It has gotten less attention than the typical Marlins-Expos matchup, but one of the game's longest-standing records—Babe Ruth's 177 runs scored in 1921—may be challenged this season. Through Sunday the Rockies' Todd Helton had scored 80 times in his team's first 77 games, putting him on pace to cross the plate 168 times. The Mariners' Alex Rodriguez (78 runs, on track for 160) and the Cardinals' Jim Edmonds (74,150) were also in line to do what no player has done in 51 years: score 150 runs in a season (chart, below).
Why, in an age when offensive records have all the staying power of henna tattoos, has so little attention been paid to a mark that's lasted more than twice as long as Ruth's 60 homers and Roger Maris's 61 did? "Scoring runs is important, but nobody seems to attach much importance to it," says Giants outfielder Barry Bonds. "What would you get if you scored 170, a cookie?"
"Runs and RBIs are the name of the game," says Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, "but less attention is paid to substance than style."
Ruth's mark also might be ignored because it has seemed out of reach for so long. Indeed, 19 of the top 20 single-season run totals came before 1940. The trend toward declining individual run scoring coincides with a decline in on-base percentage. Ruth led the majors with an astounding .512 on-base percentage in '21. In '49, eight years after he set the major league record of .551, Ted Williams had an on-base average of .490. Only three players in the 1990s—Frank Thomas (.487) in '94 and Edgar Martinez (.479) in '95, both strike-shortened years, and John Olerud (.473) in '93—had on-base percentages above .470.
It's a simple equation: Home runs are up, so it takes fewer base runners to score as many runs as before. But strikeouts are also up and, even though walks are up too, on-base percentages are down, and the fewer times players get on base, the fewer chances they have to score. "Everyone's a home run hitter now, but that's all they do," says Reds manager Jack McKeon. "Ruth hit home runs, but he also walked a lot and hit for average. Plus he had a great lineup behind him."
Which explains Helton's early scoring deluge: He led the National League in hitting (.390) and on-base percentage (.483), was eighth in walks (52) and batted third in the majors' best-hitting and highest-scoring lineup.
Correcting the All-Star Errors
By and large the fans' picks of All-Star Game starters were smart ones—witness Jermaine Dye, who was the second-leading vote-getter among American League outfielders despite playing for the small-market Royals—and the game has always been more popularity contest than meritocracy, anyway. Still, a few of the people's choices were poor ones. Some players who should have been elected will be at Turner Field on July 11 (managers' choices of reserves were to be announced on Wednesday), but they deserve better than a late-inning at bat in the game's showcase. Based on their first-half performances, these five players should have the honor of an Ail-Star start.
AL second base. Fans' choice: Roberto Alomar, Indians. SI's pick: Ray Durham, White Sox. Alomar hasn't been himself in the first half, hitting .274 and making two more errors (eight) than he did all last season. Durham's defense has been nothing to brag about either—his 10 errors were second most among the league's second basemen, after Chuck Knoblauch's 15—but he's made up for it as the spark plug of Chicago's dream season. He was third in the league with 63 runs and had more homers (12) and RBIs (44) than anyone in the American League at his position.
AL third base. Fans' choice: Cal Ripken Jr., Orioles. SI's pick: Troy Glaus, Angels. It's clear that Ripken's back can't stand up to a full season's grind anymore, so fans will have to break their habit of automatically voting for him. They should have practiced this year. Ripken, who's on the DL with an inflamed lower back, has slumped most of the season and was hitting .239 at week's end. Meanwhile, Glaus has blossomed into the league's best offensive third baseman. His 23 homers were third most in the league.