Dinger Drop-off
Homers began the year with a bang but ended with a (relative)
whimper

Even though he makes his living as a slugger, Dodgers
leftfielder Gary Sheffield takes a benign view of the decline in
home runs during the second half of this season. "The perception
[today] is, when you see guys hit 60 or 70 home runs, there must
be something wrong with the baseball and everybody should be
hitting homers," says Sheffield, who finished with a career-high
43 dingers, tying the franchise record set by Duke Snider in
1956. "But if you look at it, everything is back to normal now."

Not quite--the 5,693 home runs and the rate of 2.34 homers per
game this season eclipsed the records of 5,528 and 2.28 set in
1999. Still, the home run blizzard raging at the All-Star break,
when a record 58 players were on pace for 30-homer seasons,
became more like a squall down the stretch. Before the break
four-baggers occurred at a rate of 2.56 per game; in the second
half the average was 2.10. A post-midpoint decline isn't unusual,
given that the home run rate has dropped after the All-Star break
in six of the last 10 full seasons, but this year's falloff was
precipitous. The decline of 0.46 homers per game was the largest
change, plus or minus, from one half to the next in the game's
history.

As that statistic would suggest, the second half saw many
first-half power hitters lose their clout. Of those 58 players on
pace for 30-homer seasons, only 47 accomplished the feat, which
still broke the record of 45 set last season. Of the 37 players
who mashed at least 20 taters in the first half, only 8 matched
or exceeded that number in the second.

Where did all the homers go? The drop can be attributed to
several factors:

--Improved pitching. Says Dodgers third baseman Dave Hansen, "I've
seen better command from pitchers since the All-Star break. Guys
aren't making that pitch down the middle anymore." This
hypothesis is supported by nonhomer numbers: The overall big
league batting average dropped from .272 in the first half to
.269 in the second; walks decreased from 7.7 per game to 7.3.

--Injuries. Several of the game's biggest boppers played hurt or
sat out for significant stretches of the second half. The
Cardinals' Mark McGwire (30 homers at the break) had just 13 at
bats and two home runs in the season's final three months because
of severe right knee tendinitis. The Reds' Ken Griffey Jr. (28)
was bothered by a sore left hamstring down the stretch and ended
up with only 12 second-half dingers. The Rangers' Ivan Rodriguez
(26) didn't play after fracturing his right thumb on July 24, and
Blue Jays outfielder Raul Mondesi (23) missed three months after
midseason surgery to remove bone spurs from his right elbow and
hit one home run after returning to action.

--The ball? Proving again that baseball is fertile ground for
conspiracy theories, some players and coaches suspect a midseason
de-juicing of the old cowhide. "It's awful coincidental that they
had that meeting about how balls are made," says Brewers pitching
coach Bob Apodaca, referring to the June summit between the
commissioner's office and Rawlings, manufacturer of the major
league ball, "and then, all of a sudden, home run production goes
down."

Consolation Prizes
Our Award Alternatives

Much attention rightly will be paid the recipients of baseball's
major awards, but there are others who won't come close to
winning an MVP or Cy Young but deserve recognition nonetheless.
Here are the winners of our dubious honors:

Injury of the Year Award: To Red Sox righthander Paxton
Crawford, who missed a scheduled July call-up from Triple A
Pawtucket when he fell out of bed, landed on a drinking glass
and needed eight stitches to close the resulting gash on his
lower back. Honorable mention: Marlins righty Ricky Bones, who
missed a start after straining his back climbing out of a
clubhouse recliner while watching TV.

Hannibal Lecter Trophy: To Indians righty Dave Burba, who, after
being ripped for three hits by Darin Erstad in a loss to the
Angels, announced, "I'd like to shoot him, cut him up into
pieces, stab him, or whatever, so I don't have to face him
again."

The Streisand Farewell Award for False Advertising: To the Devil
Rays, who launched a "Hit Show" ad campaign last winter to
attract fans to watch a beer-league lineup that featured aging
sluggers Jose Canseco, Vinny Castilla, Fred McGriff and Greg
Vaughn. Tampa Bay ended up last in the American League in runs,
second to last in attendance.

Dud Trade Award: The deal that sent outfielder Shawn Green from
the Blue Jays to the Dodgers for outfielder Raul Mondesi. Green
hit 40 points lower and smacked 18 fewer homers than he did last
year. Mondesi had elbow surgery in July and played only 96 games.
Neither team made the playoffs.

Fittest Catchers Medal: To the Reds' backstops, who had to run
down a major-league-record 96 wild pitches uncorked by the
Cincinnati staff.

Best-in-Show for the Oldest Dog with the Newest Trick: To Rockies
catcher Brent Mayne, who in August pitched a scoreless 12th
inning--and got Chipper Jones to ground out with two men on--for a
win over the Braves. It was the first time, including Little
League, that Mayne, 32, had thrown off a mound.

Meatiest Performance of the Year: To Tigers righthander Hideo
Nomo, who wore the Italian-sausage suit, for beating the
bratwurst and kielbasa to win the nightly sausage race at
Milwaukee's County Stadium in July.

Looking on the Bright Side Award: To Astros righty Jose Lima, who
finished a miserable season with a 6.65 ERA while allowing a
National League-record 48 homers. Said he, "I have the National
League record. So what? At least I'm in the book for
something--and it's not for stealing or drugs."

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Home runs took a hit when Big Mac and others had the bat taken out of their hands by injury. COLOR PHOTO: WINSLOW TOWNSON

the HOT corner

One of the Dodgers' priorities this winter will be re-signing
righthander Darren Dreifort, who can become a free agent.
Dreifort, a bit of a disappointment during his first three
seasons, drove his market price way up with a strong second
half. In his last 15 starts Dreifort, 28, went 8-2 with a 3.14
ERA. "[Opposing hitters] talk about how filthy his stuff is, and
if they get down to first, they have no idea how they got
there," says Los Angeles first baseman Eric Karros. "When it
comes to guys on our staff, Dreif is the last guy anyone wants
to face." ...

Brewers rightfielder Jeromy Burnitz, whose refusal to discuss a
contact extension in July sparked trade rumors, now says he's
willing to listen to offers from Milwaukee. Burnitz, who hit 31
homers and drove in 98 runs even while batting .232, has a
four-year, $14.5 million contract that runs through 2001....

The Indians finished with 72 errors, the fewest ever in a full
season by an American League team. On the other (bad) hand, the
Angels' starting infield (first baseman Mo Vaughn, second
baseman Adam Kennedy, third baseman Troy Glaus and shortstops
Benji Gil and Kevin Stocker) combined for 102 miscues.

Wait till Next Year

Most players take a year or two of seasoning before fully
blossoming--think of the stars who emerged this year, like Royals
first baseman-designated hitter Mike Sweeney (.333 average, 144
RBIs), Astros rightfielder Richard Hidalgo (44 homers, 121 RBIs)
and A's righthander Tim Hudson (20-6, 4.14 ERA), each of whom was
in at least his second big league season. Here are five players
who, based on their 2000 performances, seem primed to join the
elite in '01.

Adrian Beltre, 3B, Dodgers, age 21 Stats: .290, 20 HRs, 85
RBIs
Signs of Emergence: Improved patience and shortened swing in
second half led to .331 average and 12 homers after the All-Star
break.

Gabe Kapler, OF, Rangers, age 25 Stats: .302, 14 HRs, 66 RBIs
Signs of Emergence: Adding leg kick to swing jump-started
hitting streak of 28 games and .344 average in second half.

Tomokazu Ohka (right), RHP, Red Sox, age 24 Stats: 3-6, 3.27
ERA, .265 opponents' BA
Signs of Emergence: Allowed more than two runs only twice in 11
starts; composure belies his inexperience.

Ramon Ortiz, RHP, Angels, age 24 Stats: 8-6, 5.09 ERA, .236
opponents' BA
Signs of Emergence: Called Little Pedro because of stature and
style similar to Red Sox ace's; showed better command and calmer
demeanor in second half.

Juan Pierre, OF, Rockies, age 23 Stats: .310, 62 hits in 51
games
Signs of Emergence: Demonstrated fleetness with seven steals as
leadoff man, prompting Brewers coach Bob Apodaca to say, "Might
be one of those pain-in-the-butt types who gets on base and runs
around."

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)