There was a time when the only American League third basemen who hit 40 home runs in a season were menacing, big-muscled sluggers with household names. That time would have been the entire 20th century, and the only two such third basemen were Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew of the Twins and 1953 MVP Al Rosen of the Indians. Take one look at Tony Batista of the Blue Jays, and you'll see how much times have changed.
Batista, 26, reached the All-Star break with 24 homers, leaving him within range of the company of Killebrew and Rosen. The six-foot Batista, who appears more slender than the 200 he claims to weigh, is a converted middle infielder who was left unprotected in the 1997 expansion draft by the A's, selected by the Diamondbacks and traded to Toronto in June '99. He shuns the weight room and bats in the burlesque style of someone completing a roadside sobriety check. He begins with such an open stance that both heels touch the back line of the batter's box. Then he doesn't so much step into the ball as list into it.
Batista, who exhibited decent pop in the minors, has been a dangerous hitter ever since he concocted the stance to break out of a slump during the 1997 Caribbean World Series. (He went 5 for 5 the first time he did his Red Skelton act.) When Arizona traded Batista, then a shortstop for a middle reliever, it didn't know it was giving up the next Mike Schmidt. Batista hit 42 home runs in his first 162 games with the Jays.
"I'm getting a lot of opportunity here, and now I have the power of Jesus Christ: He's helping me by giving me the power of concentration," Batista says. "I don't think I have any more power because I changed my stance."
Batista has the company of another American League third baseman taking aim at 40 dingers: the Angels' 6'5" Troy Glaus, who looks the part and hit the break with 25. Batista, though, is the prototypical nouveau slugger—just another home run hitter mocking what once were accepted standards of greatness. In this world of hyper-inflated home run numbers, Batista is the modern equivalent of Schmidt, Orioles shortstop Mike Bordick is Ernie Banks, and Royals outfielder Jermaine Dye is Hank Aaron. Anybody can be a slugger. All sense of proportion is out the window. It's like watching an old Godzilla movie.
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