Like everything else related to the long ball, the numbers for walk-off homers are especially inflated this year. In 1990 there was a walk-off home run every 46.8 games. Last season there were 53 walk-off homers, or one every 45.8 games. This year? Walk-off blasts are roughly twice as common. Whatever the reason—juiced balls, shoddy pitching, Satan-there were 31 through Sunday, one every 23-5 games.
Brave New Start
Less Is Better For Bonilla
These days Bobby Bonilla sounds like either the happiest player in the majors or a newly brainwashed member of a cult. "I'm delighted to be here," says the 37-year-old Bonilla, who signed with the Braves during the off-season for the major league minimum $200,000. "I'm having a great time. I feel like a kid again."
This doesn't sound like the frustrated guy who hit .160 with 18 RBIs in 60 games for the Mets last year, the one who spent more time feuding with manager Bobby Valentine than he did on base. More surprising, Bonilla is playing a role for Atlanta that he balked at filling in New York, that of a part-time player and pinch hitter. "I don't mind, because before I signed, the Braves were upfront with me about what they wanted," says Bonilla. "It was one of the biggest compliments of my career when they called and said they wanted me here."
Bonilla has endeared himself to the Braves with more than a sunny face in the clubhouse. Through Sunday he was hitting .305 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 105 at bats, including 5 for 7 with six RBIs as a pinch hitter. He was the anchor of a deep bench that had kept Atlanta humming despite injuries to outfielders Brian Jordan and Reggie Sanders.
The attitude adjustment is but one facet of Bonilla's makeover. He's 30 pounds lighter thanks, he says, to an off-season yoga program that emphasized flexibility and cut back on his weightlifting, and he's using a new stance at the plate. Gone is the high leg kick; in its place he takes a short step and moves his hands quickly into the pitch. "We talked about it in spring training," says Braves hitting coach Merv Rettenmund. "I told him, 'Use your regular swing and cut off all the frosting.' If you're not playing every day, the leg kick is not usable."
Says Bonilla, "All that movement was too much to keep sharp. I'm seeing the ball better now than I have in a long time."
Keeping the Lid On
The stiff punishments the Dodgers received for charging into the Wrigley Field stands and brawling with fans on May 16—three coaches and 16 players were hit with a combined 84 games in suspensions and $72,000 in fines—made it clear that baseball won't tolerate players mixing it up with paying customers, regardless of provocation. What's less clear is how seriously players' security is threatened by misbehaving spectators, especially in ballparks like Wrigley, where fan intimacy is a major drawing card. "Wrigley is a prototype," said Major League Baseball executive vice president Sandy Alderson after the Dodgers fiasco. "We have to be more wary of fans and players coming in greater contact with each other."
In the wake of Wrigleygate several teams are beefing up ballpark security. The Giants will have a police officer roaming the stands bordering the visitors' bullpen at cozy Pac Bell Park. "There has to be better security," says Giants manager Dusty Baker. "All it takes is one drunk fan who just had an argument with his wife."