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NEW YORK Mets
Dave Fleming
March 31, 1997
It was mid-June 1993 and John Olerud was still hitting above .400, well on his way to winning the American League batting title, when former Blue Jays teammate and future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield approached him and offered a bit of advice. Borrow a video camera, Winfield said, and tape your swing. Then sit down and have someone film you talking about everything you're doing at the plate. Talk about how your swing feels, what the pitches look like, how you're feeling. Tape everything so that one day when you're struggling you'll be able to pull that tape out and use it to set yourself straight.
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March 31, 1997

New York Mets

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The Lineup

CF

Lance Johnson

Led majors in hits (227), triples (21) and multihit games (75) in '96

1B

John Olerud

Should help Mets reduce last year's league-high 159 errors

2B

Carlos Baerga

Only player in history to switch-hit homers in same inning

C

Todd Hundley

41 homers in '96 a major league record for catchers

LF

Bernard Gilkey

117 RBIs last year were 47 more than his previous best

RF

Alex Ochoa

Batted .330 against lefthanded pitchers, .277 against righties

3B

Edgardo Alfonzo

Hit .312 in his final 44 games last season

SS

Rey Ordonez

Flashy fielder made 27 errors, tied for second-most in league

Ace

Pete Harnisch

Has never regained form after shoulder surgery in '95

Closer

John Franco

In '96 became first lefty to reach 300-save milestone

It was mid-June 1993 and John Olerud was still hitting above .400, well on his way to winning the American League batting title, when former Blue Jays teammate and future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield approached him and offered a bit of advice. Borrow a video camera, Winfield said, and tape your swing. Then sit down and have someone film you talking about everything you're doing at the plate. Talk about how your swing feels, what the pitches look like, how you're feeling. Tape everything so that one day when you're struggling you'll be able to pull that tape out and use it to set yourself straight.

Olerud, a first baseman, is 28 now and playing for the Mets after being traded by Toronto in December for pitcher Robert Person. Having watched his numbers decline each season since he finished with a .363 average four years ago, Olerud is hoping New York is the place he'll recover the swing that was once described as "so sweet it should be poured on pancakes." Having that videotape around the last couple of years sure would have helped him. "That was some great advice I got," says Olerud. "Did I take it? No. I could definitely kick myself now. In 1993 everything just came so easily that I thought I had it all figured out."

He didn't. The lefthanded-hitting Olerud batted only .274 with 18 home runs and 61 RBIs in 1996, struggling so badly against southpaws (.219) that the Blue Jays began platooning him. Then they forked over a record $5 million of his $6.5 million 1997 salary to the Mets so New York would accept him in the trade.

Early in spring training Toronto manager Cito Gaston suggested Olerud would crumble under the pressure in New York and might even quit the game after this season. But Olerud, who recovered from a brain aneurysm in 1989 to become the 16th player since the amateur draft began in 1965 to make his pro debut in the majors, insists he is looking forward to this year in New York.

"If that's truly how Toronto felt about him, then John got out of there just in time," says Mets general manager Joe McIlvaine. "We just can't start giving up on players who are 28. That's how you make mistakes in this business. Change is good for the soul.

" After he began to struggle, the 6'5", 220-pound Olerud was persuaded by the Blue Jays to pull the ball more so he could increase his home run production. The subsequent changes in his stance gave him a nasty hitch and left Olerud second-guessing himself at the plate. This spring, under Mets manager Bobby Valentine and hitting coach Tom Robson, the kinetic beauty of Olerud's swing is on its way back. He has moved off the plate and has his hands closer to his body so that lefthanders can no longer jam him. And with renewed confidence and freedom at the plate, he is once again spraying the ball all over the field.

After watching Olerud blast a home run that seemed to pick up velocity as it cleared the rightfield fence, McIlvaine folded his arms and smiled. "I told John the other day," he said, "that at the end of this year he's going to look back and say that coming to New York was the best thing that happened to his career."

If so, Olerud promises that this time he will make that videotape.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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