OAKLAND, Calif. -- Attention, please. We interrupt thi season's pennant races to bring you a heavyweight home-run bout.
Jose Canseco vs. Cecil Fielder. Seven games in the next 10 days. Warning to pitchers: Floating curveballs or fastballs down the middle may be hazardous to your health.
Canseco and Fielder launch their duel tonight, when the Oakland A's and Detroit Tigers begin a three-game series at the Oakland Coliseum. Both teams need victories as they chase division leaders Minnesota and Toronto.
For pure entertainment value, Canseco and Fielder are the show. Babe Ruth might have imagined this tandem when he first romanticized the home run, hitting more than 50 four times in the 1920s.
A's coach Reggie Jackson certainly looks forward to the power display. Jackson, sixth on the all-time list with 563 homers, puts Canseco and Fielder alongside the game's greatest sluggers.
"They're right there," Jackson says. "They might have hit more 20 years ago . . . Each guy has a chance to hit between 45 and 50 this season. I think it'll take 45 to win it."
Fielder's 36 home runs lead the majors. Canseco is second, with 35. No one else has more than 28.
Their race invokes memories of past tussles. Mark McGwire and George Bell in 1987. Jackson and Gorman Thomas in 1980. Harmon Killebrew, Frank Howard and Jackson in 1969. Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in 1961.
A's manager Tony La Russa clearly remembers his favorite power struggle: Maris and Mantle in 1961. Maris shattered Ruth's 34-year-old record by hitting 61 homers. His teammate, ,, Mantle, hit 54.
"I was a big Mickey fan, and I liked the Yankees," La Russa says. "I liked Maris a lot, but I liked Mantle better. He was a switch-hitter, great talent, great distance."
Canseco and Fielder certainly carry on the tradition of Herculean shots. Among his 51 homers last season, Fielder crushed one off A'spitcher Dave Stewart. It landed on the roof beyond leftfield at Tiger Stadium, prompting the headline, "Fielder on the Roof."
During the 1989 playoffs in Toronto, Canseco nearly hit one to the moon. His fifth-deck shot at the SkyDome almost seemed unreal.
Canseco has hit at least 30 homers in five of his six major-leaguseasons.