Taking a hack at his record Rangers' Gonzalez now knows of Wilson, thanks to RBI quest

'It's not impossible'

With 101 at break, 190 of late Cub in focus

July 08, 1998|By Dave Anderson | Dave Anderson,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

DENVER -- Until a month ago, Juan Gonzalez had never heard of Hack Wilson or of Wilson's major-league record of 190 runs batted in. But for the Texas Rangers' slugger, it's now a magic name, a magic number and a magic mission.

"I know about Hack Wilson now, I know about the record," he was saying. "It's not easy. It's not impossible too."

Talk about runs batted in to Gonzalez and his eyes glow, his smile widens, his mustache twitches. Other sluggers are home run hitters. He's an RBI man. It's as if RBI were his real initials.

"This is my job," he said. "I've got to drive the guys in."

With 101 already this season as he batted cleanup for the American League in last night's All-Star Game, Gonzalez had the second highest RBI total at the All-Star break to Hank Greenberg's 103 in 1935; the Tigers' first baseman finished with 170 that year.

"A lot of games remain," Gonzalez said, "but I need to see men on base."

Home run hitters sing solo, but RBI leaders need a chorus of NTC base runners. Considering that Gonzalez has hit 26 homers, he has already driven in the remarkable total of 75 teammates. In 1930 when Wilson had his 190 RBIs and hit 56 homers, still the National League record, he drove in 134 teammates.

"People like to see home runs, they like to see the ball fly away," Gonzalez said. "But you have more chances for RBIs, the guys on base are letting me do it."

In the Rangers' batting order, leadoff centerfielder Tom Goodwin has scored 58 runs while batting .273, second baseman Mark McLemore has scored 50 runs while batting .287 and left fielder Rusty Greer has scored 55 runs while batting .280.

"When I see them on base, I concentrate more," Gonzalez said. "My adrenaline is more."

But until Sunday night, the 28-year-old Puerto Rican hadn't driven in a run in six games. He was stuck in neutral at 97 RBIs.

"I was shooting for 100 by the All-Star break," he said. "I didn't think I would get it, but then I had the best night in my career and against one of the best pitchers."

With a pair of two-run homers off Randy Johnson of Seattle, Gonzalez suddenly had 101 RBIs.

"More RBIs than games played," he said, alluding to his 87 games. "That's what you need to do it."

Gonzalez now needs 90 more RBIs in the Rangers' 75 remaining games to break one of baseball's most enduring records that was set by one of its most enigmatic sluggers.

Hack Wilson isn't even in the Hall of Fame. After five big years for the Cubs, and one more for the Brooklyn Dodgers, he drifted away.

As a 5-foot-6, 195-pound rookie outfielder with the New York Giants in 1923, Lewis Wilson got his nickname because his physique resembled that of a popular Russian wrestler, George Hackenschmidt.

Wilson didn't blossom as a slugger until he joined the Cubs in 1926, driving in 109 runs that year, then 129, 120 and 159 before exploding with 190 in 1930 with those 56 homers and a .356 average. That August he drove in 53 runs.

For each of his 56 homers, he received an Elgin watch. His salary for 1931 was $33,000, lucrative for that era.

But the Cubs manager, Joe McCarthy, was aware of Wilson's reputation as a drinker.

Wilson's lore includes the day that McCarthy opened a gin bottle, dropped a worm in it and watched the worm shrivel up.

Pointing to the dead worm, McCarthy asked, "What does this prove, Hack?"

"It proves," Wilson supposedly said, "that if you drink, you won't get worms."

Those 190 RBIs in 1930 have been Hack Wilson's monument, but now Juan Gonzalez might approach it, if not surpass it.

"I stop on Sept. 27," the Rangers' slugger said, alluding to the last day of the season. "Right now I have a chance."

Late game

Last night's All-Star Game at Coors Field in Denver did not end in time to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions or on the Internet at http: //www.sunspot.net.

Pub Date: 7/08/98

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