MURRAY IS SET TO REACH 500 HOMERS, A TRIBUTE TO DURABILITY AND POWER WHO'LL SUCCEED LASORDA, AND WHEN?

July 07, 1996

THE HEALTH CLUB

Cleveland's Eddie Murray, who hit his 490th career home run last
Friday, appears to be a lock to join one of baseball's most
exclusive fraternities, the 500-homer club, which has a
membership of 14. But after Murray, which other current players
are likely to hit 500? This might seem to be the age of the home
run hitter, but injuries and labor strife have put a crimp in
the efforts of some of the game's biggest bangers.

One of the hallmarks of the great sluggers of the past was
durability. Hank Aaron missed only 106 games from his first full
season in 1955 through '71, during which time he hit 626 home
runs. Willie Mays missed only 39 games from 1954 to '66 and hit
518 homers in that span. From 1956 to '66 Frank Robinson missed
only 77 games and hit 373 homers. Even the oft-injured Mickey
Mantle missed only 45 games from 1955 through '61, when he
slugged 290 of his 536 home runs. But today's mashers are a
different story.

First off, they all lost at least 65 games in the last two
seasons because of the strike. Injuries have also taken a heavy
toll. The Mariners' Ken Griffey Jr., who reached 150 career
homers faster than all but two players in major league history,
missed 73 games last season with a fractured left wrist and is
out again this year with a broken hamate bone in his right hand.
Jose Canseco of the Red Sox had 324 career homers at week's end,
but he has missed 190 games in the last 4 1/2 seasons because of
various injuries. The Rangers' Juan Gonzalez is only 26 and had
184 career homers through Sunday, but he has missed 108 games in
the last 3 1/2 years, mostly because of back problems. And A's
first baseman Mark McGwire has missed 255 games in the last 3 1/2
years, yet still passed the 300-homer mark last week.

If not for recurring heel injuries the past few seasons, McGwire
might have stroked number 400 last week. At 32, can he avoid
injury and thereby get enough at bats to hit 200 more homers? "I
was on base the other day in Detroit," McGwire says, "and
[Tigers shortstop] Alan Trammell said to me, 'Only 200 more,
that won't be hard for you.' I told him, 'Two hundred is a lot
of homers.'"

If anyone can do it, it's McGwire. From 1986 to '92 McGwire
reached 200 career homers in fewer at bats (2,852) than all but
four players in history. And despite the injuries that have
prevented him from winning a home run title outright, he's still
hitting taters at a Ruthian pace. Through Sunday he had hit 64
in his last 162 games--at the astonishing rate of one every 7.9
at bats. (His average of one homer every 8.1 at bats in 1995
topped Babe Ruth's single-season mark of 8.5 in 1920. The Babe
holds the career record of one in every 11.8 at bats, while
McGwire stands at one every 12.7 at bats for his career through
Sunday.) And even though he has already lost 23 games this
season to injuries, he still had 25 homers at week's end; only
Baltimore's Brady Anderson, with 27, and the Cubs' Sammy Sosa,
with 26, had more.

But he keeps getting hurt, sometimes in the normal course of
running the bases. Similarly, Griffey broke his hamate bone
taking a normal swing in a game on June 19. In May, Braves
rightfielder David Justice dislocated his right shoulder while
swinging at a pitch, ending his season. Last year Dean Palmer,
the Rangers' slugging third baseman, tore his left biceps in
mid-swing, effectively ending his season. Why do so many players
today keep getting hurt in these unusual ways?

Managers Don Baylor of the Rockies, Art Howe of the A's and
Marcel Lachemann of the Angels are among many who believe
players are too muscular today. "It's not just the mass, it's
that the mass is put on so quickly," says Baylor. "You see a
guy his rookie year, and two years later he's put on 35 pounds.
You think, Oh, my god, what happened? Sometimes a player's frame
and his body are not ready for that. I remember first shaking
hands with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Their strength was here
[indicating his fingers] to here [his elbow]. And those guys
never missed a game."

Aaron was 6 feet, 180 pounds, Mays 5'10 1/2", 170. In their
prime they had perfect bodies for baseball--lean, yet strong and
well proportioned. The average size of the 14 players who have
hit 500 homers is slightly more than 6 feet and 190 pounds.
Among today's players who have a shot at 500 homers (chart,
below), the Giants' Barry Bonds and the Braves' Fred McGriff
come close to fitting that profile, and they have been
relatively injury-free. But McGwire is 6'5", 250 pounds. Canseco
is 6'4", 240. Gonzalez is 6'3", 215, but he lost about 25 pounds
in the off-season because he had become too bulky. You have to
wonder whether all that time in the weight room is risky.

McGwire says his size and strength are assets and don't make him
injury-prone. "The worst year of my life [in 1991 he hit .201],
I didn't lift a weight," says McGwire, who works out five days a
week, even during the season. "After that I said I'd never stop
lifting. It's something I enjoy. I love being in good shape."

STRICKEN SKIPPER

Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who suffered a mild heart attack
before undergoing an angioplasty last week, wanted to be back in
uniform by July 4 but likely won't return until after the
All-Star break, if that soon. Two sources close to Lasorda
predict that he'll never manage again. Given his stubborn nature
and love of the game, that's hard to imagine. But Lasorda is 68
and now is a health risk, so it's time for the Dodgers to
consider who will succeed him--whether it's this year or in
2000, which has been Lasorda's target date.

Bill Russell, who was 1-5 through Sunday as the Dodgers' interim
manager, is a candidate, but a club source says he would not be
the choice of L.A. general manager Fred Claire, who believes
Russell to be too much of a Lasorda protege for a team that
might need a new direction. Some say the job could go to Phil
Regan, who managed the Orioles last year and is currently the
skipper of the Dodgers' Triple A team in Albuquerque. However,
Regan is 59, and it is the Dodgers' style to hire a manager with
the intention of keeping him 20 years, not five. The most
surprising candidate to emerge is former Dodgers catcher Mike
Scioscia, the club's minor league catching coordinator, who has
never managed (although he is expected to in the instructional
league or in winter ball).

Scioscia is knowledgeable and respected by the players. "He'd be
perfect for this team," one Dodger says. "When he played, he'd
sit on the bench and say, 'We should hit and run here,' and
boom, the sign went to the third base coach, and the play was
on." The decision rests with Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley, and
he has been mum on the subject. There are members of the
organization, including more than a few players, who believe the
team needs new leadership after 20 seasons under
Lasorda--something Scioscia, 37, a rising star in the system,
could best provide.

The Dodgers, 42-40 through Sunday, have been hurt by the loss of
Brett Butler, who was diagnosed with throat cancer in May, but
still must be considered underachievers. Nevertheless, with its
pitching, L.A. should repeat as National League West
champion--even if it isn't a close-knit team. A few weeks ago
second baseman Delino DeShields said, "Our chemistry isn't the
best, we all know that, and I think it's reflected in our play.
It's no secret we don't hang together. A lot of guys don't even
talk to each other."

Changes may be in order.

SHORT HOPS

Do you know who I am? I'm one of 68 major leaguers alltime who
hit a homer in their first at bat, but I've gone on to hit more
than any of the others, with 300 at week's end. (Answer below.)
...The Royals are prepared to trade ace Kevin Appier, who has
thrown well in his last two starts (17 innings, two earned runs,
19 strikeouts), but they don't want any Class A players in
return--they want young prospects who can help immediately....It
isn't far-fetched to suggest that Pirates pitcher Danny Darwin,
40, could make the National League All-Star team. His record was
only 6-7 through Sunday, but he was fifth in the National League
with a 2.64 ERA. Should he get to play in the game, he would be
only the second player to appear in an All-Star game for the
first time at 40 or older. The St. Louis Browns' Satchel Paige
was 47 when he made his first All-Star appearance in 1953....
Progress is being made in the labor negotiations, and a
settlement by the end of August seems possible, according to a
source with knowledge of the talks. There will be a fight over
the designated hitter; many owners want to get rid of it, but
the union does not. The average DH's salary in 1995 was $3.5
million. If the position is abolished, owners could easily fill
that roster spot with a $109,000 player.... Quiz answer: The
Cardinals' Gary Gaetti, 37, who hit his 300th homer on June 23.

COLOR PHOTO: TOM LYNN The only question about McGwire is whether he can stay healthy enough to get a shot at 500. [Mark McGwire batting]

ON THE HORIZON

Here are the players with a minimum of 200 career home runs who
have the best chance to reach the coveted 500 mark, and a look
at how frequently they go deep. (Home run frequency is the
player's average number of at bats per home run throughout his
career.)

CAREER HOME RUN
PLAYER, TEAM AGE HOMERS FREQUENCY

Eddie Murray, Indians 40 490 22.2

Jose Canseco, Red Sox 32 324 15.3

Barry Bonds, Giants 31 313 17.0

Fred McGriff, Braves 32 308 15.7

Mark McGwire, A's 32 302 12.7

Albert Belle, Indians 29 219 14.3

Ken Griffey Jr., Mariners 26 212 17.5

Frank Thomas, White Sox 28 204 15.0

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)