Barry Bonds paid a call on Mark McGwire, the man whose homer record he's chasing
High above the field at Busch Stadium, between the out-of-town scoreboard and the flags commemorating the Cardinals' 10 retired numbers, is a career home run leader board. This year the only change on the board, which lists the top nine sluggers of all time, has been to update the number of homers next to the name of the guy in seventh place, St. Louis first baseman Mark McGwire. Last Friday, however, behind the final nameplate, that of Mickey Mantle, who hit 536, a work crew positioned a new name—that of Giants leftfielder Barry Bonds, who was coming to town five homers shy of surpassing the Mick. At the appropriate time, Mantle's name would be removed to reveal Bonds's.
As it turned out, Bonds homered just once, increasing his big league-leading total to 39 and his career mark to 533, but San Francisco's only trip to St. Louis this year still had historic significance: For the first time since Aug. 1,1976, two men with at least 500 homers played in the same game. Unlike the last such matchup, in which the aging Hank Aaron pinch-hit for the Brewers against the Indians, whose aging player-manager, Frank Robinson, started in left-field, the Cards-Giants series featured two sluggers who are still among the game's most feared hitters.
In the Friday night opener McGwire, who missed 37 games this season with tendinitis in his right knee, hit his seventh homer of the year, off righthander Livan Hernandez, a 429-foot two-run shot to left centerfield. On Saturday night Bonds answered with a 380-foot blast off righty Darryl Kile that put him six homers ahead of McGwire's record 70-dinger pace in 1998.
"Mark's record is not in jeopardy," Bonds said before that game, adding that he wants only to hit 50 homers in a season for the first time in his career to please his godfather, Willie Mays. "I'm happy because I might be able to do that," said Bonds, who had a career-high 49 last year. "I'm not even thinking about McGwire."
Everyone else is, however. The Giants' p.r. staff distributes a 15-page Bonds home run compendium before each game. "It's not a circus yet," says San Francisco centerfielder Calvin Murray, "nothing like it will be once he passes 50." Maybe not, but the Giants are already getting a taste of media madness. After walking three times on Friday, Bonds hustled out of the clubhouse without talking, leaving a gaggle of reporters lingering near his locker.
"Just write what you saw," said outfielder Eric Davis, whose locker is next to Bonds's.
"But I'm TV," came one reply.
Davis took the guy's microphone and proceeded to interview the would-be interviewer. Davis was having fun, which he had better do while he can. Over in the home team's clubhouse, McGwire was talking about Bonds, but he could have been talking about the guy who has to dress next to Bonds when he said, "The second half of the year is the toughest time."
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