Magic Is Gone Hitting 30 homers in a season or 400 in a career has lost its luster, and slams aren't even that grand anymore

July 16, 2000

Many recognized measures of success in baseball have changed not
a whit, remaining as fixed as stone mile markers along an ancient
highway. Babe Ruth might never have DH'd in an interleague game
for a wild-card contender, but 200 hits for the Bambino resonates
with the same excellence now as in his day. Likewise, a .300
hitter and a 20-game winner still carry undeniable seals of
approval, and 100 wins validates a team's greatness.

With home runs, however, the old markers are useless. Eastern
Europe has been redrawn less over the past decade than the
boundaries of what makes a great home run hitter. Here's an
example of how fast home run standards have changed: In 1992 Dave
Hollins of the Phillies hit 27 dingers and finished fourth in the
National League home run race, eight off the lead of the Padres'
Fred McGriff. Only seven years later Edgardo Alfonzo of the Mets
hit the same number of jacks as Hollins and finished 25th in the
league.

Thirty home runs used to convey a sense of elitism and
wonderment--and once upon a time so did one-hour Martinizing. A
record 45 players hit 30 dingers last year, compared with only
five as recently as 1988. What's more amazing: that Steve Finley
could become a 30-home-run hitter for the third time or that Hall
of Famers Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Brooks Robinson, Jackie
Robinson and Charlie Gehringer never were?

Likewise, 400 career home runs doesn't confer the same status as
it did. Six players have hit their 400th homer in the past three
seasons--the first time so many have reached that mark in such a
brief interval--and before this year is over, Rafael Palmeiro, who
needs 16, and Albert Belle, who needs 24, could join recent
additions Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Cal Ripken
Jr., Ken Griffey Jr. and McGriff in the club. Even grand slams,
the rarest of taters, are losing luster. The rate of grannies has
nearly doubled in just the past eight years (one every 13.8
games, compared with every 25.1 games in 1992) and almost tripled
over the past 25 years (37.2).

"If Frank Robinson played today in Camden Yards," says former
Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer of his old teammate, "I know he'd hit
at least 70 home runs, maybe 80." Robinson, fourth on the alltime
home run list and an 11-time All-Star, hit 40 home runs in a
season only once. Jay Buhner of the Mariners, named to one
All-Star team in his career, has three 40-homer seasons.

Go figure, but do so at your own risk. The mileposts have
changed.

--T.V.

COLOR PHOTO: LEON ALGEE/AP

Grand Scheme

If the grand slam seems to have become an everyday occurrence,
that's because, on average, it has. With 94 slams, including six
by the Cards (above), in the first 1,295 games of the season,
that's a rate of one slam every 13.8 games.

Games
Year Games Slams per Slam

1990 2,105 72 29.2
1991 2,104 89 23.6
1992 2,106 84 25.1
1993 2,269 98 23.2
1994 1,600 74 21.6
1995 2,017 123 16.4
1996 2,267 141 16.1
1997 2,266 119 19.0
1998 2,432 120 20.3
1999 2,428 139 17.5
2000* 2,430 176 13.8

*Projected

Looks Easy

Halfway through the season a record number of hitters were on
track to sock 30 or more homers, led by five Angels: Garret
Anderson with a projected 48; Troy Glaus, 46; Mo Vaughn, 42; Tim
Salmon, 33; and Darin Erstad, 31. If form holds, Anaheim will
become the first team with a quintet of 30-homer hitters.

30 or 40 or
Year More HRs More HRs

1990 12 2
1991 12 2
1992 10 2
1993 22 5
1994 10 2
1995 21 4
1996 43 17
1997 31 12
1998 33 13
1999 45 13
2000* 58 33

*Projected

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)