Barry Bonds paid a call on Mark McGwire, the man whose homer
record he's chasing
High above the field at Busch Stadium, between the out-of-town
scoreboard and the flags commemorating the Cardinals' 10 retired
numbers, is a career home run leader board. This year the only
change on the board, which lists the top nine sluggers of all
time, has been to update the number of homers next to the name of
the guy in seventh place, St. Louis first baseman Mark McGwire.
Last Friday, however, behind the final nameplate, that of Mickey
Mantle, who hit 536, a work crew positioned a new name--that of
Giants leftfielder Barry Bonds, who was coming to town five
homers shy of surpassing the Mick. At the appropriate time,
Mantle's name would be removed to reveal Bonds's.
As it turned out, Bonds homered just once, increasing his big
league-leading total to 39 and his career mark to 533, but San
Francisco's only trip to St. Louis this year still had historic
significance: For the first time since Aug. 1, 1976, two men with
at least 500 homers played in the same game. Unlike the last such
matchup, in which the aging Hank Aaron pinch-hit for the Brewers
against the Indians, whose aging player-manager, Frank Robinson,
started in leftfield, the Cards-Giants series featured two
sluggers who are still among the game's most feared hitters.
In the Friday night opener McGwire, who missed 37 games this
season with tendinitis in his right knee, hit his seventh homer
of the year, off righthander Livan Hernandez, a 429-foot two-run
shot to left centerfield. On Saturday night Bonds answered with a
380-foot blast off righty Darryl Kile that put him six homers
ahead of McGwire's record 70-dinger pace in 1998.
"Mark's record is not in jeopardy," Bonds said before that game,
adding that he wants only to hit 50 homers in a season for the
first time in his career to please his godfather, Willie Mays.
"I'm happy because I might be able to do that," said Bonds, who
had a career-high 49 last year. "I'm not even thinking about
Everyone else is, however. The Giants' p.r. staff distributes a
15-page Bonds home run compendium before each game. "It's not a
circus yet," says San Francisco centerfielder Calvin Murray,
"nothing like it will be once he passes 50." Maybe not, but the
Giants are already getting a taste of media madness. After
walking three times on Friday, Bonds hustled out of the clubhouse
without talking, leaving a gaggle of reporters lingering near his
"Just write what you saw," said outfielder Eric Davis, whose
locker is next to Bonds's.
"But I'm TV," came one reply.
Davis took the guy's microphone and proceeded to interview the
would-be interviewer. Davis was having fun, which he had better
do while he can. Over in the home team's clubhouse, McGwire was
talking about Bonds, but he could have been talking about the guy
who has to dress next to Bonds when he said, "The second half of
the year is the toughest time." --Mark Bechtel
Bell, Clayton Are Busts
Moves That Backfired
When the Pirates signed free-agent outfielder Derek Bell to a
two-year, $9 million contract last December, new Pittsburgh
manager Lloyd McClendon said the addition "sent shock waves
throughout baseball." He was right. Who wouldn't be baffled by a
mid-market club throwing so much dough at a 32-year-old
journeyman, who with the Mets had hit .187 last season. Beyond
that, the Pirates' incumbent rightfielder, John Vander Wal, was
coming off a career-best year in which he hit .299 with 24 homers
and 94 RBIs. How could the signing of Bell possibly make sense?
It didn't. With nearly half the season complete, Bell is the
National League's biggest bust, having batted .153 with two
homers and seven RBIs in 37 games. His dreadful year might seem
even worse were it not for the bottoming out of White Sox
shortstop Royce Clayton, the biggest bust in the American League.
Clayton was acquired from the Rangers to bat second and provide
middle-infield stability for Chicago, which was expected to
battle the Indians for the AL Central title. However, through
Sunday he was at .180 with 19 RBIs for the third-place Sox (36-36
and 17 games behind Cleveland). "You would think that it couldn't
get any worse," says Clayton, 31, a career .258 hitter entering
this season. "I've hit the ball hard, and that's all I have
Meanwhile, Bell has been derided regularly at PNC Park, home of
the last-place Pirates (25-47), and the Pittsburgh media cited
his signing as a big reason for the June 11 firing of general
manager Cam Bonifay. "That's not fair," says Bell, a .279 career
hitter before the season. "I'm just one guy, but I guess I'm the
In his 11-year, five-team career, the yappy Bell has often been
his own worst enemy. In 1991 he was the Blue Jays' top prospect,
but Toronto--dismayed by his lack of hustle--traded him in '93 to
the Padres. Last October, after spraining his right ankle in a
Division Series game against the Giants, Bell angered his Mets
teammates by returning home to Tampa instead of attending the
Subway Series. Already, several Pirates have said they're tired
of Bell's big-talk, little-production antics.
On May 22 Bell began a 17-day stint with the Triple A Nashville
Sounds to rehab a strained left knee. While there, he worked on a
new batting stance that has him rising to the tips of his toes as
the pitcher releases the ball. "I've tried everything," he says.
"One sock. Two socks. I wore other people's T-shirts who were
hot." None of it worked. While in Nashville, Bell hit .164 in 55
at bats; he had batted .238 since his return to Pittsburgh on
General Manager Bears Up
Royal Mess in Kansas City
When Allard Baird was named general manager of the Royals last
June, he saw a golden opportunity. Kansas City was en route to
77 wins, its best finish in seven years. With several young,
powerful hitters and a maturing starting rotation, Baird and
most other members of the K.C. front office envisioned at least
82 wins in 2001, possibly even the American League wild card.
"Our expectations were very high," says Baird. "Because of that,
maybe our players put too much pressure on themselves."
Whatever the reason, the Royals have been terrible, with their
4-2 loss to the Indians on Sunday dropping them to 28-46, 17
games behind Cleveland in the American League Central. Much of
the blame assessed in the press has fallen on manager Tony Muser,
who further drew the ire of Kansas City's conservative Midwest
fan base two months ago by suggesting that his players were
thinking too much about religion and too little about baseball.
Baird insists that Muser's job is safe and has refused to
criticize new closer Roberto Hernandez, whose 4.26 ERA and three
blown saves have hardly justified the trading to the A's of K.C.
fan favorite Johnny Damon, a .327 hitter last season with the
Royals who has been a bust in Oakland.
There have been additional disappointments galore--including
third baseman Joe Randa's offensive drop-off (a .261 average
after hitting .304 last year), season-ending shoulder surgery
for lefthanded starter Jose Rosado and the inconsistency of
righthander Mac Suzuki (2-5, 5.30 ERA after undergoing
arthroscopic surgery last October), who was traded on Sunday.
But Baird refuses to pass the blame. "I'm the G.M., and the
responsibility is on me," he says. "The manager and players are
not scapegoats. I'm in charge of putting together the team."
And in charge of pulling it apart. Although Baird's only move of
note this season has been acquiring righthanded starter Paul Byrd
from the Phillies for righthanded reliever Jose Santiago on June
5, Baird doesn't dismiss the possibility of moving more players
soon. Several clubs, including the Rockies and the Yankees, have
called about rightfielder Jermaine Dye, who is making $3.8
million. "We're not shopping, but we'll listen," Baird says.
"Nobody is untouchable here, but we need major league value in
Baird, 38, a former coach, scout and assistant general manager,
concedes that the demands of his position have been overwhelming
at times. "I live and die with our success and failures," he
says. "As a G.M., you bleed."
July 8, All-Star Futures Game
From Expos righthander Tony Armas to A's lefthander Barry Zito,
31 of the participants in the first two of these seven-inning
midseason games--which annually match top U.S.-born minor leaguers
against their foreign-born counterparts--are now in the majors.
Who will be next? Hard to tell. Two U.S. team members, J.R.
House, the Pirates' catcher of the future, and Sean Burroughs,
the Padres' third-baseman-to-be, are nearly ready. This year's
sleeper is Angel Berroa, a smooth-field, spray-hit shortstop with
the Double A Wichita (Kans.) Wranglers, whom the Royals acquired
from the A's in last winter's Johnny Damon deal.
For scores, stats and the latest news, plus more from Tom
Verducci and Stephen Cannella, go to cnnsi.com/baseball.
in the Box
BRAVES 8, METS 4
For a 20-year-old Dominican, Rafael Furcal sets the table with
the aplomb of a sixtysomething Brit named Jeeves. Atlanta trailed
New York 4-3 when Furcal keyed a four-run seventh with a leadoff
double--on a bunt. With Mets third baseman Robin Ventura charging
within 60 feet of the plate, Furcal chipped the ball to Ventura's
right, past the bag and into foul territory in short left. B.J.
Surhoff's single scored Furcal to tie the game, and three batters
later Brian Jordan's three-run homer off reliever Jerrod Riggan
put the Braves ahead to stay.
Furcal already had led off the game with a single, stolen second
and scored, and then repeated that sequence in the third inning,
with the steal coming on a pitchout this time. Still, it was his
two-bag bunt that had heads shaking. "I've never seen anything
like that," said losing pitcher Steve Trachsel.
Two advance scouts, one from each league, reflect on what they
saw and heard last week:
Although the Indians' bullpen isn't so deep that it was a
risk-free move to lose two pitchers to gain one, getting John
Rocker in a trade with the Braves was huge for Cleveland. A team
can tolerate anyone, even someone who's as much of a pain as
Rocker, for half a season if the guy produces. The deal could
really pay off in the playoffs because Rocker is a power
lefthander, and the Mariners are vulnerable against lefties....
When Reds rightfielder Alex Ochoa came up with the Mets in 1995,
everyone talked about how much potential he had. Now we're seeing
it. For the first time he's hitting to rightfield on a consistent
basis. He also has one of the game's top two or three rightfield
arms.... Royals shortstop Rey Sanchez would be a terrific fit for
the Dodgers. L.A.'s Alex Cora is a nice utility player who can
play second or short, but he's not consistent enough at the plate
to start. Sanchez catches everything, and he's a solid contact
hitter.... The Phillies' Larry Bowa is the type of manager who
has a short shelf life. You can see his players tiring of the
rah-rah stuff. You can't have that level of intensity for 162
games and expect a response.... A couple of us scouts were
talking, and we agreed that the Marlins' pitching staff reminds
us of the '69 Mets' staff, with Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan
Ryan and other young studs. Florida's Ryan Dempster, Bred Penny
and A.J. Burnett are phenomenal. All that staff needs is a
veteran to lead and teach it, a David Cone type.