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Sunday, Apr. 20, 2014

The Answer Man

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Q: What does the word "sanctuary" mean?

A: One definition is "a place for refuge and protection."

There are some aspects of baseball that are far beyond those of us who have just followed the game all of our lives. We have to leave that up to the insiders with a grass roots knowledge of the game.

There are some things, however, that fall into human experience only.

There was an AP story in the February 17 edition of the Daily Dunklin Democrat that said Mark McGwire would find "sanctuary" on the field.

Does this hold water?

Doesn't it seem logical that even in St. Louis, McGwire will be subject to an attention not normally given to batting coaches? It's interesting to note another AP story in the Feb. 23 issue of the D.D.D. It says that Senator Ryan McKenna of Crystal City wants the name "Mark McGwire Highway" removed from the five mile stretch of Interstate 70 running through St. Louis. McKenna is the guy who pushed for that name in the first place. He says McGwire has "left a black mark on baseball."

On the road Mark McGwire will be scrutinized in a way usually reserved for the players. There will be requested interviews, which he can refuse, or brave through.

The point is, how much do the Cardinals need this when they are trying to hit well, and win ballgames?

For years stacked on end we have read what the baseball experts say, and listened to their evaluation of what it takes to win with offensive baseball, other than hitting homeruns. We have heard things like: Hitting behind the runner. Cutting down the swing to avoid so many strikeouts. Speedsters keeping the ball on the ground to be most effective. The importance of the bunt to move runners into scoring position.

Based on insider information, it seems logical then to ask the question: Does Mark McGwire have the personal experience to teach these aspects of the game?

At six feet five inches, and two hundred and fifty pounds, McGwire would just be one of the boys on the football field. In basketball he would be a comparative dwarf, looking over the shoulders of lumbering giants. But by baseball standards he is a very large man.

Forgetting for a minute any help from steroids, McGwire was a "free swinger" with a good eye. This placed him among the all-time homerun hitters. He did not have a great batting average at .263 lifetime. The average for the top twenty homerun hitters is .294. Ted Williams leads the pack at .344, with Babe Ruth right behind at .342.

Only two men in the top twenty homerun hitters have a lower batting average than McGwire: Sammy Sosa at .252, and Reggie Jackson right behind Mark at .262.

It's an accepted fact that "free swingers" strikeout a lot while producing big homeruns. But McGwire doesn't hold high marks in that department either against men with a reputation of many whiffs. In twenty two seasons Babe Ruth struckout 1,330 times. In just sixteen seasons Mark McGwire struckout 1,596 times, at a rate of 99.6 times per year. Amazing as it is, in nineteen seasons, Ted Williams only struckout 709 times.

(Musial fans might be delighted to know that Stan only struckout 696 in a twenty two year career - and hit 475 homeruns while he was doing it.)

Using the insider dope again, they say you can't teach speed. Can you teach "free swinging" to men not blessed with size, or the bat speed to power the ball out of the park?

Of course homeruns are important in winning baseball games. But a look at the 1980's Cardinals tells another story. During that period it is doubtful if anyone in the National League scored more runs than they did. And they did it with a minimum of homeruns, just barely ahead of the Astros who were playing in the huge Astrodome.

The bases were always loaded with Cardinals during the 80's, and they did it using those aspects of the game that we hope Mark McGwire can teach today - along with more power.

It is highly doubtful, however, that he will find "sanctuary" while doing it.

(One advice we might all give McGwire: When Albert is in the batting cage, go get a beer. Don't mess with that swing.)

Q: Will the winter ever be over?

A: It only seems like a hopeful dream.

The last two winters in the Bootheel have been a terror for lovers of the great outdoors.

Last winter it was tree limbs pounding roofs, generators making a lot of noise, and chain saws joining in the chorus.

This year it's been cold - colder - and coldest. Snow looks pretty for two days, and then turns into a brown, sloggy mess. People fall down and break their bones, pipes burst, reclining chairs need to be replaced. Eyesight is dimmed by too much reading and television.

Let's hope that March comes in like a lamb, and leaves like a pussy cat. Enough is enough.

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