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Steve Rushin
September 24, 1990
Nobody has reached the five-oh mark in homers for a season since '77. Cecil Fielder may just do it
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September 24, 1990

Flirting With 50

Nobody has reached the five-oh mark in homers for a season since '77. Cecil Fielder may just do it

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In just 506 at bats over four seasons with the Blue Jays, Fielder hit 31 home runs. "I knew they were going to use Freddie at first every day," says Fielder. So in '89 he took his bat to Japan, where he hit 38 homers in 106 games. Larry Parrish led the Japanese Central League with 42 in 130 games and was rewarded with his release because the club decided to concentrate on pitching and defense; so Fielder, fearing a similar fate, chose not to return to Japan without a long-term contract. Which raises this specter: What if Detroit decides to concentrate on pitching and defense next season?

Fielder, who turns 27 on Friday, laughs a good long time at that one. "I don't think the fans are going to let 'em run me out of town after this year," he says. "I don't think they'll let that happen."

Fielder is so gentle and forthright that there is no reason to doubt him when he claims not to care how far his taters travel. Canseco, conversely, is eminently conscious of the tape measure. To Fielder, however, all those extraneous inches only abet what he calls the "media hype" that typically surrounds sluggers.

Media hype? Cec, have a listen. These are your colleagues speaking, not ours.

"He's a monster," St. Louis reliever Frank DiPino said of Fielder, who hit three home runs on three straight swings against the Cardinals in spring training. "When I heard the chains rattling, I knew he was on deck."

"Where'd it land, Lake Erie?" asked Indians pitcher Greg Swindell after Fielder slammed a 470-footer—and third homer of the game—off him in Cleveland in June. "The waves bring it back in?"

"If Canseco hits the ball farther," says Moseby, "then God bless the children. But I've seen Cecil put a dent in the ball. I've heard him hit the ball and make it scream." For the record, the average length of a Fielder shot this season is 401 feet. Canseco's, on the average, have traveled four feet farther. God bless the children.

Not only does Fielder disdain distance, but he also clings to the old-math notion that the difference between 49 and 50 is one. Never mind that 49's are forgotten and 50's are not. "I don't worry about that," he says. "No matter what, I've had a great season."

Of course he has, but McGwire knows better. "Anytime you get to a nine, the toughest thing is to get to that next zero," he says. "It's like buying something for $19.99. If it costs $20, you're going to think about it." Says Detroit manager Sparky Anderson, "I think [Fielder] will have no problem until he reaches maybe 48. Then he'll start having problems."

As a rookie in 1987, McGwire had 49 home runs with five games left in the season. After failing to get one in his next four games, he skipped Oakland's final game to be with his wife, Kathy, who was about to give birth. "My feeling is, you only have one chance to see your first born," says McGwire. "You'll always have chances to hit your first 50."

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