Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Home Run Explosion May Help Baseball

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Home Run Explosion May Help Baseball

Article excerpt

Cecil Fielder was at bat. Three-and-two count.

A pitch came blurring across the plate, just below the "Detroit" stitched on Big Cecil's baseball shirt, and just above his bellybutton.

Ball four!

The rule book says it was a strike. The umpire said it wasn't. Fielder took the pitch because he knows a chest-high strike hasn't been called in the majors since Watergate.

Is it a travesty, or baseball's most valuable sham?

An average of 10.3 runs are being scored in American League and National League games, the most bountiful offense since World War II. Homers are flying like never before, an average of 2.16 per game, a pace that outsmokes the record of 2.12 set in 1987. Home runs are up a startling 50 percent since 1992, when the average was 1.44 per game.

So, what's going on? Do we credit six weeks of 1994 hitting escalation to (A) lousier pitching, (B) a cramped strike zone that benefits batters, (C) a juiced-up ball that travels especially far or (D) hitters who're bigger, stronger, faster and better-conditioned than most of the old heroes in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

My guesses: gobs of A, bunch of B, an unmeasurable touch of C and a bombastic new D world with names such as Fielder, Bonds, Gonzalez, Griffey, Thomas, Sheffield, Williams, Carter and McGriff.

Baseball is a sport with loads of trouble - stagnant labor negotiations, insanely high salaries, the pitiful new American League West, an absence of executive leadership - but I'd be slow to tinker with a system that has scoreboards blinking like the lights of pinball machines.

Not since the Korean War, when America cheered Stan Musial and Ted Williams and the emerging flamboyance of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron, has baseball had such an opportunity for superbats to put up stats that chisel deeply into history.

Not since 1961, when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's record with 61 homers, has anybody hit more than 54. Half the current U.S. population was unborn when Maris hit 61.

Could there be a fatter boost for baseball interest than to have Cecil, Juan, Barry, Ken Jr. and/or the Big Hurt steam into September ahead of Roger's 1961 pace?

Offense has always been more popular than pitching. …

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