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Home Run Production Up 17% in the Majors

October 11, 1987|BEN WALKER | Associated Press

Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy and Wade Boggs were among 50 veterans who set career highs for home runs in 1987, a record-setting season of lively bats and balls.

There were 4,458 home runs hit in the major leagues this year, an increase of 17% over last season's total of 3,813.

Mark McGwire, George Bell and Jack Clark were among 28 players who hit 30 or more home runs, by far the most ever in one season. Only 13 players reached that figure last year, while the previous high was 19 in 1970.

Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Oakland, Texas, Toronto, the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets each set team records.

So did both leagues. American Leaguers hit 2,634 homers, breaking the record of 2,290 set last year. National Leaguers hit 1,824 homers, breaking the record of 1,683 set in 1970.

A 22% increase in home runs over 1986 through the 1987 All-Star break produced talk about livelier baseballs. The leagues then had the balls tested to see if they were any different, and the results showed nothing.

The debate tailed off in late summer when the home-run rate decreased. During the second half, much of the discussion concerned scuffed balls and illegal bats. Pitchers Joe Niekro of Minnesota and Kevin Gross of Philadelphia were suspended for taking sandpaper to the mound, while outfielder Billy Hatcher of Houston was suspended for using a corked bat.

"I thought it was the ball at the start of the season," said Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson, who had been one of the most outspoken on the subject. "But as we went on, I think the pitching isn't what it used to be."

Baltimore pitchers gave up 226 home runs, the most ever allowed by one team in a season.

For much of the year, batting averages in the National League were equal to those in the AL, even without the benefit of the designated hitter.

"The pitching is still horrendous," said Seymour Siwoff, head of the Elias Sports Bureau, which compiles baseball statistics, said. "As pennant races got tighter, pitching solidified in the NL, but not in the AL."

Darrell Evans of Detroit and Dwight Evans of Boston were among 20 AL players with 30 or more home runs. Mike Schmidt of Philadelphia, Darryl Strawberry of the Mets and Eric Davis of Cincinnati were among the eight NL players to hit 30 or more.

Going into this season, there were 226 players with at least three years' experience in the majors--and 50 set homer marks.

McGwire, of Oakland, who set a rookie record with 49, along with 30 or more players Will Clark of San Francisco, Matt Nokes of Detroit, Mike Pagliarulo of the New York Yankees and Cory Snyder of Cleveland, were among those who achieved highs with less than three years' experience. McGwire's homers were the most in the AL since Harmon Killebrew hit 49 in 1969.

"Maybe it was up a little, but I didn't see any difference," Murphy, of Atlanta, said. He hit 44 home runs this season; 37 were the most he had hit in 10 previous seasons.

And, the numbers showed a new breed of sluggers--partly evidenced by a record number of strikeouts in the major leagues this year.

Dawson, of the Cubs, hit 49 home runs, 17 above his previous high. Boston's Boggs, the AL batting champion, tripled his previous home run high by hitting 24. Bell, of Toronto, showed an increase of 16 by hitting 47, and the 28 by Juan Samuel of Philadelphia topped his previous total by nine.

Minnesota's Kent Hrbek, Detroit's Alan Trammell, the Mets' Keith Hernandez, Montreal's Tim Raines and Texas' Larry Parrish were other big names with big new numbers.

Howard Johnson of the Mets hit 36 home runs in 554 at-bats after hitting only 40 in 1,185 previous career at-bats. Johnson, Strawberry, Davis and Joe Carter of Cleveland all joined the 30 homer-30 stolen base club. Only six players had done it previously, and there had never been more than one in any season--signifying the trend to stronger and faster players.

Some singles hitters also took aim on the fences.

Vince Coleman of St. Louis hit an outside-the-park homer for the first time in 1,914 plate appearances. Rafael Santana of the Mets, who began the season with three home runs in 1,089 career at-bats, homered five times in 439 at-bats.

"I think it's the pitching. They are making more mistakes this year. It's not the ball," said Atlanta's Ozzie Virgil, whose 27 home runs were eight more than his previous best.

"Since I came up (1968), the umpires have had the strike zone smaller and some change it," Houston pitcher Nolan Ryan said. "That's been a problem."

Whatever the reason, this is the era of home runs, Los Angeles Manager Tommy Lasorda said.

"More home runs are going to continue," he said. "The players are stronger. They work out all winter on the weight machines and also during the season."

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