The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on March 29, 1998 · Page 809
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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 809

West Palm Beach, Florida
Issue Date:
Sunday, March 29, 1998
Page 809
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THE PALM BEACH POST SUNDAY, MARCH 29, 1998 , 15C 7 Baseball '98 8 Cardinals' gamble on McGwire nn Lrd A J vJ I Slugger feels at home in St. Louis; the fans are crazy about him; and Cards are reaping the rewards. i li V healthy. Tony La Russa, McGwire's manager at St. Louis today and at Oakland 'iuring the A's World Series glory years, is 'jr. In , By Dave George 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 lxk 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 vAr" ' ' V-.. - willing to guess as nign as u. lvicuwire 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 . .. TT U 1 Happens, u nappens. now can u uc j. a goal? I don't even know if I'm f going to waKe up me next mora-mg. 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 WpI of excellence has come from all directions, sometimes from a teammate, like Jose Cansecb in the early years, and 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 rnn Marino's backuos in Miami. 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 Illustrated 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 cisks. "It makes me float every time I come to the ballpark and play in this stadium in front of these fans," McGwire said on the day of his contract signing. 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 hasn't hit fewer than 38 in a season since 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- Robb Nen, former Marlins closer, served up one of the fastballs McGwire hit 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." r M vgg? i r ? w!'fiHERMAN ZENTStaff Photographer I I L-J 1 another of baseball's great hitters comparison. Here is a look at how several home run statistics: ' Cardinals fans immediately welcomed 1 1 Mark , McGwire after St. Lou-' is acquired him from Oakland last j August. McGwire celebrated his arrival to the National League with a home run in his second at-bat with the Cards. 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 expect-' ed, came the reward. "Mark took the initiative, aggressively trying to get a deal done," Jocketty said. "His agent called me in September and i within 48 hours the major part of the negotiations was done. I'd like to say that I 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, i Try a three-year Cardinals contract worth $30 million, considerably less than McG- wire 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. "I 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 sea-.. son made meaningful, even fulfilling, by one 6-foot-5, 250-pound giant. McGwire was charmed by the enthu-' siasm 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. Follow 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 shot 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 Busch Stadium. McGwire's two-run homer bed the game and the Cardinals went on to beat Atlanta in extra innings. Later in August McGwire played his Tampa Bay Devil Rays schedule MARCH 11, Detroit. APRIL i-2. Detroit. S-4-S. Chicago Whrte So. 7. . t Detroit. 10-11 12. at Chicago White So. 13-14. Minnesota 1S-171H, at An heim. 21-22 23. at Teas 24-2S-2. An heim 27-28, OaKiand. 2-30. at Minnesota. MAT 1-2-3. at Cleveland -, at Kansas Cly. S-10. Baltimore 11-12. Cleveland. 13-14. Kansas City IB-IS-IT-M. at Baltimore. 19-20-21. at Toronto 22-2324. at Seattle. 2-2. at Oakland 2S-2940-31. Seattle. JUNE 1-2, Teas 3-4. at S V Yankees -T. Montreal -10. at N Y Mets 12-13-14. at Boston 1HH;. Toronto la-l2021. Boston 22-2324-2S. Pcnoa 2-27-2t. at I Mill! I Philadelphia. 1-2, Atlanta N Y. Yankees. Anaheim. Chicago 1-2. Detroit Cieveiand City at Detroit. 1-2 3. at at Seattle he.m onto N.Y. Yankees. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS where was less important than being happy. He told of a $1 million gift he Eledged to make for each year of his St. ouis 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." 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, 37 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, can't be discounted, either, but Big Mac generally is considered the best bet for a couple of compelling reasons. First, McGwire has hit a home run on the average of once every 11.94 at-bats over the course of his career. Only Ruth homered more regularly, once every 11.76 at-bats. For comparison's 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 Devil Home runs per at-bat, career 1. Babe Ruth 11-76 2. Mark McGwire 11-94 3. Ralph Kiner 14.11 4. Harmon Killebrew 14.22 5. Ted Williams 14-79 6. Frank Thomas 14.87 7. Dave Kingman 15.11 8. Mickey Mantle 15.12 Note: Minimum 250 home runs. A place in history Mark McGwire is often compared to Babe Ruth. And the numbers justify McGwire rates in baseball history in Single-season home runs 1. Roger Maris (1961) 2. Babe Ruth (1927) 3. Babe Ruth (1921) 4. Mai McGwire (1997) Hank Greenberg(1938) Jltnmie Foxx (1932) 7. Ken Griffey Jr. (1997) Hack Wilson (1930) 9. Mickey Mantle (1961) Ralph Klner (1949) Babe Ruth (1920) 13. Mark McGwire (1996) George Foster (1977) Willie Mays (1965) Mickey Mantle (1956) Fewest at-bats to 300 home runs Babe Ruth Mark McGwire Ralph Kinder Harmon Killebrew 3.630 3.837 3.883 3.928 Willie McCovey Dave Kingman 4.261 4,261 Home runs per at-bat, season Mark McGwire (1996) 8.13 Babe Ruth (1920) 8.48 Babe Ruth (1927) 9 00 Rah Ruth fl921) 9-15 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Mark McGwire (1997) 9 31 the 61 60 59 58 58 58 56 56 54 54 54 52 52 52 52 Home runs per at-bat, career 1. Babe Ruth 11-76 2. Mark McGwire 11.94 3. Ralph Kiner 14.11 4. Harmon Killebrew 14.22 5. Ted Williams 14.79 6. Frank Thomas 14.87 Active home run leaders 1. Mark McGwire 387 2. Joe Carter 378 3. Barry Bonds 374 4. Cal Ripken " 370 5. Jose Canseco 351 first season acquired Fred McGriff, Kevin 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 players such as former Marlin Tony Saunders, Quinton 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." Rays expect to be competitive in 30, Atlanta. JULY 2-4-S, at Toronto, t-10-11-12, 13-14. Boston. 15-14. at 17-W-19, at Teas. 21-22. Seattle. 24-2S-26-27. Oakland. 28-29, at White So. 31, Detroit. AUGUST 3-4 S. Chicago White So 7-- 10-11-12. Baltimore 13-14-1S-1S. at Kansas Citv. 17-13. at Cleveland 19-20. at Baltimore 21-22 23. Kansas 2S-24-27. Minnesota. 23-29-30, 31. at Minnesota. SEPTEMBER Minneso'a 4-3-4. at Oak land -. 11-12-13. Teas 14-1S. An 13-17. N Y Yankees 13-19-20. Tor 21-22 21. at Boston 24-2324-27. at 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 Rays 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 w hich new teams will be judged. One challenge for the Devil Rays will be improving as quickly as possible Ttu Associated Pna 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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