SI Vault
Tim Kurkjian
August 01, 1994
The Buc Stops Here
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August 01, 1994


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So, too, does Phil Niekro, another pitcher who wasn't close to being voted into the Hall on his first try. Sure, he had to hang around 24years to win 318 games ( Sutton is a similar case, having taken 23 seasons to amass his wins), but since when is longevity a negative factor? Niekro's 3.35 ERA was only slightly higher than that of 224-game winner Catfish Hunter (3.26), who was a deserving Hall selection. Also, Niekro shouldn't be punished for the fact that he pitched mostly for bad teams.

In 1979 Niekro won 21 games, while the rest of the Brave staff won 45. It was the third year in a row that he had more than twice as many wins as any other pitcher on his team. Niekro's career winning percentage was higher than Ryan's (.537 to .525), and Niekro played on less-talented teams than Ryan did. In six of Niekro's 20 years with the Braves (1964-83), the team had a winning percentage of less than .400 for the games in which he didn't appear. And for most of his career his home field was Atlanta- Fulton County Stadium, a ballpark that favors hitlers.

Homeless in Seattle

When all the Mariners' phone lines are busy, callers to their offices hear a tape of team highlights while they are on hold. Says one American League general manager who was kept waiting for a few minutes recently, "I just heard every win in Mariner history." Baseball in Seattle has been something of a joke for most of the franchise's 18 years, but the Mariners' futility reached another low last week when their ballpark, that cave known as the Kingdome, began to fall apart.

Two hours before the July 19 game, against the Orioles, four 15-pound wood-fiber tiles dropped from the Kingdome ceiling, landing in the empty seats. The last two games of the series with Baltimore had to be postponed indefinitely, and the Mariners' four-game series last weekend, against the Red Sox, had to be moved to Fenway Park.

At week's end King County officials had decided that all 40,000 ceiling tiles in the Kingdome, many of them water-damaged, would be pulled down as quickly as possible and that the exposed underside of the Kingdome roof would be treated to allow baseball to be played there again this season. Nevertheless, the Mariners' next home stand, a total of nine games against the Angels, the Royals and the Rangers between Aug. 2 and 10, was in jeopardy.

This latest embarrassment should send a strong signal to the Mariners and the city that they need a ballpark more suitable for baseball. There are few places more beautiful in the summer than Seattle, and there's nothing more depressing than stepping out of the sunshine and into the Kingdome. A state-of-the-art open-air stadium (the average annual rainfall in New York City exceeds Seattle's) with a natural-grass field can give a lift to a team and a town—just ask anyone in Cleveland.

And the Mariners need a lift. Quickly. Though they were favored to win the American League West, they were 40-56 through Sunday, live games out of first and steaming toward their 16th sub-.500 season. They are a small-market team with big financial concerns, ranking eighth in the league in attendance. And their franchise player—centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr., who also happens to be the biggest draw in baseball—is looking for a reason to stay in Seattle when his contract runs out after the 1996 season. A new ballpark could sway Griffey and would help get the Mariners over the hump on the field and at the gate.

Short Hops

Further evidence that today's hitters are less selective and are swinging more for the fences: Entering this season, only seven players in history had hit at least 40 home runs and had fewer walks than homers in the same season. ( Juan Gonzalez of the Rangers was the only man to do it twice, in 1992 and '93.) This year, four players have a shot at joining that select club—third baseman Matt Williams (36 homers and 30 walks through Sunday) of the Giants; first baseman Andres Galarraga (30 and 19) and outfielder Dante Bichette (23 and 15) of the Rockies; and outfielder Sammy Sosa (24 and 22) of the Cubs....

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