The top 10 stories of the season

Baseball '99

April 04, 1999|By Top 10 stories by Sun staff writer Peter Schmuck; Lists Compiled by Andy Knobel

The top 10 stories of the season

1. Where's the beef?

The 1998 season featured one dramatic twist after another. Mark McGwire dueled with Sammy Sosa until both players surpassed Roger Maris' single-season home run record. The New York Yankees set an American League record with 114 regular-season victories on the way to the world title. Rookie pitcher Kerry Wood struck out 20 batters in a game. Cal Ripken ended his record consecutive-games streak. The Cubs made the playoffs. Against this backdrop, the 1999 season has a chance to be a major letdown.

2. Still pretty in pinstripes

The Yankees obviously weren't satisfied with their unprecedented total of 125 regular-season and postseason victories. They stunned the rest of the American League in February by acquiring five-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, making the club even more formidable than before. Of course, it would be unrealistic to think they can duplicate last year's performance, but they don't have to. The arrival of Clemens simply assures that they'll again be the dominant team in the American League East and a more formidable team in the postseason -- even in the temporary absence of manager Joe Torre. Polish up another trophy.

3. In sickness and in health

Yankees manager Joe Torre left the team during spring training after he was found to have prostate cancer. Atlanta Braves star Andres Galarraga will be out for the year after doctors found a cancerous tumor in his back. Florida Marlins prospect Mike Lowell is undergoing treatment for testicular cancer. Darryl Strawberry is undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer. The unusual incidence of cancer among major-leaguers the past couple of years has put the game in perspective, but there is an upside. The high profile of people involved has highlighted the importance of testing and early detection.

4. Triple milestone

Maybe there won't be another dramatic home run race, but there definitely will be some magic moments this year. Three future Hall of Fame players are expected to join the 3,000-hit club this season. San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn figures to be the first, probably accumulating the 72 hits he needs by mid-June. Tampa Bay Devil Rays third baseman Wade Boggs should be next, likely getting his 78th hit of the season and 3,000th lifetime a few weeks later. Cal Ripken needs 122 hits to get there, so his 3,000th hit figures to come in late August or September.

5. No repeat for Padres

The San Diego Padres put on quite a show last year. They won the National League pennant. Greg Vaughn hit 50 home runs. They lost to the mighty Yankees in the World Series, but went far enough to persuade voters to approve construction of an expensive new stadium. Trouble is, the team that showed up for spring training this year bears little resemblance to the one that reached the Fall Classic last year. Kevin Brown became a free agent and bolted to the Dodgers. Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley left, too. Vaughn and starting pitcher Joey Hamilton were dispatched in off-season trades. In short, the club has been Florida Marlinized and will not be a serious contender in 1999.

6. Dodger blue and green

What do you get when you combine baseball's richest owner with baseball's winningest manager and one of baseball's top markets? Davey's Dodgers, of course, and they've already got their ticket punched for the postseason. The addition of $105 million pitcher Kevin Brown, big-swinging catcher Todd Hundley and seemingly can't-miss manager Davey Johnson has made them the team to beat in the National League. The Atlanta Braves may have something to say about that, but if troubled outfielder Gary Sheffield cheers up a little bit, the Dodgers will be tough to dodge in October.

7. This Belle toils for thee

Love him or hate him, but you won't be able to ignore him. Albert Belle is one of the most exciting and productive hitters in baseball, and he should be even more so at cozy Camden Yards. He's a 50-homer threat in any ballpark, and could be a 60-homer threat playing half the time at Oriole Park. He just isn't going to be anybody's Mr. Nice Guy. If you were looking for someone warm and cuddly, you came to the wrong place. But if you were looking for someone to give the Orioles an intensity transplant, Belle is the guy you want, even if he does shake loose a little plaster once in a while.

8. Diamondbacks ready to strike?

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