"Whenever I saw a highlight of myself on TV, I'd either change the channel or turn my back," he says. "I just didn't want to see what I looked like. I knew I felt good, and that's what was important. I knew that I was driving the ball better and that I was trying to drive it less.
"I hit some balls out to centerfield, and that allows you to trust your swing, that you don't have to pull it. Whenever I hit a home run, I'd remember my plan going up there had been to drive the ball up the middle. I think that's kept me from getting home run-happy."
Burks began this season with a simple, familiar goal. "For years I've just been trying to stay healthy," he says, "and to get rid of that stereotype that I can't stay away from injuries." Five visits to the disabled list in the past eight seasons held back what was once a career so promising that Baylor, while working as a special assistant for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1989, included Burks on a list he drew up of the five best players in the game.
"I remember Earl Weaver telling me, 'In 10 years you're going to be the MVP of the league,' " Baylor says. "It came true in eight years, in 1979. It's taken 10 years for it to kick in for Ellis, and you know what? When you look at how consistent he's been for us this year, I'd vote for him for MVP."
Says Burks, "I always knew I could hit with power. Now it seems like I'm getting the infield hits and the bloopers that fall, the kind of breaks you get when you have a big season. Maybe this is the year for me."
Finley's career year began with a dreadful 2-for-31 start. Toward the end of May he felt so lost at the plate that he decided to look for pitches to drive in the air, a drastic switch for someone who had spent most of his career hitting groundballs as a lead-off hitter. When he hit a home run to break open a scoreless game against the Cubs on June 15, for example, he explained, "I was looking for something I could knock the crap out of. It was a mad swing."
He hit four home runs in one three-game stretch beginning June 29, including three in three at bats, tying Nate Colbert's franchise record and topping his total output for 464 at bats in 1990. Says Padres hitting coach Merv Rettenmund, "He's really quick on pitches inside and has a nice are to his swing. We thought he could hit in the 20 to 25 home run range. He's got the swing to do it."
Unlike Anderson and Burks, though, Finley isn't sure if he'll continue bashing long balls at this rate. "I like it," he says. "I didn't plan it this way, so I'm just enjoying this ride and seeing where it takes me. Who knows, maybe next year I'll be back to hitting the ball more to the opposite field."
"I don't think so," Rettenmund says. "I think this is part of his evolution as a hitter."
There was a time when Finley could have taken batting practice in Moores's living room with a real ball and bat, not Williams's cane, and hardly hurt a houseplant. Now, like Anderson and Burks, he's a threat to do damage at any time. More power to them.