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NO SHORTAGE OF HITTERS
Since divisional play began, in 1969, only six different National League shortstops have batted .300 in a season in which they played 100 or more games at the position, and no two National League shortstops have hit .300 in the same year. So what's going on here? At the All-Star break, five National League shortstops were batting at least .300: the Cubs" Rey Sanchez, .324; the Reds' Barry Larkin, .319; the Astros' Andujar Cedeno, .319; the Braves' Jeff Blauser, .311; and the Giants' Royce Clayton, .301. And the Pirates' Jay Bell, at .298, and the Rockies' Vinny Castilla, at .297, were just off the mark.
In fact, all the National League shortstops combined were hitting .280 this season, the highest average of any position in the league other than first base. "This year has been incredible," says Blauser, who, along with Larkin and Bell, was selected for the All-Star Game. "I think guys like Alan Trammell in Detroit and Cal Ripken in Baltimore changed the idea of how shortstops are supposed to hit."
Larkin, who batted above .300 each of the last four years, has helped too. He has a chance this season to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases for the second time in his career—a feat accomplished by only one other shortstop, Trammell.
"Better athletes are playing up the middle now," says Larkin. "There have always been good athletes playing shortstop, but now they're bigger and stronger. It always used to be the shortstop hit eighth or ninth, but now some hit third."
Larkin hits in that spot regularly, and Blauser bats third on occasion too. In the last two years they also became the third and fourth shortstops ever to hit three home runs in a game. Heck, three home runs used to be the total for many shortstops in a season. Not anymore.
Blauser supplanted Rafael Belliard as Atlanta's shortstop last season: Belliard had just 30 extra-base hits from 1988 through the '93 All-Star break, but Blauser had 23 extra-base hits the first half of this season alone. Clayton replaced Jose Uribe last year in San Francisco: Uribe didn't drive in more than 43 runs in any of his six years as the Giants' regular shortstop, but Clayton had 47 RBIs at the break this year.
In 1992 National League shortstops averaged .250 with six homers and 46 RBIs. At the break only the shortstops of the Mets (.245) and the Padres (.244) were batting under .250, and three teams already had more than 46 RBIs from their shortstops—the Phillies (50), the Reds (50) and the Giants (47).
"A lot of these guys are young, too," says Bell, referring to Sanchez, who's 25; Clayton, 23; and Cedeno, 23. Bell also calls Expo rookie shortstop Wil Cordero "the next Barry Larkin" because of his offensive potential. "Part of the reason the shortstops are having such success is that pitchers don't know them," Bell says. "But [even if the pitchers get wise to them] it won't take long for these shortstops to turn it back around."
TAKING A MULLIGAN