Home run chase changes everything

Winning secondary to slugging numbers

April 20, 1999|By T. R. Sullivan | T. R. Sullivan,FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM

The Great Scorer in the Sky must now change his eternal motto.

It's no longer whether you win or lose, or how you play the game. The real story is whether Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa went deep. If Sosa fails to hit a home run, it's big news, and if McGwire hits two in one game, then it can be reported he's ahead of last year's pace.

Yet the New York Yankees could care less if they hit a home run, and they won 125 games last year. Nor has it ever been a big deal to Craig Biggio or Jeff Bagwell, the two most team-oriented players in the game.

Ken Griffey even tried to plead indifference last year when he said, "I don't care about hitting home runs; I just want to win." But no one believed him because the Great Home Run Chase was on, and he was supposed to be a big part of it.

Will Clark figured out a long time ago that only winning mattered, but he was constantly reminded as a Tecas Rangers player that Rafael Palmeiro was averaging 36 home runs in Baltimore while he was struggling to hit 20.

Clark came to Texas saying, "I didn't come here to lose," and he fulfilled his promise. Palmeiro was great in Baltimore, putting up numbers that could eventually get him to the Hall of Fame. But the reality is the Orioles weren't any more successful during those five years than the Rangers were with Clark.

Rusty Greer is one of the best players ever to wear a Rangers uniform, and he has hit more than 18 home runs just once in five seasons. Juan Gonzalez has earned much more respect the past few years with his incredible RBI totals than he did in 1992-1993 when he won back-to-back home-run titles.

But Gonzalez has succumbed to the home run fever sweeping baseball, demanding that the Rangers move in the fences at The Ballpark in Arlington as part of his next contract.

Now we know why Roger Maris went nuts with the media's questions. It wasn't because he was hounded every step of the way in 1961 when he hit his record-breaking home runs. Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger, who covered the Yankees that year, said Maris was fine with the media that season; it was only the next year when it all turned sour, with people constantly asking him if he would do it again.

McGwire promised at the start of the spring training he would stop talking about home runs once the season started, but it remains a major topic of conversation wherever he goes.

"This is the game of baseball; it's not a home run game," McGwire said after hitting two home runs against the Pittsburgh Pirates last Tuesday. "I do what I can to help the ballclub. If I don't hit any home runs, it's no big deal."

Perhaps people will start realizing that it's no big deal when they realize the proliferation of offense in baseball has become obscene and excessive.

Baseball juiced the ball up because officials believed more offense would bring fans back from the devastating players strike of 1994-95, and to a point they were right.

But in doing so, they threaten to destroy much that is aesthetically beautiful about the game and, in the process, divert attention away from what's really most important.

Winning.

Pub Date: 4/20/99

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