Aug. 19 now looming as doom day


The strike date we're hearing now is Friday, Aug. 19. If nothing else, that would provide enough time to salvage the September stretch -- assuming baseball's warring owners and players can ever get into the same galaxy. Otherwise, it would appear they're on the same disastrous course as that meteor bound for Jupiter.

Both sides have to know the fans will very happily embrace preseason football as a late-summer pastime. By the way, read into this whatever you wish: One significance to Aug. 19 in baseball was Bill Veeck sending a midget, Eddie Gaedel, up to bat in 1951.

* FIVE TRADES THAT OUGHT TO BE MADE -- Right now, trading activity has become stifled by the uncertainty of a players' strike. Assuming, however, through some miracle of conciliation, that there are pennant races come late August, here are five proposed trades that could make a difference:

1) Yankees get Rick Aguilera from the Twins for minor-league pitchers Kirt Ojala and Brian Boehringer. Even though Aguilera's hits-to-innings ratio (48 in 32) and ERA (4.41) belie his 17 saves, he fits the Yankees' need for a proven righthanded closer who's been through the wars. He'd be a perfect complement to Steve Howe. But because of his free agent-to-be status and prohibitive salary, the going-nowhere Twins, who desperately need pitching, know they can't expect to get any of the Yankees' top prospects (i.e. Sterling Hitchcock, Andy Pettitte) for him.

2) Braves get John Franco from the Mets for outfielder Tony Tarasco. The Braves now know they can't count on winning the NL East on starting pitching alone. The bullpen remains their weak link with a 4.21 ERA and eight blown saves out of 28 opportunities. Franco would provide the necessary insurance for their still-developing righty closer, Greg McMichael. But with free agency beckoning and a recent history of arm woes, Mets can't expect to get a lot for him. Tarasco is a promising lefty hitter with power and speed whom Braves manager Bobby Cox admits deserves more playing time.

3) Dodgers get Randy Myers from the Cubs for minor-league outfielders Billy Ashley and Todd Hollandsworth. This one's been making the rounds lately, and it makes sense. Dodgers, who are loaded with outfield prospects, haven't been able to fill their lefthanded closer void since they cut bait with Howe nine years ago. And wouldn't Tommy Lasorda love Myers' macho schtick. He's got two more years on his contract, though, which means he won't come cheap. Ashley's considered best power prospect in Triple-A when he makes contact.

4) Orioles get Zane Smith from the Pirates for minor-league outfielder Alex Ochoa. Ochoa's a real good one, but the Orioles ** are knee-deep in outfield prospects, and if they're going to win the AL East, they have to get another front-line starter. Smith's a free agent after the season, but he's also pitching as well as anyone in the NL right now.

5) Reds get Andy Benes from the Padres for third baseman Willie Greene and pitcher Pete Schourek. Reds have been encouraged by Schourek's turnaround, but GM Jim Bowden is a go-getter who still covets more of a sure thing to solidify his rotation for the stretch run. Benes, for all the value the Padres place on him, has been anything but a sure thing (6-10, 3.96) this year.

* How awesome a season is Frank Thomas having? It is not an exaggeration to say it is of Ruthian proportions.

That Thomas is on a pace to hit 60 homers has been well documented, even if he has been overshadowed to some degree by Ken Griffey Jr. That he is hitting homers at such a pace and hitting .380-plus is a feat not accomplished in baseball since Babe Ruth's heyday.

In fact, no player has ever hit so much as 45 homers and .380 in the same season. The closest was Ruth's AL-leading .378 with 46 homers in 1924. And there's a lot more Ruth to Thomas' season. The Babe holds the seemingly unbreakable record of 177 runs in one season (1920). With 93 going into the weekend, Thomas was on a pace to score 175. Another Ruth record -- 379 times on base in 1923 -- is also under attack from the "Big Hurt," who had been on base 191 times as of Friday and was on a pace to reach 381 times.

"The things he's doing are unbelievable -- a .500 on-base percentage and a .700 slugging percentage!" said the Astros' Jeff Bagwell. And about that .795 slugging percentage Thomas took out of the All-Star break: Only one player in history ever had a higher one for a full season. You don't have to guess who.

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