From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 11, 1999

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / August 11, 1999

How was your weekend? For baseball, it could not have gotten much better.

In one memorable three-day stretch starting Thursday night, Mark McGwire got his 500th home run and Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs collected their 3,000th hits. It was the first time in the history of the game thatthree players had reached such milestones in such a short period of time.

Baseball has always been a sport captivated by numbers. Thirty home runs,100 runs batted in, .300 batting average are goals for batters to strive forevery season. Until last year, 61 was the magical number for home runs ina season until McGwire raised the standard to 70. But there remains .400(batting average) and 56 (consecutive hitting streak) still out there to be reached for the first time since 1941. Career marks are that separate theimmortals from the merely very good are 500 (home runs, although 300 and 400 also work at some positions), 3000 (hits) and the mark to really shoot for, 755.

For pitchers, good seasons are marked by 20 (wins), 3.00 (earned runaverage, although that figure is quickly rising) and 200 (strikeouts). Atruly great season can be measured by 30, 2.00 and 300. To ensure a spotin Cooperstown, 300 wins and 3,000 strikeouts will do the trick.

McGwire, Gwynn and Boggs left no doubt that one day they will join the likes of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ted Williams and Ty Cobb in the Hall of Fame. And as so often is the case with the numbers in baseball, it is thestories behind them that make them even more special.

A few years ago, it appeared McGwire would have no chance at 500 home runs. In 1992 and 1993, he hit a combined 18 home runs while battling avariety of injuries. But then came an amazing run of three straightseasons of 50-plus home runs, culminating in the 70-home run year of 1998. With 44 home runs through Monday, he is almost certain to extendthat streak to four.

Amazingly, McGwire hit his 400th and 500th home run in successive seasons, becoming the first to accomplish the feat. He is the 16th playerto hit the 500 mark and if he stays healthy, he could very well join Aaron, Babe Ruth and Mays as the only players to hit 600.

For the past two years, McGwire has been in the spotlight. First, there washis chase along with Sammy Sosa for Roger Maris’ record last year. Thenthere was his hitting the 70-mark with two home runs on the final day of the season. This year, there was McGwire putting on a show at the homerun contest during the All-Star break. And now 500. Appropriately, it wasdone in front of the home fans in St. Louis. And as he has often done in thepast, McGwire added a little lagniappe, hitting 501 later in the game.

What made the night even more special was that it was done against San Diego with Gwynn in attendance. There was Gwynn in right field,applauding McGwire as he ran the bases, reminiscent of Sosa when McGwire hit number 62 last year against the Cubs.

Applause should also be given to the St. Louis fans who gave a standingovation for Gwynn each time he came up. Gwynn would finish the serieswith 2,999 hits, getting his 3,000th hit the next day in front of his home crowd and on his mother’s birthday to boot. And like McGwire, Gwynn, the22nd member of the 3,000-hit club, added something extra, collecting four hits to make it 3,003 for his career.

Boggs would become the 23rd member of the club the next day also at home. And ironically, Boggs, who is not known for his power, became thefirst player to get his 3,000th hit with a home run.

Another milestone that happened that night that was overlooked was Frank Thomas’ 300th career home run. And Cal Ripken Jr., once he gets off thedisabled list (now there is a statement you thought you would never here – Ripken and disabled list), will resume his chase for 400 home runs and 3,000 hits. Ripken currently has 399 dingers and 2,968 hits.McGwire, after hitting his 500th, said that he had exceeded all our expectations. For the last two years, thanks to players like Ripken,McGwire, Gwynn, Boggs and Sosa, the same thing could be said about baseball.

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