Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer All Hyped Out

By Dennis Freeland

SEPTEMBER 21, 1998:  I’ve had it with the Big Mac attack.

I’m sick of the media attention. I’m fed up with the claims that McGwire’s assault on the major-league home run record is good for baseball; is somehow going to save the game.

Please.

How does baseball benefit from fans coming to games early to watch batting practice, then leaving the stadium as soon as McGwire takes his last swing in the seventh or eighth inning? Is baseball so desperate for publicity that it is willing to sacrifice competition for individual heroics? The St. Louis Cardinals, despite Big Mac’s 62-plus home runs, are suffering through a very mediocre season. The pitching is atrocious. The defense is comical. At the beginning of the week, they were three games below .500 and 22 games behind division-leading Houston. Yet the city of St. Louis is going nuts.

I can only imagine what Bob Gibson, the great former Cardinal who was as competitive as any man who ever stood on a pitching mound, thought as the game last week in St. Louis was delayed for 11 minutes to celebrate McGwire’s accomplishment. When the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa walked in from right-field to hug McGwire, Gibson surely threw up.

Gibson wouldn’t speak to anyone on the opposing team before a game. Last week we witnessed the strange phenomenon of Cubs infielders slapping hands with McGwire as he rounded the bases after hitting his record-tying and record-breaking home runs. This is a team in a tight race for the National League playoffs congratulating an opponent who just homered. That’s good for the game?

In fact, after seeing the Cubs’ joy over McGwire’s home run, one might wonder about the Chicago pitcher, Steve Trachsel. Did he make his best possible pitch to McGwire? Or did he get caught up in the hysteria and groove one? I think the Cubs’ reaction to McGwire’s success is a low point in baseball history.

I’ll pass on the opportunity to talk about how literally dozens of Triple-A pitchers now wear big-league uniforms thanks to expansion. Or how the mere fact that Sosa has also broken Maris’ 37-year-old record dilutes McGwire’s accomplishment. I’ll leave the andros debate, about the testosterone-building supplement that McGwire takes, to others. There are clearly two sides to each of those issues. But when the media and baseball experts claim that a guy hitting monster home runs for a team that hasn’t been in contention since mid-May is the greatest event in baseball history, I think we’ve lost our perspective.

What should be bringing fans back to baseball is the 1998 New York Yankees, who are on the verge of breaking a record that really does mean something – most wins during a regular-season campaign. Or the Braves’ marvelous Greg Maddux, who may win an unprecedented fifth consecutive Cy Young award.

Trust me, I know I am in a distinct minority here. Almost every magazine that has arrived in my mailbox for the past two weeks has had Mac’s mug on the cover. And there is no doubt that the manner in which McGwire has handled the spectacle – his classy treatment of the Maris family, for instance – has indeed been good for baseball.

But I’m sorry, I like the clips I’ve seen of Maris’ 61st home run better. After he hit the ball into the right field stands at Yankee Stadium, Maris rounded the bases quickly. Neither the first baseman, nor any other infielders clapped or slapped hands with him. Why should they? Maris had just hit another homer off their team and the damn Yankees were on their way to yet another win.

By the way, New York won the American League pennant in 1961. And the World Series, too. Now that’s an accomplishment.


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