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Even NL players give AL edge in talent ALL-STAR NOTEBOOK


PITTSBURGH -- The American League starting lineup last night hit 20 more home runs and drove in 80 more runs in the first half of the season than the National League starting lineup, and the AL had a six-game All-Star winning streak going into last night's game at Three Rivers Stadium.

Even some of the NL All-Stars aren't too proud to admit the other locker room housed more talent.

"The AL is more powerful than the NL," Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell said. "There's no doubt about it. You look at that locker room and they've got the Big Hurt [Frank Thomas], [Ken] Griffey, Albert Belle and Juan Gonzalez. Is he here?"


"And Dean Palmer, that guy's got as much power as anybody," Bagwell said.

Palmer didn't make it, either. Nor did Jose Canseco, Mo Vaughn or Cecil Fielder.

"I wish I knew," AL manager Cito Gaston said of the cause of the talent disparity. "I don't think anybody can put a finger on it. There are a lot of good players in the National League, but it just goes in cycles, I guess. You look a few years back and the American League West was one of the toughest divisions. It goes the other way now."

Said Minnesota Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett: "I think it just works in shifts. I know. I've been here nine years. When I first came here in 1986, we won, but the NL had better teams. They had Dwight Gooden and Ozzie Smith in their primes. Mike Schmidt. We could go on and on and on. One team dominates for a couple of years and then the other team does. Just look around. [Chuck] Knoblauch. Griffey, Travis Fryman, Ivan Rodriguez. You can look around this room and a lot of guys can play."

Two reasons seldom given for why the AL has more power hitters are big reasons.

* For 16 years the American League had two more teams (14-12) drafting and developing players than the National League. The talent pool from which it picked was that much larger.

* Scouts working for NL teams shy away from taking players who don't project as a major-leaguer at any position in the field. In the AL, the designated hitter makes that less of a factor.

Not all of the AL talent is power-based.

Cleveland Indians Gold Glove center fielder Kenny Lofton is hitting .378 with 45 stolen bases.

"Kenny Lofton is the fastest guy I've seen in my life getting to first base," Bagwell said.

Lofton could have been playing for the NL last night, but the Astros traded him to the Indians for catcher Eddie Taubensee. That deal and the Bagwell trade, from Boston for reliever Larry Andersen, rank as the two most one-sided trades involving participants in last night's game.

Bonds vows return to form

Barry Bonds isn't ready to hand off the title as the game's best player just yet. After all, Bonds has won the National League Most Valuable Player award three times and came close to getting a fourth. Thomas has won the American League award once, Griffey never.

"It's like Michael Bolton at the Grammys," Bonds said. "Do you want to see him win every year? How much fun would that be? I'm just letting these other guys have their year."

Bonds is hitting .280 with 23 home runs and 54 RBIs and he is defending himself? It has been that kind of year in baseball, a year in which offensive inflation has thrown standards way out of whack.

"Have those other guys won three MVPs?" Bonds asked. "I don't want to hear about all that other stuff, all their statistics, until they do. I'm only one of eight players who have won three. No one can ever take that from me. I'm going for the record. I want to win my fourth. No one has ever done that. I want to be that person."

Bonds on Griffey: "He's the best player I've ever seen."

Who's in right?

Puckett played left field last season and Joe Carter right field for the AL All-Stars. This season, Carter saw to it they switched.

"Joe came up to me in Minnesota and he said you can play right field this time," Puckett said. "I said, 'Joe, you're trying to pull the wool over my eyes. I know you're up to something.' He wanted to play left field because it's closer to the dugout and I have to run all the way to right field. He played in both leagues. He knows where the dugouts are. It was a setup from the beginning."

Carter didn't refute the charges.

"Puck's one year younger than me, so I've got seniority over him," Carter said.

Molitor pessimistic

Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Paul Molitor would like to think that the season will run its course, but he is not optimistic that the players and owners will come to an agreement in time to avert a strike.

"I guess I do expect some type of work stoppage," Molitor said.

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