IS THE JUNIOR CIRCUIT THE BETTER CIRCUIT?

Veteran Dodger scout Ed Liberatore has spent most of the season evaluating personnel in the American League, and three-quarters of the way through his tour of duty he says, "I'm really impressed with the number of talented young players. They're everywhere." Take a look at the league leaders. Seven of the top 10 home run hitters in the American League are 26 years old or younger, while only four of the top nine in the National are that young. Seven of the top eight AL RBI producers are in that age bracket, five of the top seven in runs and nine of the top 10 in slugging.

Roger Clemens is 24, Don Mattingly 24, Kirby Puckett 25, Wally Joyner 24, Jesse Barfield 26, Jose Canseco 22—and they are probably the six leading contenders for the MVP award. The Rookie of the Year chase among Joyner, Canseco and Danny Tartabull presents a stark comparison to the NL race, in which the only rookie regulars with 90 games are Giants second baseman Robby Thompson and Dodgers outfielder Reggie Williams. Try this 26-and-under American League all-star team:

C—Rich Gedman, Andy Allanson

1B—Mattingly, Joyner, Kent Hrbek, Alvin Davis

2B—Harold Reynolds, Steve Lombardozzi

SS—Cal Ripken, Tony Fernandez, Julio Franco

3B—Mike Pagliarulo, Brook Jacoby

OF—Puckett, Tartabull, Canseco, Barfield, Joe Carter, Cory Snyder, Tom Brunansky, Lloyd Moseby, George Bell, Rob Deer and Pete Incaviglia

"The biggest reason the AL has so many good young players is the difference in ballparks," says Cubs president Dallas Green. "With all the big parks with artificial turf in the National League, speed is extremely important." In the AL, three of the four artificial turf parks—Toronto, Minnesota, Seattle—are small home run parks. Adds Green, "The AL teams look for the guys with pop, and having the DH lets them consider a guy who can hit even if it might be his only skill. In this league we are looking for more complete athletes, but sometimes we miss the big bats." In other words, the American League is looking for baseball players, while the National League is obsessed with track stars. The result is that the American League is becoming the more interesting one.

CORY'S THE STORY IN CLEVELAND

Snyder, who has 16 homers in 65 games, is already being touted as a superstar. He has played right-and leftfield, shortstop and third, all with notable success. "He's got the best right-field arm I've ever seen, and that includes Jesse Barfield," said one scout after Snyder ran at top speed into the rightfield bullpen area, spun around and narrowly missed throwing the runner out at the plate. Snyder went from first to third on infield groundouts twice in one game in Baltimore, and he made two plays at shortstop that Indians G.M. Joe Klein compares to the best of Mark Belanger....

George Steinbrenner ranted about Boston's acquisition of Spike Owen and Dave Henderson from Seattle, saying, "My front office was asleep." Of course, if Steinbrenner wasn't so busy maintaining his bizarre relationship with the White Sox owners, he could have gotten Owen and Henderson rather than Wayne Tolleson and Ron Kittle. Steinbrenner didn't want Tom Seaver, either, and Seaver has won as many games (five) in his 10 starts for Boston as any of the Yankee starters have in that time....

Speaking of Yankee starters, Ron Guidry is 2-9 since May 9. "The Guidry we used to know threw so hard that he grunted after every pitch," says George Brett. "Now he's trying to pinpoint everything."...Ted Williams says Rey Quinones, 22, the shortstop the Mariners acquired from Boston along with pitchers Mike Trujillo and Mike Brown and outfielder John Christensen, "has a classic hitting style and might be a Frank Robinson at shortstop."...There was considerable speculation last fall that Buddy Bell was finished as a player when he hit only six homers in 67 games after being traded to Cincinnati. But last week he hit seven in seven days to bring his season total to within two of his career high of 18. "I had to learn the National League pitchers." Bell explained. "And the adjustment, to be frank, took too long." Bell also said, "I'm so surprised at myself that even I wanted to check my bats [for tampering]."...The Reds can now start a lineup with six homegrown Cincinnatians: Pete Rose at first, Ron Oester at second, Barry Larkin at short. Bell at third, Dave Parker in right and Chris Welsh pitching....

If the Reds wanted a complete set, they would have to acquire Leon Durham, Pat Tabler, Daryl Boston, Billy Doran, Len Matuszek, Rich Dotson, Kent Tekulve, Roger McDowell, Bill Wegman and Jeff Russell. And Barry Bonnell could fly the team plane.

FISK IS CAUGHT IN A SQUEEZE
White Sox manager Jim Fregosi benched Carlton Fisk, whose 11-for-33 streak in the eight games prior to the demotion had raised his average to .215. Meanwhile, the front office tried to peddle him to Toronto. The Jays almost had a deal worked out last Thursday, but it fell through. That night Fisk hit a pinch-hit three-run homer after taking three minutes to get to the plate. "I'm wondering if this is a nice little premeditated move to make me angry enough to do something," Fisk said of his benching, a probable attempt to get him to waive his 10-and-5 rights....

When pitcher George Frazier got to Minnesota, he was critical of Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray. "I don't know if I was his personal whipping boy or what," Frazier said. "I'm not blaming Harry for my problems. But you have to understand that Harry Caray and Steve Stone are more popular in Chicago than any players." Caray's reply? "Frazier was the most inept pitcher I've ever seen." ...Don't be surprised if former Royals and Cubs manager Jim Frey ends up with the Twins next season, or if Reggie Jackson returns to Oakland to finish his career....

Earl Weaver now plans to return as the Oriole manager, but he wants several changes. He would like to deal for Twins third baseman Gary Gaetti (because this year's eight Oriole third basemen have 32 RBIs and 32 errors). Weaver also plans to use Larry Sheets as a catcher....

The saddest sight of the year: Bobby Meacham, batting .144 with 11 RBIs and 11 errors at Triple A Columbus. "That," said a Columbus teammate, "is what the Yankees can do to you."

PHOTOTONY TOMSICCleveland phenom Snyder really extends himself at third—as he also has by playing three other positions this season. PHOTOBILL SMITHReds from Cincinnati (1. to r.): Rose, Parker, Bell, Oester, Welsh and Larkin. PHOTO¬¨¬®‚àö√ú TOPPS CHEWING GUM INC.A happy 47th to a .299 lifetime hitter.

BETWEEN THE LINES

SPIKED
In Boston's 24-5 rout of the Indians on Aug. 21, the Red Sox scored 22 runs with two out, shortstop Spike Owen tied a record by scoring six runs and Wade Boggs had none of the team's 24 hits, going 0 for 5 to briefly lose the batting lead to Kirby Puckett. The Red Sox had 23 RBIs—yet there was no game-winning RBI because the winning run scored on a balk by rookie Greg Swindell. It was quite a week for Owen. George Steinbrenner, the owner of the team that purchased Babe Ruth from Boston, called the acquisition of Owen from Seattle "the steal of the century." Come to think of it, Owen did do something Ruth never did by scoring six runs. Owen's real name is Spike Dee Owen, so named because his mother's maiden name was Spikes.

MADDOX REDUX
In a computerized game played over the Veterans Stadium megaboard between the 1977 and 1983 Phillies, Garry Maddox hit a ball for the '77 club that was dropped for an error by the '83 Garry Maddox. It was the only error in the game, committed by a man who had won more Gold Gloves (eight) than all but two National League outfielders, Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

•"They want me to play third like Brooks Robinson, but I think I'll play it more like Mel Brooks."—Padres in-fielder Tim Flannery, who was moved from second to third base.

•"I look at the Dodgers and see guys like Reggie Williams, Jose Gonzalez, Jeff Hamilton.... It looks like a Triple A team. Those guys never would have played for the Dodgers a few years ago."—Mets third baseman Ray Knight.

MR. MEAN

On Aug. 9, when he was 3-10, Blue Jay pitcher Dave Stieb wrote, with Kevin Boland, the following column in the Toronto Star:

"Maybe it is true, after so much media fuss has been made of my tantrums on and off the mound, that I am much nicer to be near. Maybe too nice. Reggie Jackson of the Angels, for one, and a host of my concerned teammates have suggested this is so.

"They wonder what became of the ogre they knew and loved to hate—the evil eye ever in search of errant fielders, the scourge of blinking umpires, the only guy on the team who could strut sitting down.

"By popular demand, they want him back. Anything to oblige, I always say. Mothers be warned, henceforth, to keep the little ones far from the TV set when the camera zooms in on my pantomime after yet another seeing-eye, blooper, broken-bat, 'tweener falls in. Mr. Mean, as you might have noticed recently, is back at his old stand, and if that doesn't sit well with the Ladies League For Language Purity, tell them to go to George Bell."

FIRE SALE
A retail store in suburban Minneapolis last year sold I BELIEVE IN R.D. T-shirts and caps to back the lustily booed reliever Ron Davis, who two weeks ago was traded to the Cubs. Last week the store put the items back on sale at half price, with a sign in the window that read COLLECTORS' ITEMS.

MISCELLANEOUS

•Ron Darling has declined an opportunity to appear in an episode of Miami Vice.

•Twins Kirby Puckett, Gary Gaetti and Kent Hrbek all hit their 25th homers in the same Aug. 19 game. No other team has three players with that many homers.

•If the Expos, Mariners and Pirates can fill a few seats, this will be the first season every major league club will have drawn at least one million fans. The Pirates passed the 800,000 mark last Friday with "Salute to Pittsburgh Night."

•California ace Mike Witt has pitched into the seventh inning in 25 of his 26 starts this year.

•Giants outfielder-pinch hitter Candy Maldonado had 12 homers and 58 RBIs by Aug. 24. In his previous three-plus seasons, he totaled 11 HRs and 53 RBIs.

•Baltimore's Storm Davis threw consecutive wild pitches last week. Former Oriole Dick Hall threw one wild pitch in 16 seasons.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)