McGuire Moves Up Homers List

Tuesday, May 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Mark McGwire dispatched Jimmie Foxx and pulled alongside Mickey Mantle in the same day. Mike Schmidt is coming up.

The St. Louis Cardinals slugger seems to make history with each new moon shot, passing one Hall of Famer after another as he scales the career home run list. He did it twice in Sunday's 12-10 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The first homer, a bullet over the left-field wall near the visiting bullpen, was No. 535. That broke a tie with Foxx for No. 9 on the homer list.

An inning later, more history, again off Dodgers starter Carlos Perez. This time, McGwire went where few — other than himself — rarely venture, the upper deck of Busch Stadium.

In fact, No. 536 — No. 14 this season — went well into the left-field upper deck. It cleared the first section of seats and landed in the unsuspecting hands of a fan passing down a walkway, 487 feet from home plate. That one tied McGwire with Mantle for No. 8 on the list.

``That's a great group,'' McGwire said. ``I'm very honored to have my name mentioned with them. Hopefully, I can keep moving up that ladder.

``But like I've said before, it's all not really going to sink in until I retire,'' McGwire said. ``I'm passing Hall of Famers, but I've got a lot left in me.''

Twelve more homers and McGwire will reach 548 and tie Schmidt for No. 7 on the list. He's 27 short of Reggie Jackson's 563, 37 short of Harmon Killebrew's 573, and 50 short of Frank Robinson's 586.

That means a 64-homer season — and why not, considering McGwire has averaged 67.5 the past two seasons? — puts him behind only Henry Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Willie Mays (660).

``Bring the kids out, fans,'' Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said after Sunday's game. ``Some day, your kids will be able to say they saw one of the greatest players ever.''

McGwire has missed nine games with a back injury and one to visit a brother injured in a car wreck.

McGwire, who turns 37 on Oct. 1, shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, he's hitting better now than when he was in his late 20s, normally a baseball player's prime. Though he hit 49 homers as a rookie in 1987, he never topped 50 until hitting 52 at age 32 in 1996.

He hasn't dipped anywhere near 50 since. Over the past two years, McGwire has hit 135 homers. Over the past four, he's hit a staggering 245 homers.

Baseball historians said McGwire is the rare athlete whose increasing knowledge of the game offsets the aging process.

``I remember with Mike Schmidt — he got to be a much smarter hitter as he got older,'' said Jack Rossi, author of ``The National Game: Baseball and American Culture.'' ``He could read the counts and read the pitcher much better. McGwire's the same way. You never really see him get fooled.''

Seymour Siwoff, president of the Elias Sports Bureau, which provides statistics for baseball, recalled how McGwire studied hitting while missing most of two seasons with injuries in the early 1990s.

``While he was injured he stayed with the scouts and learned about hitting,'' Siwoff said. ``He stands alone.''

He may be getting better.

A .265 career hitter entering this season, McGwire is batting .337. He has 29 runs batted in 27 games. He's hitting homers at a pace of one every 5.9 at-bats.

In his historic 70-homer season in 1998, McGwire homered once every 7.3 at-bats, a record for a full season. In his follow-up 65-homer 1999, McGwire went deep once every eight at-bats.

McGwire seems certain to reach No. 4 on the career list no later than early next season.

The big question: Can he challenge the big three? Mays' 660 seems well within range — just 124 away. But to reach Aaron's 755, McGwire would have to put up big numbers into his low 40s.

``You project him out to age 40 at 40 to 45 homers a year — he's either going to break it or come close,'' Rossi said.

``It depends on his health,'' Siwoff said. ``If he stays healthy, I don't see why he can't play another four years. He could own it all.''


On the Net: