All-Star Game Sure to Be a Blast
The All-Star game has always been a blast.
Reggie Jackson’s rocket off the light tower. Bo Jackson’s bomb to dead center field. Ted Williams’ moonshot.
From the first home run--Babe Ruth’s drive in 1933 at Comiskey Park--up through the most recent one--Sandy Alomar’s winning drive last season at Jacobs Field--home runs have always highlighted the summer exhibition.
And, no surprise, all of baseball is talking about only one topic as Tuesday night’s game at Coors Field approaches.
How about it, Mark McGwire? Will this be the season you or Ken Griffey Jr. or Sammy Sosa rewrite Roger Maris’ mark of 61 home runs?
“I’ve said it time and time again. Everybody has been pointing at me, but there’s a handful of guys capable of breaking this record, not just me,” McGwire said.
“Sosa, Griffey, [Andres] Galarraga, if he hadn’t gotten hurt. It should be exciting, but believe me, there’s no competition,” he said.
There’s no clear explanation, either, on why so many hitters are challenging the mark.
Expansion is an easy answer. It doesn’t appear to be the right one, however, for explaining why McGwire had 37 homers, Griffey 35 and Sosa 33 going into the weekend.
Last year, there were an average of 1.99 home runs per major league game. This year, with the addition of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks, the rate is only 2.04. Not exactly a whopping increase, not like the nearly 25 percent surge that occurred in 1993 when Colorado and Florida joined.
Smaller strike zones and stronger players are more likely reasons. Either way, it’s looking more and more like the record Maris has held for 31 years might finally fall.
“I would love to see it happen,” AL manager Mike Hargrove of Cleveland said. “I think if they stay healthy there is a very, very good chance it will happen.”
Whether Juan Gonzalez, Larry Walker, Greg Vaughn or anyone else will be able to take advantage of Denver’s mile-high air, where balls tend to travel about 10 percent farther, on Tuesday night remains to be seen.
As it is, the longest drive hit in a regular-season game at Coors belongs to Mike Piazza at 496 feet.
“I’ve been shocked out there before,” NL manager Jim Leyland of Florida said.
This game could turn out like the 1971 showcase, an electric night at Tiger Stadium in which six future Hall of Famers hit home runs. Reggie launched the longest ball, with Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew and Roberto Clemente also connecting.
It could match the glamour of the 1956 classic at Griffith Stadium in Washington when all-time greats Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Stan Musial each homered.
Then again, it could be a repeat of the 1987 affair in Oakland. With baseball buzzing about lively balls, sluggers such as Mike Schmidt, Andre Dawson and Dave Winfield --plus a rookie named McGwire--did not hit a single home run in a game that was scoreless until the 13th inning.
There have been at least two home runs in each of the last seven All-Star games. The deepest drives, though, usually come a day earlier in the home run derby. Yet fans tuning in to watch the power show Monday may be disappointed.
McGwire and Sosa will compete, but Griffey is adamant that he will not take part, and others might follow Junior’s lead. Not quite like Michael Jordan missing the slam-dunk contest, but close.
“It’s fun. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t want to,” McGwire said. “It’s the best part of the All-Star game.”
Because with the likes of Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling on the mound, there’s no guarantee that anyone will connect the next day. At least the hitters won’t have to face Cubs rookie Kerry Wood, the strikeout phenom left off the NL team by Leyland.
Still, McGwire has managed only four singles in 16 career at-bats in All-Star play. Joe DiMaggio (.225), Aaron (.194) and Pete Rose (.212) all had trouble getting hits, while Maris (two singles in 19 at-bats) never homered. Musial, by the way, holds the All-Star record with six home runs.
The NL leads the series 40-27-1. Its three-game winning streak was stopped last year at Cleveland when home runs by Alomar and Edgar Martinez overcame a homer by Javy Lopez and gave the AL a 3-1 victory.
No telling what will happen this time when the All-Stars visit Coors, the park where the most home runs in the majors were hit in both 1996 and 1997.
“I’ve seen some high-scoring games,” Leyland said. “I don’t really know what to expect.”