There was a time when the only American League third basemen who
hit 40 home runs in a season were menacing, big-muscled sluggers
with household names. That time would have been the entire 20th
century, and the only two such third basemen were Hall of Famer
Harmon Killebrew of the Twins and 1953 MVP Al Rosen of the
Indians. Take one look at Tony Batista of the Blue Jays, and
you'll see how much times have changed.
Batista, 26, reached the All-Star break with 24 homers, leaving
him within range of the company of Killebrew and Rosen. The
six-foot Batista, who appears more slender than the 200 he claims
to weigh, is a converted middle infielder who was left
unprotected in the 1997 expansion draft by the A's, selected by
the Diamondbacks and traded to Toronto in June '99. He shuns the
weight room and bats in the burlesque style of someone completing
a roadside sobriety check. He begins with such an open stance
that both heels touch the back line of the batter's box. Then he
doesn't so much step into the ball as list into it.
Batista, who exhibited decent pop in the minors, has been a
dangerous hitter ever since he concocted the stance to break out
of a slump during the 1997 Caribbean World Series. (He went 5 for
5 the first time he did his Red Skelton act.) When Arizona traded
Batista, then a shortstop, for a middle reliever, it didn't know
it was giving up the next Mike Schmidt. Batista hit 42 home runs
in his first 162 games with the Jays.
"I'm getting a lot of opportunity here, and now I have the power
of Jesus Christ: He's helping me by giving me the power of
concentration," Batista says. "I don't think I have any more
power because I changed my stance."
July 16, 2000
Batista has the company of another American League third baseman
taking aim at 40 dingers: the Angels' 6'5" Troy Glaus, who looks
the part and hit the break with 25. Batista, though, is the
prototypical nouveau slugger--just another home run hitter mocking
what once were accepted standards of greatness. In this world of
hyperinflated home run numbers, Batista is the modern equivalent
of Schmidt, Orioles shortstop Mike Bordick is Ernie Banks, and
Royals outfielder Jermaine Dye is Hank Aaron. Anybody can be a
slugger. All sense of proportion is out the window. It's like
watching an old Godzilla movie.
Is Tony Batista the second coming of Mike Schmidt? Based on his
projected home run total this season and current rate of at bats
per homer, the 26-year-old Batista is having the kind of season
Schmidt had when he was 26. Here is how Batista (right) compares
with Schmidt (far right), as well as how other surprise power
hitters compare with former home run champions at the same age.
Players Age HRs* ABs per HR
Tony Batista, Blue Jays 26 44 13.7
Mike Schmidt (1976) 38 15.4
Mike Bordick, Orioles 34 26 23.8
Ernie Banks (1965) 28 21.9
Jermaine Dye, Royals 26 42 14.0
Hank Aaron (1960) 40 14.8
Garret Anderson, Angels 28 48 13.6
Willie Mays (1959) 34 16.9
Richard Hidalgo, Astros 25 43 12.2
Jimmie Foxx (1933) 48 11.9
*Active players' totals are projected.