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Going Batty
Tim Kurkjian
June 24, 1996
Forget the juiced ball—it's the bats that may account for all those homers, Special delivery in Texas, Mo better
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June 24, 1996

Going Batty

Forget the juiced ball—it's the bats that may account for all those homers, Special delivery in Texas, Mo better

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Atlanta pitcher Steve Avery is a good pitcher and a nice guy, so it was surprising and disappointing to see his shameful overreaction after giving up a three-run homer to the Mets' Todd Hundley on June 10. As the ball headed over the fence, the runner on second base, Jose Vizcaino, threw his hands in the air and leaped with excitement. Avery didn't like that. He could be seen cursing Vizcaino as the Mets' infielder headed toward the plate. When Vizcaino next came to bat, he was drilled in the left knee by Avery's first pitch and sidelined for two games.

This is where baseball's macho code lacks logic—a pitcher punishing a hitter for a mistake the pitcher made. (It's even more ridiculous in the American League, where the pitcher doesn't have to face retaliation because of the designated hitter rule.) Vizcaino did nothing wrong. He just displayed his joy for a teammate's achievement. But Avery chose to interpret that as an effort to show him up.

If Vizcaino had hit the home run and then danced around at home plate, that would have been showing up the pitcher. While Avery said he didn't hit Vizcaino on purpose, it was obvious that he did—and it led to a bench-clearing brawl. It makes you wonder whether his senseless act was any different from Albert Belle's decking of the Brewers' Fernando Vina, which led to a brawl and a five-game suspension for Belle.

Seeing Is Believing

This is Mike Stanley's first year with the Red Sox and his first sustained look at Mo Vaughn. "He's better than I thought," Stanley says. "He's never satisfied, never complacent. He doesn't give away a single at bat. In that way he reminds me of Wade Boggs, one of the greatest hitters ever. With Mo, we knew he was an RBI machine and had great power, but a .350 batting average, too?"

Last year Vaughn was the American League MVP with a .300 average, 39 homers and 126 RBIs. Some guys might rest on their laurels after such a season; few would make major adjustments in their game. But Vaughn thought pitchers were tying him up with inside fastballs last year, so he moved even closer to the plate and opened his stance a little more to get a better look at the ball. And when he sets up in the batter's box, he's holding his bat more parallel to the ground in an effort to make his swing more level. Now he has no holes in his plate coverage. He hits every type of pitcher: lefties, righties, hard throwers, junkballers. He's a much better hitter than he was in '95. Through Sunday, Vaughn was a Triple Crown candidate with a .364 average (second in the league), 23 homers (tied for third) and 67 RBIs (second).

"Adjustments, that's the name of this game," says Vaughn. "You can't stand still. I had a great year last year, but it wasn't my best year."

Stanley says he thinks, though he doesn't know for certain, that Vaughn may be motivated by the controversy over his MVP award last year. Some people thought Cleveland's Albert Belle, who hit 50 home runs and 52 doubles, was denied the award because many of the voters—members of the media—dislike Belle. "Maybe Mo wanted to prove that his MVP was no fluke," says Stanley.

That's what Vaughn is doing. He has emerged as one of the new breed of sluggers who also hit for high average. Since divisional play began in 1969, 10 players have had seasons in which they hit .335 or higher with at least 25 home runs and 100 RBIs. Six of those 10—Belle, Jeff Bagwell, Dante Bichette, Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez and Frank Thomas—have done it in the last three years. Soon Vaughn will add his name to that list.

Short Hops

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