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BASEBALL

It Has Been a Sonny Summer for the McGwires

August 23, 1998|ROSS NEWHAN

The Little League parents of the year find it hard to express their "joy and elation" regarding their son's summer. He has captivated the nation, energized baseball and produced history, with more to come, perhaps.

For John and Ginger McGwire, the Pomona dentist and his wife who will receive the George and Barbara Bush award at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., on Thursday, what more could they ask?

Son Mark, the St. Louis Cardinal first baseman, has already become the first player in baseball history to hit 50 or more home runs in three consecutive seasons--or as John McGwire said Saturday: "That's immortality right there."

Next? Well, there's Babe Ruth at 60 and Roger Maris at a record 61, and there's Sammy Sosa right behind McGwire in a home run contest--with apologies to the New York Yankees--that has kept the spotlight on baseball at a time when only one division race is undecided and only one wild card realistically is still to be dealt.

What could be better? What more could the Little League parents of the year ask?

Well, they would love to know that opposing teams will honor the spirit and challenge of competition, giving their son a fair chance by pitching to him, which too often has not been the case, noted John McGwire, saying of that tendency to pitch around him, even in early innings, "it's irrational, it's not baseball."

They would also love to have this unfolding in Orange County, especially since they recently moved from the Claremont area, where Mark first played Little League and his father managed for 10 years, to Mission Viejo, the heart of Angel country.

However, McGwire was snubbed twice by the Angels: when he was a USC junior in the 1984 draft and when it was apparent that the Oakland Athletics were going to trade the future free agent last summer.

Both times, the senior McGwire said, the Angels seemed to let financial concerns stand in the way of acquiring a Southern California native who now has everyone talking and has become a "huge profit center" for the Cardinals--at the gate and merchandise mart.

"As parents, we're tremendously disappointed in the Disney organization," John McGwire said, referring to last summer when the A's and Angels agreed on a deal that would have brought McGwire and Scott Brosius to Anaheim for Jim Edmonds, Dave Hollins and a prospect only to have Disney nix it because of the economic implications.

"The Angels totally ignored what Mark would mean to the franchise," John McGwire said. "That trade was a done deal. The Angel players even knew it. They all asked Mark what uniform number he wanted when the A's were in Anaheim. Disney got scared off by the money, but it hasn't mattered who the owner is. They've never given Mark much respect."

The Angels belonged to Gene and Jackie Autry in '84, when McGwire led Division I players in home runs and a scout sat in his parent's living room, John McGwire said, "and led us to believe they were going to draft Mark only to draft a high school catcher instead. I mean, Sandy Alderson's jaw dropped when they didn't. Again, I think it was financial."

Alderson, the A's general manager, selected McGwire with the 10th pick on the first round. The Angels used the sixth on Eric Pappas, who played seven games with the Chicago White Sox in 1991.

Of course, eight other teams also passed on McGwire before he reached the A's. That was a draft in which Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine weren't picked until the second round, Ken Caminiti until the third.

So much for science and history.

Or as John McGwire said of the current events: "It's unbelievable. Mark is being all he can be. The positives far outweigh any negatives."

The McGwires insist they will continue to feel that way, but they hope opposing pitchers will continue to challenge McGwire--as the wild card-contending Chicago Cubs and New York Mets have done in the last few days--and not take the route of Dusty Baker, manager of the wild card-contending San Francisco Giants. In 12 games against the Giants, McGwire walked 18 times. He also walked eight times in three recent games with the Pittsburgh Pirates, contending only for a flight home.

Ruth set the major league record with 170 walks in 1923. McGwire has a major league leading 135, 27 intentional. Maris, who came out of nowhere and had Mickey Mantle, in the process of slugging 54 homers, batting behind him, drew only 94 walks in 1961, none intentional.

"They've basically pitched around Mark for five months and he still has 50 homers," Cardinal Manager Tony La Russa said Thursday. "That's how amazing he's been."

As the focal point of a team going nowhere, the focal point of baseball nationally, the pressure figures to mount as the media scrutiny intensifies.

There were headlines this weekend when McGwire confirmed to the Associated Press that he uses a performance-enhancing substance called androstenedione, which is sold legally in the United States as a dietary supplement.

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