On pace with Maris? Heck, Griffey's got Aaron in home run sights

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The remarkable start of Seattle center fielder Ken Griffey has him on a pace well ahead of Roger Maris' record 61 home run season. Why stop there? Why not figure what pace Griffey would have to match to break Hank Aaron's career home run record of 755?

Just for fun, consider that if Griffey maintained his 76 home run pace throughout the season, he would have 208 home runs before turning 25. Figuring he will play 15 more seasons and retire at the age of 39, Griffey would have to average 37 home runs to break Aaron's record.

In other words, Griffey wouldn't even have to be half as good as he has been this season to break Aaron's record and finish with 763 home runs.

For now, Griffey's pursuit of Maris is what is on the minds of many major-league players.

Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who recently completed a 24-game hitting streak and said he thinks no one will break Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, said Maris' record is in jeopardy.

"Sure, he has a shot," Palmeiro said of Griffey. "In fact, Frank Thomas has a shot."

What does Griffey have going against him?

"He doesn't have anything going against him," Palmeiro said. "What he has going for him is he's the best player in the game. The ballpark he plays in helps, too. He crushes in that ballpark. But he does it everywhere. He's just a really naturally gifted, smart hitter. He makes adjustments well. Guys like him are not going to go into long slumps. He'll go into some bad streaks, but the better the hitter, the shorter the streak."

If Griffey did top Maris, the record would be tainted in the minds of some who believe the ball is livelier than usual this season.

"The ball's not juiced," Palmeiro said. "He's only 24 years old. He's still getting stronger, still maturing. I would like to see him get it."

As the summer months wear on, Griffey could tire, but don't count on it. For one thing, he plays his home games indoors, a subtle point in his favor, a factor that outweighs Seattle's travel schedule, easily the most rigorous in baseball.

In the minds of many, Griffey's quick start already has earned him the distinction of being baseball's best player, an honor Barry Bonds has owned for at least the past four seasons.

Griffey has yet to win a Most Valuable Player Award, but consider what his resume will look like when he can file for free agency after the 1995 season.

He will have more than 200 home runs, six Gold Gloves and six All-Star appearances. And he will be all of 25. How does a 10-year, $150 million contract sound?

Going into the weekend, Griffey had 153 career home runs, one more than his father hit.

Jay Buhner, who hits behind Griffey, marvels at his teammate's skill.

"For about the last three weeks in the on-deck circle, Junior will tell me how the pitcher is going to pitch him and how he's going to try to handle those pitches," Buhner told Seattle reporters. "Then I stand there and watch him do it."

Then again, if there's a strike

Griffey will need all 162 games to make a serious run at Maris, and a players strike could prevent that from happening.

The two sides appear so far apart that a strike seems inevitable. The standings work in the players' favor for a quick labor agreement.

New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Los Angeles Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley are among the most powerful executives in the game. Each of their teams is in first place, which would make terminating the season extremely painful.

Small-market alibi

The next time you hear Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig whine about the plight of small-market teams, mention three names to him: Teddy Higuera, Ron Robinson, Franklin Stubbs. The Brewers signed them to multimillion-dollar contracts, even though everyone knew Higuera's shoulder was shot, and Stubbs was a one-year fluke who couldn't lay off a high fastball but could lay off heavy-duty work.

Meanwhile, the Brewers failed to protect Dante Bichette during the expansion draft and let Paul Molitor leave the organization because Toronto outbid the Brewers.

Bad decisions, not market size, have put the Brewers where they are.

Where will they be in the future? The Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., area, probably. They have plans to move into a new, convertible-roof stadium in 1997, but the reality is there are not enough businesses in Milwaukee to gobble up the necessary number of luxury boxes to finance the stadium.

Charming County Stadium, the most underrated ballpark in the major leagues, deserves better than the team playing there now.

Angels hot under Lachemann

California Angels reliever Joe Grahe is happy to be reunited with Marcel Lachemann, his pitching coach in 1992 and his new manager.

Going into Friday, the Angels had a 6-2 record under Lachemann, and Grahe had saved four games in four opportunities. At the end of 1992, Grahe made good on 21 of 24 save chances.

"There's just something he does with your psyche," Grahe said. "He gives every pitcher confidence."

The Angels are in first place, and are three games under .500 after Friday night's victory over Toronto. Should they finish strong and win the AL West, look for front offices looking to fill managing jobs to give more consideration to former pitching coaches.

Lawyer: Darryl to return in '95

A report in the New York Daily News, citing an anonymous source familiar with the IRS investigation of Darryl Strawberry, said Strawberry accepted a $2.5 million buyout of the remaining $8 million on his contract rather than risk losing it all because of a morals clause.

Strawberry's attorney, Bob Shapiro, told the Los Angeles Daily News he does not expect Strawberry to return to the major leagues until spring training.

"He will come back to baseball and hopefully be a role model for many people who have similar problems," Shapiro said. "It's impossible to set any time frame. He is in exemplary physical condition and is working on his emotional health. When the two of those are in sync, Darryl Strawberry will be the player everybody thinks he could be. I think it is highly unlikely he will play again this year. But I believe beginning in the 1995 season, Darryl Strawberry will be one of the most productive forces in the game."

At the time Strawberry signed a five-year, $20.25 million contract with the Dodgers, it was the biggest free-agent contract in history. For the second half of 1991, the year the Dodgers finished a game behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL West, Strawberry was more than worth what the Dodgers paid him. He hit 21 home runs and drove in 73 runs in the second half of '91. He had 17 home runs and 63 RBIs to show for his other 2 1/2 seasons in Los Angeles.

Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said these haunting words on Jan. 14, 1991, the day of Strawberry's first workout at Dodger Stadium: "There have been a lot of people who are happy that we got Strawberry, and then there are some people who said, 'Hey, you can have him. You deserve him.' But as long as I've managed this ballclub and gotten players from other organizations, I have never allowed a reputation to precede a player. I'll be the judge of what kind of guy Strawberry is. I'm not going to have any worries about Strawberry, believe me."

Some 3 1/2 years later, Lasorda said: "I'm happy it's resolved. It's best for both parties. I just don't know what happened to him. He's a good fellow, he really is, but why are you so dumb to put something like that in your body? I feel sorry for the guy because he got addicted to it, and look what happened to him. I really think the world of him, but he went out and did something that can ruin his life, and I just don't understand why."

Darryl's mother, Ruby, plans to release a book on her son's rises and falls throughout his career.

"Darryl mentioned some of the things in his book, but he never went into any detail," Ruby said. "I started writing this in 1990 and then I put it aside for a while. I've worked on it again since about 1992, and it answers a lot of questions for us and the family. I'm hoping it will help somebody who comes into what he came into at a young age and will help steer them clear of some of the things that can happen. I told Darryl it was like the Lord woke me up a couple of weeks ago and said, 'It's time.' "

Ruby said she wants to title the book, "Through My Eyes."

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