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'How About That!': Baseball Feats Not Forgotten

By Yair J. Listokin

While the "inside scoop" on the playoff teams will be endlessly rehashed by cheesy pre-game shows on Fox, Sunday marks the end of the 1996 season for most of major league baseball.

Before losing ourselves in the magic of October, let us take a minute to reflect on the season that has gone by (kind of like baseball's version of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur).

Here are the quiet highlights of the losers, the stories that will be forgotten when the champagne starts spritzing.

1. Lots of Homers--Juiced ball or no, just about every home run record (outside of Maris' seemingly unreachable single season record of 61 dingers) was broken this year. More people hit 20, 30, or 40 homers than ever before. The Baltimore Orioles broke the Yankees' team record of 240 homers in a season. An ERA of four, once considered the threshold of mediocrity, was good enough this year to place a pitcher amongst the AL's elite hurlers.

Everyone talks about the lack of pitching but one oft-overlooked factor driving this run scoring and power explosion is the quirky character of the new ballparks in baseball. All the new "retro" parks are assymetrical in design and feature at least one short porch making it easy to hit homers.

The new Coors Field in Denver is one of the best hitter's parks in history. Andres Galaragga, Dante Bichette et al. may be good hitters, but they hardly remind fans of Ruth and Mantle. With the help of the thin air in Colorado, however, the Rockies put up stats reminiscent of the Bambino and the Mick.

2. While runs and homers were the principal highlights of the '96 season, there were also some memorable, if little noticed, individual performances.

In the year of the hitter, Kevin Brown of Florida somehow managed to maintain an ERA under two.

Barry Bonds of San Francisco quietly put together yet another stellar season. Playing in a poor hitter's park, Bonds ranks in the top five in the league in RBIs and Homers, despite missing a number of games due to injury. He may be surly, but Bonds has compiled a seven year stretch of play that places him amongst the games all-time elite.

Over in the AL, Pat Hentgen of Toronto is a throwback to a time when starting pitchers actually finished games too. Kudos also to the Milwaukee Brewers, who have played almost .500 despite a minuscule payroll and a no-name roster (can anyone name their starting outfield?).

If anyone missed Seattle play this year (and it looks like the M's will not be in the postseason), do not make the same mistake next year. Ken Griffey, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez have the talent and flair that has been missing from the game for a long while.

Baseball in '96 was not all fun and games, however. Randy Johnson, the games most dominating pitcher, hardly threw at all this season because of a debilitating back injury. Hopefully, Johnson's extensive work in last year's playoffs did not do irreparable damage, and the "Big Unit" will be back to his intimidating ways in '97.

The same can not be said of Mel Allen, unfortunately. The voice of the Yankees and later of "This Week in Baseball" passed away in the spring. I'm confident that somewhere up in heaven, however, good old Mel is surveying the '96 regular season with his customary "How About That."

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