Originally created 07/10/98

It's McGwire-mania these days

I know this is Mark McGwire's baseball world and we're all scrapping for some crumbs.

The Red Menace is gunning for the season home-run record, and by the time Labor Day rolls around, how tired will we all be with "The Chase" or references to Roger Maris or the phrase "on pace to"?

All of baseball seems to be climbing on to McGwire's broad shoulders, hoping that his swings will take us into a different orbit of fandom, much like some of his tape-measure bombs.

What the micro-inspection of McGwire minutia reveals is that baseball's second half will be more about individuals and their respective pursuits rather than the macro-suspection of teams.

So rather than regurgitate the obvious, I've compiled a look at 10 things not involving chases that should be interesting to follow as baseball's dog days start barking.

1. Just when will John Schuerholz make his move to retool the Braves bullpen? He's got three weeks till the trading deadline, and his options are simple: Either wait for Mark Wohlers to recover from his malaise, pursue a Band-Aid solution via a trade for closers Rick Aguilera or Roberto Hernandez, or keep the belief that Kerry Ligtenberg and John Rocker can get those ninth inning outs in October.

Or the general manager can try a more radical approach, like converting John Smoltz and his shaky elbow from starter to closer, a la Tom Gordon and Mark Leiter. Smoltz still throws hard, he's not intimidated by situations and the stress on his sour limb can be diminished.

2. Dismantling of the Oh-rioles. The majors' highest payroll at $70.4 million can have a Filene's Basement sale the next three weeks, dumping high-priced Roberto Alomar (to Cleveland?) and Rafael Palmeiro (to Anaheim?) as they fall deeper into the chasm of catastrophe.

3. Will the Red Sox ever re-sign Mo Vaughn? The grumpy first baseman said no to a four-year, $37.4 million extension, and if Boston still desires a pudgy, scowling, no fielding guy to man The Cold Corner, well I'll certainly agree to that kind of cash.

4. There is no team more due than the laughable, lovable Cubs, whose last World Series win came in 1908. That's right. Their last title predates World Wars I and II. Five games out of the N.L. Central lead, they're certainly poised for a run, if they can add, say, a Darryl Kile or Ellis Burks.

5. Colorado, a wild-card team three years ago, has taken nothing but backward steps since and appear to be lost at the crossroads. Manager Don Baylor may not last the month, with circulating rumors of Davey Johnson taking over this underachieving team.

6. If a pennant contender can scoop up a Randy Johnson or Barry Larkin for prospects, say a Houston, a Cleveland or a San Francisco, suddenly the balance of power can sway away from New York and/or Atlanta.

7. New catcher, new closer, new power-hitting outfielder, new pitchers, new manager, new general manager, new owner. The Dodgers are primed for a second-half run, if they can check the swelling egos at the clubhouse door.

8. Beware the threat of relocation coming from Montreal, Minnesota and San Diego. All three want new stadiums, and the respective cities could again be held hostage to provide them or else.

9. Of all the chases underway, the two most unheralded are Alex Rodriguez's quest for a 50 home run-50 stolen base season, and the Expos' Brad Fullmer in striking range of Earl Webb's 67-year-old record for 67 doubles in a season.

10. Summer heat could mean more brawls, calling into question baseball's commitment to penalize the contributors.

All in all, there will be plenty to keep our attention when baseball's second half gets cooking.


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