This business of "slumps" keeps coming up, as in, Mark, you're in a 24-at-bat homerless slump now. Is it time to change something? Through Sunday, McGwire was hitting a home run every 7.7 at bats, a record pace. The major league average this season was one home run every 33 at bats. For most people, one every 24 isn't a slump, it's a tear. A guy named Tommy Thevenow played from 1927 through '38 without hitting a home run. You think sports-writers went up to him and said, "Tommy, you're on a 3,337-at-bat homerless slump. Is it time to change something?"
Even a reporter covering McGwire gets sick of hearing his colleagues asking the same questions day after day after day. The new questions are sometimes worse. In Denver, right after the All-Star Game, one TV guy asked, "Mark, will you turn your attention to the rest of the season now?" What's McGwire supposed to say?
1) "No, now I turn my attention to my ice dancing career."
2) "No, now I turn my attention to next year's All-Star Game."
3) "There's more?"
During most televised St. Louis games now, the cameras show McGwire getting ready to be the on-deck hitter. They'll zoom in on him as he slowly gets off the bench, maybe stretches a little, turning his neck a few times, and heads toward the helmet rack.
That was one less neck crick, wasn't it, Bob?
I believe so, Marty!
O.K., so baseball has been so dull, so self-absorbed, so joyless for so long, can you blame America for getting excited? The needle on the Fun Meter is flush right again, and everybody is loopy. Do you realize there are people walking among us who keep his batting practice Stats? HIT IT HERE, WE'LL DROP THE BEER! said one sign in Busch Stadium. People are calling up and uttering a sentence never heard before in the history of baseball ticket sales: "We'd love something in the leftfield upper deck."
One afternoon in St. Louis, a lunatic in the stands was ragging Colorado Rockies leftfielder Dante Bichette, yelling, "Hey, Bichette! McGwire's going to hit it over your head!"