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Baseball's Top Rookie? It Was McGwire Early, Santiago Late in Season

October 11, 1987|JIM DONAGHY | Associated Press

Mark McGwire and Benito Santiago led a parade of rookies who made their imprint in the baseball record book in 1987.

McGwire, the Oakland Athletics' slugging first baseman, shattered Al Rosen's American League rookie home run mark of 37 that had stood since 1950, then broke the major-league record of 38 set by Wally Berger of the Boston Braves in 1930 and tied by Cincinnati's Frank Robinson in 1956, by hitting 49 home runs.

"I don't even think about it," McGwire said about hitting homers. "I've never even put myself in the position where I thought I would lead the American League in home runs."

McGwire, however, did lead the league in homers while driving in 118 runs.

McGwire's record-breaking 39th homer came on a pitch from 300-game winner Don Sutton of the California Angels on Aug. 14 at Anaheim Stadium.

"It was very special to hit it in Southern California in front of my family and friends," McGwire said. "It was even more special that we got a win."

On June 27 and 28 at Cleveland, McGwire tied a major league record when he hit five homers in two games and scored nine runs.

"Guys with average talent get hot and they get five or six hits over a couple games, with maybe a double or a home run. A guy with talent like this, when he gets hot, boy!" Oakland Manager Tony LaRussa said of McGwire.

While McGwire cooled off somewhat over the final six weeks of the season, Santiago closed with a rush and a record.

The San Diego catcher broke Jimmy Williams' rookie record of hitting safely in 27 straight games for the 1899 Pittsburgh Pirates, hitting in 34 in a row before being stopped Saturday by Los Angeles' Orel Hershiser.

Santiago finished the season with a .300 average, 18 homers and 79 RBI.

"It's not surprising that he hit in so many straight, but the fact that he's a rookie catcher and has so many other things to worry about besides hitting is what makes it more amazing," teammate Tony Gwynn said.

"We expected this out of him, but we didn't have any idea he had this kind of ability," Padres General Manager Jack McKeon said. "It's very difficult to prejudge a guy in April and say he's going to put these kind of numbers on the board."

"At the beginning, I tried to go very hard and impress everybody," Santiago said. "I chased too many bad pitches, and every time I had two strikes on me I'd swing at a pitch on the ground. But after a couple of months, I started relaxing, concentrating on what I was doing, and everything turned around."

Kansas City's Kevin Seitzer did everything right just about all season.

Seitzer became the 13th rookie in major league history to reach the 200-hit mark, finishing with 207. The last time it happened was 1964, when Tony Oliva of Minnesota had 217 hits and Richie Allen of Philadelphia had 201.

The Kansas City third baseman also had 15 homers, 83 RBI and a .323 average.

Another Kansas City rookie, Bo Jackson, was getting the headlines early but he slumped, finishing the season 5 for 52, and a .235 average.

Seitzer's statistics make him a contender for the AL Rookie of the Year Award, although the front-runner is McGwire.

"It's a nice honor if you get it, but that's the furthest thing from my mind now," Seitzer said.

Matt Nokes replaced departed free-agent Lance Parrish as Detroit's catcher and also produced the kind of numbers that would make him rookie of the year most seasons. Nokes hit 32 homers with 87 RBI and batted .289.

Two other rookies, pitchers Mike Henneman and Jeff Robinson, also made important contributions to the Tigers' AL East championship.

"I don't know where we'd be without our rookies," Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson said. "Our rookies have played a major role in our season. That's unusual, but these guys don't take a back seat to anyone."

The best rookie pitcher this season appeared to be Pittsburgh's Mike Dunne, who compiled a 13-6 record and a 3.03 earned-run average.

"If he's not the rookie of the year pitcher, then something's wrong," Pirates Manager Jim Leyland said.

In the bullpen, Toronto rookie reliever Jeff Musselman was 12-5 with three saves, while Henneman was 11-3 with seven saves.

The Boston Red Sox, last year's AL champions, got off to a slow start and called up several rookies who played well.

Outfielder Mike Greenwell hit .328 with 19 homers and 89 RBI. First baseman-designated hitter Sam Horn had 14 homers in 158 at-bats and outfielder Ellis Burks became only the third Boston rookie to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases. Outfielder Todd Benzinger and catcher John Marzano also were impressive for Boston.

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