at Buscn Stadium. McGwire's two-run homer tied the game and the Cardinals went on to beat Atlanta in extra innings. Later in August McGwire played his 14.22 14.79 14.87 15.11 Single-season home runs Roger Maris (1961) Babe Ruth (1927) Babe Ruth (1921) Mark McGwire (1997) Hank Greenberg (1938) Jimmie Foxx (1932) Ken Griffey Jr. (1997) Hack Wilson (1930) Mickey Mantle (1961) Ralph Kiner (1949) Babe Ruth (1920) Mark McGwire (1996) George Foster (1977) Home runs per at-bat, career 61 1. Babe Ruth : 60 2. Mark McGwire ' 59 3. Ralph Kiner 58 4. Harmon Killebrew 58 5. Ted Williams 58 6. Frank Thomas 56 7. Dave Kingman 56 8. Mickey Mantle 54 Note: Minimum 250 home runs. 54 54 52 52 52 52 7. 15.12 9. 13. Willie Mays (1965) Mickey Mantle (1956) And a fever through the nation, providing McGwire can make another run at one of the game's golden records 61 home runs in a single season. Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961, breaking Ruth's 34-year-old standard by one. Now McGwire and Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr. are considered threats to raise the bar, SI years after Maris. , Last year McGwire hit 58, including three in the season's final two games, and Griffey hit 56. Either could flirt with 60 again, especially with the addition of expansion franchises in Tampa Bay and Arizona further diluting the quality of major-league pitching. Albert Belle, who had 50 homers in 1995, cant be discounted, either, but Big Mac genera ly is considered the best bet for a couple ol compelling reasons. First, McGwire has hit a home run on the average of once every 1134 at-bats over the course of his career. Only Ruth homered more regularly, once every 1176 at-bats. For comparisons sake. Hank Aaron, the all-time home run king with 755, averaged one per 16.37 at-bats. The second reason to look to McGwire is the remarkable roll he is on. Counting his 52 homers in 1996, he s got 110 in two seasons. That's a record for right-handed batters and second overall to Ruth (60 homers in 1927 and 54 in 1928). Pete Rose recently said McGwire could hit 65 homers this season if he stays Fewest at-bats to 300 home runs 387 378 374. Active home run leaders 1. Mark McGwire 2. Joe Carter 3. Barry Bonds 4. Cal Ripken 5. Jose Canseco 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 370 351- -4 3,837 3.883 3.928 4,261 4.261 Mark McGwire Ralph Kinder Harmon Killebrew Willie McCovey Dave Kingman missing most of '94 after heel surgery. "People tend to forget there's a guy out there on the mound capable of getting me out every day," McGwire said. There s not a little switch on my bat that makes a home run happen." Even the most powerful pitchers know they can strike out McGwire once or twice in a game and still come out looking fool- 'Sh Robb Nen, former Marlins closer, served up one of the fastballs McGwirehit into Pro Player Stadium's upper deck. The longest home run ball McGwire hit was off Randy Johnson, who watched one of his 100-mph heaters get pounded 538 feet into the Seattle Kingdome's fourth deck and decided it was best to make the most of his part in the legend of Big Mac. "He couldn't have done it, said Johnson, "without me." Home runs per at-bat, season 1. Mark McGwire (1996) 2. Babe Ruth (1920) 3. Babe Ruth (1927) 4. Babe Ruth (1921) 5. Mark McGwire (1997) 8.13 8.48 9.00 9.15 9.31 Devil Rays expect to be competitive in first season Tampa Bay Devil Rays schedule r.rA Fi-pH McGrift Kevin Philadelphia 30, Atlanta. Stocker. Mike Kelly and John Flaherty in trades that will give the team a chance to be pesky In" the tough AL East The team is counting, too, on young plavers such as former Marlin Tony Saunders, Quintort McCracken. Miguel Cairo, Terrell Wade. Rich Butler and Bobby Smith, who were selected in the expansion draft. "As far as I see," said Boggs. "we have the talent to compete without compromising a commitment to player development. LaMar came to Tampa Bay from Atlanta, where he was assistant general manager and helped mold the Braves into a perennial contender. A strong farm system has been one of the keys to the club's ability to remain on top. The Devil Ravs signed free agents Wilson Alvarez, Roberto Hernandez. Wade Boggs, Paul Sorrento and Dave Martinez and gural season. "We're an expansion team, but as far as I'm concerned we can drop that word from our vocabulary because I think it creates a safety net for a lot of things you don't want," manager Larry Rothschild said. By winning the World Series in their fifth season, the Marlins raised the standard by which new teams will be judged. One challenge for the Devil Rays will be improving as quickly as possible MARCH 31, Detroit. APRIL 1-2. Oetrort 3-4-S. Chicago White Sot. 7, . at Detrort 10-11 12. at Chsago White So. 13-14. Minnesota 1S-17 18-19. n he,m 21-23 23. at Te.a 24-226. Ana he.m. 27-28. Oakland 29-30. at Minnesota. MAY 1-2 3. at Cleveland -6, at Kansas Oty 8-9-10. Baltimore 11-12. Cleveland 13-14 Kansas Ot 1S-18-17-18. at BaH'nwe 1-?021. at Toronto 22-224. at Seattle 2S-28. at Oakland 28-29-30-31. Seattle JUNE 1-2, Te.as 3-4. M NY Yankees -7. Montreal 8-9-10. at N V Mets 12-13-14. at Boston. 1S-18-1T. Toronto 18-19-20-21. Boston 22-23242S, Fionas 28-27 28. at JULY 1-2, Atlanta 3-4-5. at Toronto 9-10-11 12. NY. Yankees 13-14, Boston. 1S-1S. at Anaheim 17-18-19. at Teas 21-22. Se n. 24-2S-28-27. Oakland 28-29. at CNcago Wh.te So. 31, Oetrort. AUGUST 1-2 Detrwt 3-4 S. Chicago White Sot 7-8- Cleveland 10-1112. Baltimore 13-14-1MS. at Kansas City 17-18. at Cleveland 19-20. at Baltimore 21-22 23. Kan sas City 2S-28-27. Minnesota 28-29-30. at Detrort. 31. at M.nnesota SEPTEMBER 1-2 3 at Minnesota 4-S-. at OaHanfl 8-9. at Sean 11-12 13. Te.as l-- " ne.m 18-17. N Y. Yankees 18-19-20. Tor. onto 21-22 23. at Boston 24-2S-28-27, at S y Yankees Thr Associated Prrss ST. PETERSBURG Tampa Bay Devil Rays General manager Chuck LaMar says he's building for the future, but that doesn't mean the American League's newest franchise is selling itself short for 1998. The expansion draft and a flurry of trades and free-agent signings brought the Devil Rays enough proven and young but experienced talent to feel they can be competitive in their inau

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