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INSIDE: BASEBALL
Peter Gammons
June 19, 1989
PARKING IT
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June 19, 1989

Inside: Baseball

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DON'T WORRY, ROGER
If San Francisco's Kevin Mitchell, who had 23 homers at week's end, continues at his current pace, he could tie Roger Maris's single-season record of 61. But to do that, Mitchell will have to avoid the traditional second-half power outage that plagues most fast Starters. Since 1982 only two of the batters with 20 or more homers in the first half of the season—Andre Dawson and Tony Armas—have hit 20-plus in the second half.

FIRST HALF OF SEASON

SECOND HALF OF SEASON

39 CASES OF 20+ HOME RUNS SINCE 1982

NUMBER OF TIMES

HOME RUNS

2

20+

14

15-19

15

10-14

7

5-9

1

0-4

SOURCE: STATS, INC.

PARKING IT

Consider the difference between Red Sox outfielder Mike Greenwell, who had 22 homers and 119 RBIs in '88, and Cardinals outfielder Vince Coleman, who had only three homers and 38 RBIs but led the NL in steals with 81. Then look at the parks they play in: Fenway, which is a home run hitter's paradise, and Busch Stadium, where only 68 homers were hit last year.

To measure the differences between the American and National leagues, you have to start with the ballparks. They determine not only how the game is played in each league, but also how each team puts together its lineup. "Today you have to have totally different players than you used to in the National League," says St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog. "Quickness is a must, because bad defense will kill you on the turf in the big parks."

The fact that the National League is loaded with cavernous parks, such as Busch, Dodger Stadium and the Astrodome, and the American League with intimate settings like Fenway, Tiger Stadium and the Metrodome, has a profound impact on how teams from each league use the draft, according to Cub scouting director Dick Balderson. "You can take a chance on a guy just for his bat in the American League, and if you have to, DH him," he says. "Because there is less turf and there are more small outfields, you can have a leftfielder who hits homers but is a defensive liability. The guy that comes to mind is [Rangers outfielder] Pete Incaviglia. Why Montreal originally drafted him, I don't know, but he is fine in the American League."

Two exceptions are the Royals and—now that they are in SkyDome—the Blue Jays. Instead of going after sluggers in the June draft, Toronto selected a bunch of speedsters to take advantage of SkyDome's spacious proportions. Says Toronto scout Tim Wilken, "Our change in ballparks probably eliminated a lot of kids we would have liked in the past because Exhibition Stadium was such a home run hitter's park."

By contrast, Boston's first two picks were power hitters: Sarasota ( Fla.) High outfielder Greg Blosser and Seton Hall first baseman Maurice Vaughn. "A National League team wouldn't choose two pure bats in the first round the way Boston did," says one scouting director. "But in Fenway there isn't much ground to cover—there isn't any in foul territory. You've got to have thunder."

SPENDING SPREE

Another trend that became apparent in this year's draft is the increase in what teams are spending on signing bonuses. It has been mushrooming almost as fast as major league salaries in recent years. In the early 1980s a low first-round pick would have had a hard time getting a six-figure signing bonus. But now clubs like the Braves, Expos, Yankees, Dodgers and Blue Jays are willing to shell out big bucks to sign high school players.

For example, three years ago the Braves spent $400,000 signing players; in '88 the ante rose to $1.4 million. "Developing one's own talent is the name of the game if you don't want to be held hostage by free agents," says Atlanta general manager Bobby Cox. "You have to take chances, but a hundred grand at this end can be a lot less of a gamble than a few million at the other end."

The Blue Jays will probably have to lay out more than $1.2 million to sign their six top draftees this year, because all of them, except for the first pick, Fresno State shortstop Eddie Zosky, have conflicting obligations. "[ Toronto general manager] Pat Gillick loves those challenges," says a scouting director for another team. "After all, he's the man who signed Danny Ainge, Jay Schroeder, Bobby Bourne and Clark Gillies." Ainge is currently a member of the Sacramento Kings, and Schroeder is with the Los Angeles Raiders. Bourne and Gillies have both retired from the NHL.

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