THE REAL THINGS
If you're waiting for the Orioles, the White Sox or the Padres to collapse, forget it. The surprise teams of this season have played too well for too long not to be taken seriously. From 1996, the first full season of the six-division format, through last year, 36 teams entered June with a winning percentage of .600 or better, as Baltimore, Chicago and San Diego did this season. Twenty-five of those 36 teams, or 69%, went on to make the playoffs. All but one of the 36 wound up winning at least 85 games: the 2003 Expos, who won 83. The news is even better for Orlando Hernandez (above) and the White Sox, who took a .673 winning percentage into June. From 1996 through 2004, 11 teams reached the same point with a winning percentage of .673 or better. All of them won at least 95 games and made the playoffs except the '02 Red Sox--and they won 93.
On May 31, in his first at bat after missing more than a year with back and hamstring injuries, Indians rightfielder Juan Gonzalez (left) strained his right hamstring while running out a ground ball and wound up back on the DL. Entering 2002 Gonzalez, then 32, had a foot in the Hall of Fame with 397 career home runs. In the four seasons since, he has missed 66% of his team's games and hit 37 homers while earning $28.6 million. His Hall chances have begun to look as fragile as his body. Gonzalez's career is beginning to resemble that of Jose Canseco, whose 462 homers will be the most for a non--Hall of Famer. ( Canseco becomes eligible in 2006.)
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
Before joining the Red Sox on May 27, first baseman John Olerud (right), coming off surgery on his left foot, played briefly for Triple A Pawtucket. It was the first time Olerud, 36, appeared in the minors, leaving Bob Horner and Dave Winfield as the only major leaguers never to play in the minors since the draft began in 1965. During his two-game stint with the PawSox, Olerud hit a home run, took a five-hour bus ride and asked for his jersey as a keepsake. "It was fun," he said. "Guys used to say I didn't have any [minor league] stories to tell. They can't say that anymore."
1. Instant replay has a place in baseball, but only for home run calls. They're too important not to get right.
2. The Indians' underwhelming offense cost hitting coach Eddie Murray his job. Cleveland has perfected mediocrity: It had won 25 and lost 25, while scoring 200 runs and allowing 200.