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NEW YORK METS

March 31, 1997
March 31, 1997

Table of Contents
March 31, 1997

Figure Skating
Baseball Preview 1997

NEW YORK METS

By DAVE FLEMING

It was mid-June 1993 and John Olerud was still hitting above
.400, well on his way to winning the American League batting
title, when former Blue Jays teammate and future Hall of Famer
Dave Winfield approached him and offered a bit of advice. Borrow
a video camera, Winfield said, and tape your swing. Then sit
down and have someone film you talking about everything you're
doing at the plate. Talk about how your swing feels, what the
pitches look like, how you're feeling. Tape everything so that
one day when you're struggling you'll be able to pull that tape
out and use it to set yourself straight.

This is an article from the March 31, 1997 issue Original Layout

Olerud, a first baseman, is 28 now and playing for the Mets
after being traded by Toronto in December for pitcher Robert
Person. Having watched his numbers decline each season since he
finished with a .363 average four years ago, Olerud is hoping
New York is the place he'll recover the swing that was once
described as "so sweet it should be poured on pancakes." Having
that videotape around the last couple of years sure would have
helped him. "That was some great advice I got," says Olerud.
"Did I take it? No. I could definitely kick myself now. In 1993
everything just came so easily that I thought I had it all
figured out."

He didn't. The lefthanded-hitting Olerud batted only .274 with
18 home runs and 61 RBIs in 1996, struggling so badly against
southpaws (.219) that the Blue Jays began platooning him. Then
they forked over a record $5 million of his $6.5 million 1997
salary to the Mets so New York would accept him in the trade.

Early in spring training Toronto manager Cito Gaston suggested
Olerud would crumble under the pressure in New York and might
even quit the game after this season. But Olerud, who recovered
from a brain aneurysm in 1989 to become the 16th player since
the amateur draft began in 1965 to make his pro debut in the
majors, insists he is looking forward to this year in New York.

"If that's truly how Toronto felt about him, then John got out
of there just in time," says Mets general manager Joe McIlvaine.
"We just can't start giving up on players who are 28. That's how
you make mistakes in this business. Change is good for the soul."

After he began to struggle, the 6'5", 220-pound Olerud was
persuaded by the Blue Jays to pull the ball more so he could
increase his home run production. The subsequent changes in his
stance gave him a nasty hitch and left Olerud second-guessing
himself at the plate. This spring, under Mets manager Bobby
Valentine and hitting coach Tom Robson, the kinetic beauty of
Olerud's swing is on its way back. He has moved off the plate
and has his hands closer to his body so that lefthanders can no
longer jam him. And with renewed confidence and freedom at the
plate, he is once again spraying the ball all over the field.

After watching Olerud blast a home run that seemed to pick up
velocity as it cleared the rightfield fence, McIlvaine folded
his arms and smiled. "I told John the other day," he said, "that
at the end of this year he's going to look back and say that
coming to New York was the best thing that happened to his
career."

If so, Olerud promises that this time he will make that
videotape.

--D.F.

B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER READ MILLER JOHN OLERUD Missing: One Sweet Swing

THE LINEUP

CF Lance Johnson
Led majors in hits (227), triples (21) and multihit games (75)
in '96

1B John Olerud
Should help Mets reduce last year's league-high 159 errors

2B Carlos Baerga
Only player in history to switch-hit homers in same inning

C Todd Hundley
41 homers in '96 a major league record for catchers

LF Bernard Gilkey
117 RBIs last year were 47 more than his previous best

RF Alex Ochoa
Batted .330 against lefthanded pitchers, .277 against righties

3B Edgardo Alfonzo
Hit .312 in his final 44 games last season

SS Rey Ordonez
Flashy fielder made 27 errors, tied for second-most in league

Ace Pete Harnisch
Has never regained form after shoulder surgery in '95

Closer John Franco
In '96 became first lefty to reach 300-save milestone

STAT FACT

The Mets had a losing record each of the past six years, the
longest current streak in the majors. Five other clubs had a
sub-.500 record each of the past four seasons: Florida,
Milwaukee, Minnesota, Oakland and Pittsburgh. The last team to
have a streak of seven consecutive losing records was Cleveland,
from 1987 through '93, though the Mets have done it twice
before--from 1962 through '68, and from 1977 through '83.

STAT FACTS BY ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU