On pace with Maris? Heck, Griffey's got Aaron in home run sights

BASEBALL

May 29, 1994|By TOM KEEGAN

The remarkable start of Seattle center fielder Ken Griffey has him on a pace well ahead of Roger Maris' record 61 home run season. Why stop there? Why not figure what pace Griffey would have to match to break Hank Aaron's career home run record of 755?

Just for fun, consider that if Griffey maintained his 76 home run pace throughout the season, he would have 208 home runs before turning 25. Figuring he will play 15 more seasons and retire at the age of 39, Griffey would have to average 37 home runs to break Aaron's record.

In other words, Griffey wouldn't even have to be half as good as he has been this season to break Aaron's record and finish with 763 home runs.

For now, Griffey's pursuit of Maris is what is on the minds of many major-league players.

Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who recently completed a 24-game hitting streak and said he thinks no one will break Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, said Maris' record is in jeopardy.

"Sure, he has a shot," Palmeiro said of Griffey. "In fact, Frank Thomas has a shot."

What does Griffey have going against him?

"He doesn't have anything going against him," Palmeiro said. "What he has going for him is he's the best player in the game. The ballpark he plays in helps, too. He crushes in that ballpark. But he does it everywhere. He's just a really naturally gifted, smart hitter. He makes adjustments well. Guys like him are not going to go into long slumps. He'll go into some bad streaks, but the better the hitter, the shorter the streak."

If Griffey did top Maris, the record would be tainted in the minds of some who believe the ball is livelier than usual this season.

"The ball's not juiced," Palmeiro said. "He's only 24 years old. He's still getting stronger, still maturing. I would like to see him get it."

As the summer months wear on, Griffey could tire, but don't count on it. For one thing, he plays his home games indoors, a subtle point in his favor, a factor that outweighs Seattle's travel schedule, easily the most rigorous in baseball.

In the minds of many, Griffey's quick start already has earned him the distinction of being baseball's best player, an honor Barry Bonds has owned for at least the past four seasons.

Griffey has yet to win a Most Valuable Player Award, but consider what his resume will look like when he can file for free agency after the 1995 season.

He will have more than 200 home runs, six Gold Gloves and six All-Star appearances. And he will be all of 25. How does a 10-year, $150 million contract sound?

Going into the weekend, Griffey had 153 career home runs, one more than his father hit.

Jay Buhner, who hits behind Griffey, marvels at his teammate's skill.

"For about the last three weeks in the on-deck circle, Junior will tell me how the pitcher is going to pitch him and how he's going to try to handle those pitches," Buhner told Seattle reporters. "Then I stand there and watch him do it."

Then again, if there's a strike

Griffey will need all 162 games to make a serious run at Maris, and a players strike could prevent that from happening.

The two sides appear so far apart that a strike seems inevitable. The standings work in the players' favor for a quick labor agreement.

New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Los Angeles Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley are among the most powerful executives in the game. Each of their teams is in first place, which would make terminating the season extremely painful.

Small-market alibi

The next time you hear Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig whine about the plight of small-market teams, mention three names to him: Teddy Higuera, Ron Robinson, Franklin Stubbs. The Brewers signed them to multimillion-dollar contracts, even though everyone knew Higuera's shoulder was shot, and Stubbs was a one-year fluke who couldn't lay off a high fastball but could lay off heavy-duty work.

Meanwhile, the Brewers failed to protect Dante Bichette during the expansion draft and let Paul Molitor leave the organization because Toronto outbid the Brewers.

Bad decisions, not market size, have put the Brewers where they are.

Where will they be in the future? The Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., area, probably. They have plans to move into a new, convertible-roof stadium in 1997, but the reality is there are not enough businesses in Milwaukee to gobble up the necessary number of luxury boxes to finance the stadium.

Charming County Stadium, the most underrated ballpark in the major leagues, deserves better than the team playing there now.

Angels hot under Lachemann

California Angels reliever Joe Grahe is happy to be reunited with Marcel Lachemann, his pitching coach in 1992 and his new manager.

Going into Friday, the Angels had a 6-2 record under Lachemann, and Grahe had saved four games in four opportunities. At the end of 1992, Grahe made good on 21 of 24 save chances.

"There's just something he does with your psyche," Grahe said. "He gives every pitcher confidence."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.