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Frozen in Time
Tim Kurkjian
April 15, 1996
Weathering a miserable opening week, A storm of offense in both leagues, Ozzie's still shining
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April 15, 1996

Frozen In Time

Weathering a miserable opening week, A storm of offense in both leagues, Ozzie's still shining

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Major league baseball was at it again: First, it ordered the earliest start in history (March 31); then it scheduled some of the first week's games in cold-weather cities like Chicago, Cleveland and New York, while teams from Los Angeles and San Diego opened on the road. So it was no surprise that seven games were postponed the first week of the season because of inclement weather. "There's no reason for it," said Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. "I'm disgusted. The games should be opening up in warmer climates and domed stadiums."

Last Thursday, L.A. played at Chicago's Wrigley Field in conditions the Bears would have found challenging: 34° with 19 mph winds at game time and then sleet and snow later in the afternoon. Rock salt was spread to melt the frozen walkways in the stadium, and it was so cold that the players' spikes were coated with ice. Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa wore a balaclava under his cap, and Chicago outfielder Scott Bullett and pitcher Jaime Navarro each gave a clubhouse boy $100 to go to the concession stands and buy stocking caps for the entire team. "He bought all I had," gift shop employee Jane Stepanaitis said of the clubhouse boy. "I had to go to the other gift shop for more."

Why do the majors schedule their games as they do? "In two-team markets [like Chicago and New York] we try to alternate every year so one team opens at home and one on the road," says National League senior vice president Katy Feeney. "Also, warm-weather teams don't like April and May dates [kids are still in school] any better than anyone else. You can't treat warm-weather teams unfairly."

Solutions? There are no easy ones, but to start the season a week later let's consider shortening the season to 154 games again, playing the World Series into the first week of November and scheduling a couple of doubleheaders for each team (there is only one twin bill slated for 1996). But the chance of more teams agreeing to lose home dates—and lots of money in the process—by playing two is as slim as seeing snow in Southern California.

Nothing but Offense

During opening week there were 17 games in which one team scored at least 10 runs, including one in which the weak-hitting Brewers torched the Angels for 15 runs and 22 hits. The Cardinals and the Mets overcame six-run deficits, and the A's erased a seven-run lead. Even four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux of the Braves got roughed up—the Giants scored five runs against him on April 1.

Get used to it. Offense will continue to dominate for several reasons: Pitching is generally awful; hitters are bigger and stronger than ever; and many of the new ballparks are small and hitter-friendly.

Pitching-poor teams such as the Giants, the Mariners, the Phillies, the Rangers and the Rockies will try to slug their way to the postseason. Colorado did it last year, earning the National League wild card despite a club ERA of 4.97, the highest in history for a team that qualified for postseason play. In fact, four of the six highest ERAs for postseason teams came last season from Colorado, Boston (4.39), Seattle (4.50) and the Yankees (4.56).

Even so, Royals catcher Mike Macfarlane says, "there weren't better pitchers in the past—we have better hitters today. Mo Vaughn would crush those old pitchers. Today's hitters are rippled, they're studs."

Whatever the reason—and almost certainly both weaker pitching and brawnier hitting have played a role—the National League ERA for the last three seasons has been 4.04, 4.21 and 4.18 (no other three-year period in the league's history has seen numbers that high), while the American League ERA for the last two seasons has been 4.80 and 4.71 (there have been no other back-to-back ERAs in the league that high). This year's Opening Day pitchers were the weakest group in years, dubiously led by the Tigers' Felipe Lira (9-13 lifetime) and the A's Carlos Reyes (4-9).

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