Sports

A GIANT AMONG PLAYERS

Long before he moved to the frozen-food section, Ted Williams said, "Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of 10 and be considered a good performer." By that yardstick, what adjective can we apply to the recent achievements of Barry Bonds? Over the last two seasons, Bonds has turned the game upside down, reaching base more often than he heads back to the dugout. On his way to 73 homers last year, he became only the fifth player after 1900 (joining Williams, Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth, and Mickey Mantle) to record an on-base percentage of over .500. This year, he's quietly cranked it up a notch. Combining a major-league leading .370 batting average, with 191 walks and counting (already breaking his all-time record of 177, set last year), he's assembled an astonishing .581 on-base percentage. That puts him on course to demolish Ted Williams's single-season mark of .553 set in his remarkable 1941 season. Stat geeks will note that Bonds also remains within striking distance of the single-season OPS mark (slugging plus on-base)—1.377 vs. Ruth's 1.379—and should become the first player since Ruth to own the single-season records in both OBP and SLG.

Another record, however, seems safe for another year: father Bobby Bonds's single-season strikeout record. As of September 18, Milwaukee's José Hernández had 188 strikeouts on the season, one short of the mark. But the All-Star shortstop sat out four games in a row—including three consecutive losses—and said that he probably won't play in the team's remaining seven games to avoid breaking the elder Bonds's 32-year-old record. You will remember that Hernández whiffed 185 times last year and sat out three of the team's final four games to avoid a place in history. We hereby call upon Commissioner Bud Selig to appoint a blue-ribbon panel to investigate the actions of the Brewer shortstop—oh, never mind. —Allen St. John


AREA NEWSHOUND CITED

Our analysis of the baseball labor settlement ("Strikes and Balls," September 11-17) was lacking in one important area: We didn't give enough credit where credit was due. In retrospect, it wasn't fair to say, "You'd think the local sports press would, by now, have acquired some insight into the business of sports." We concentrated too heavily on the big guns at The New York Times and the Daily News and missed some of the younger writers who did a pretty good job of informing the public about the owners' ploys. Most prominent among them was Michael O'Keefe of the News.

On August 31, 2001, O'Keefe correctly nailed the 87-page so-called "Blue Ribbon Report" as "management's old argument for a salary cap in the new language of competitive balance." He also correctly noted that "few outside Major League Baseball believed the report was anything more than propaganda. The players were not represented on the panel that wrote the report; its members—Yale President Richard Levin, former senator George Mitchell, columnist George Will and former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volckerall have ties to the owners."

In April 2001, O'Keefe allowed former union head Marvin Miller to dis the panel and its findings in the strongest language we've seen in a daily newspaper: "I want an independent panel, so I'll put my brother, my uncle, and my sister on it . . . They [the owners] weren't serious about this. They made sure there was not any union input." O'Keefe also quoted the union's general counsel, Gene Orza, as calling the report a "PR ploy" and adding, "They're trying to convince [the media] to get the players to read it and to undermine the solidarity of the union." O'Keefe was right on Selig's strategy from the beginning and probably did the best job of any New York area scribe of staying on top of the negotiations from beginning to end. We look forward to checking in with him from time to time on how the new Basic Agreement shakes out. —Allen Barra


THE HAZARDS OF DUQUE

Perhaps Orlando Hernandez should change his nickname to "El Who-que." Blindly ignoring his stellar postseason history (9-2 in 13 games started), the Yankees seem intent on sending him to the bullpen next week, instead of Mike Mussina—making El Duque's recent dustup with Jorge Posada look more like misplaced frustration than a genuine beef. You can't blame Hernandez for being hopping mad: He bounced back from an injury-plagued 2001 (and his father's death) by training valiantly all winter, shedding 15 pounds on a low-fat diet and taking spin classes with half-brother/fellow pitcher Livan. This year, though he lost six weeks on the DL, his .236 opponents' batting average and 1.15 WHIP are the lowest in the rotation, reflecting his renewed aggressiveness.

It's still not enough to satisfy his manager, however. El Torre evinced noticeable displeasure last month when the incorrigible Cuban lobbed two "eephus" pitches (comical junkballs clocked at 45 mph) in a row to A-Rod, who clubbed the second one for a homer. Hernandez then threw the next batter—a certain Rafael Palmeiro—another eephus. D'oh! Another dinger. ("It felt like a slow-pitch softball game," said A-Rod.) Such antics drive Torre crazy, but maybe the manager needs to refresh his memory: Moose tanked in Game 1 of the World Series last year (and is a shaky 4-2 in his 10 October starts), while El Duque dominated, despite having struggled during the regular season. Like Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter, Hernandez has that uncanny ability to elevate his game when it counts. And with Oakland on their horizon, the Yanks need all the mystery and aura they can get. —J.Y. Yeh

 
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