Add a little Sosa to that Big Mac attack

Monday, June 29, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Oh, Sammy!

Yes, this space was devoted last week to the phenomenal hitting exploits of Cubs' strongman Sammy Sosa, but the way he's going, he deserves as much press as he can get.

On Thursday Sosa set a new major league record for homers in one month (19 and counting in June) when he crushed one into the upper deck in right field at Tiger Stadium. But Sosa had already entered the record books (sort of) by the time he broke the official record. Sosa's 21 homers in a 30-day span -- from May 22 through June 20 -- were the most ever for a major-leaguers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Ralph Kiner had 20 in 30 days for Pittsburgh in 1947 and Roger Maris 20 in 30 days for the Yankees in 1961.

Sosa is on pace for 66 homers, and here's one voice that hopes it's he, not Mark McGwire, ends up breaking Maris record. True, this voice grew rooting for the Cubs, but there are other legitimate reasons for why we're rooting for Sammy.

First, Sammy is a good guy, a fun guy, who loves the fans and interacts with them as often as possible out in the right field bleachers at Wrigley Field. He also has donated hundreds of computers to schools in his native Dominican Republic.

Second, McGwire and his "I feel like a caged lion" thing are too surly too sustain over the course of a media-scrutinized season. McGwire also does a lion's share of charity work, but Sammy seems like he'd enjoy the chase more.

Let's put it this way: Sammy seems to be having fun during his streak, hopping up and down when he hits one out, but McGwire often looks all business.

Said Sosa: "I'm a human being. I'm not Superman, like I've said. I don't have any pressure on myself."

More Sammy: The Cubs lost 12 of 15 while Sosa was setting the record, which seemed to waste an explosive month.

"I hope we don't get too heavy," catcher Scott Servais said. "He's carrying quite a load."

Cubs first baseman Mark Grace expects Sosa to cool down eventually. "He's due to cool off. You have to give him a break," Grace said. "Sammy has handled (this) so well. He's very humbled about it. He has allowed us to make some outs because he has been such a great player for us all year and we have ridden his coattails all year. We just have to make sure that when he does go south, the rest of us are there to say, 'C'mon, Sammy, hop on."'

Said Phillies manager Terry Francona, on the Titanic blast hit by Sosa at Wrigley Field last week that appeared to land in Wisconsin: "I've heard announcers talk about hitting balls onto Waveland Avenue. Well, they might have to go another street. He nearly knocked the house down."

RBI man: Texas' Juan Gonzalez -- who has a major-league leading 93 RBI a week before the All-Star break and is chasing Hack Wilson's single-season record of 190 -- has had a knack for driving in runs his entire career, even back in rookie ball.

Sandy Johnstone, now an assistant general manager with Arizona, was Texas' assistant GM for player personnel and scouting when Gonzalez was signed and developed. He remembers how good a skinny 16-year old Gonzalez was back then at getting the runner home.

Gonzalez hit only .240 no homers and just five extra-base hits in the Gulf Coast rookie league in 1986, but had 36 RBI in 60 games -- 36 RBI with no homers.

"With a runner on base - we all noticed it right off the bat," Johnstone said. "He had a knack then for picking up the run, even as a young kid. He went to another level. He just had a feel for it."

If Gonzalez was at another level then, how high is he now?

No home run derby: Though he'll likely be making his first All-Star start next week in Denver (he's second in the voting for outfielders), Gonzalez doesn't plan to participate in the home run-hitting contest. Gonzalez won the home-run derby in 1993 in Baltimore, his only other All-Star appearance. But he doesn't like it.

"It messes up your body," he said. "The next day your neck is sore, your back, your shoulders, your ribs. All you're trying to do is hit the ball over the left field wall and you're sore all over the next day."

Giant slayer: Someone has finally found a way to stop Mark McGwire: put Willie Blair on the mound. McGwire is 1-for-6 with four strikeouts -- and no homers -- this season against the Arizona right-hander and 2-for-16 with no homers for his career.

Blair will admit only to being fortunate, but he has worked inside on McGwire and thrown breaking balls outside when he gets ahead in the count, two strategies that have been successful so far.

"Most of the time I've faced him I've been able to get ahead and make him face my pitches," Blair said. "There's no one way I've thrown him. I've just mixed it up."

Double-duty: The Pirates are tossing around the idea of using one of their farmhands as both a pitcher and designated hitter. Clint Johnston, a left-hander and first-round draft pick this year from Vanderbilt University, has started his professional career as a pitcher with Class A Augusta in the South Atlantic League. But the Pirates are toying with the idea of using Johnston as a DH when he isn't pitching because he hit. 424 with 19 homers at Vandy this year.

Money man: The Dodgers fired manager Bill Russell and long-time general manager Fred Claire last week, but their replacements (Glenn Hoffman as manager and former manager Tommy Lasorda as GM) were given only the tag "interim" by the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox regime.

And their performance in terms of wins and losses may not matter if that doesn't translate into bringing more money into the well-lined Fox coffers. Everybody auditions for this outfit.

"Everything is black and white with Murdoch," said Fredrick Marx, an industry analyst from Bloomfield, Mich. "He has one standard: Financial performance."

End of the line: Twins designated hitter Paul Molitor knows he is getting closer to retirement every day, which is why he's bummed at having to miss at least three weeks with a broken rib after being hit by a pitch from the White Sox's Matt Karchner.

"Every day, you're one day closer to not being able to wear the uniform as a player anymore," said Molitor, who has played through a labrum tear in his left shoulder this season. "To have a percentage of those few remaining games taken away, it's a difficult thing. A frustrating thing. . . But part of everybody's growth as a person is how you approach things. I woke up this morning and realized that one of my choices is to deal with it as best I can."

Most amazing, though not surprising, about Molitor's injury was that he played in the field after breaking the rib and batted again before coming out.

"(Molitor) stays in the game and knocks in the go-ahead run with a broken rib," said Twins third baseman Ron Coomer. "When he was running to first base, I thought he was going to fall over."

The final word: From Cubs first baseman Mark Grace, on the Indians fans who made Wrigley Field sound like Jacobs Field West last week -- just like they did in Cincinnati three weeks ago.

"This team has a cult following," said Grace. "They're like the Dead Heads who followed the Grateful Dead."

Sports Headlines for Sunday, June 28, 1998

Bengals' deep pockets could land O'Donnell
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City proves it is among cycling elite
Harrison leads South to 10-9 win
Kentucky all-stars routed in Indy
Park holds off teammate in Western Am
13th inning lucky for Reds
The new man in Cardinal Country
XU, UC women join forces for soccer regional