- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

It's no secret that the number of home runs hit in the 1990s is astronomically greater than the number hit in previous decades. And the reasons for those dramatic changes in the game of baseball have been been well-documented.
The pitching is weaker. Expansion has diluted the talent. New ballparks are smaller than old ones. Players spend far more time lifting weights than they ever did in the past.
The combination of all those factors has resulted in an unprecedented wave of home runs, and the numbers are staggering. From 1901 to 1989, a grand total of 17 players hit 50 or more homers in a single season. Since 1990, 16 players have done so.
This barrage of home runs may force baseball fans and the Hall of Fame to view career totals much differently in the future.
For example, only three players in major league history have ever hit 600 home runs in a career: Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Willie Mays (660). Stats Inc. however, projects that 18 current major leaguers have at least a 10 percent chance of reaching 600, and amazingly nine players have at least a 10 percent chance of reaching 700 (Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Troy Glaus, Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Todd Helton).
The huge upswing in home runs, though, has not necessarily translated into other hitting categories.
While Aaron's career home run record is now being threatened, Pete Rose's record of 4,256 hits isn't even close to being surpassed. There are 12 active players with at least 2,000 career hits, one with exactly 3,000 hits (Rickey Henderson), but only a handful have any shot of getting to 4,000.
The Stats Inc. projections list only four players with a chance to reach 4,000 - Rodriguez (5 percent), Roberto Alomar and Derek Jeter (3 percent) and Guerrero (2 percent). None have even a 1 percent chance of surpassing Rose.
And aside from a few, hardly serious threats over the years, no one is knocking on the door of a .400 batting average, something that hasn't been accomplished since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941.
Aren't today's ballplayers supposedly better hitters than yesterday's?
"I think older hitters were better two-strike hitters, so they didn't strike out as much," said Syd Thrift, Baltimore Orioles vice president of baseball operations. "Look at Joe DiMaggio. One year he struck out, what, 14-15 times (actually 13, in 1941). Every time you strike out, you lose one chance to get a base hit."
But today's fans don't care about strikeouts and high batting averages. They want to see 500-foot home runs. They want to see someone hit 80 this year, never mind the fact that only four years ago no one had ever hit more than 61 in a single season.
It's the home run hitter that makes $20 million a year, not the .350 hitter with great speed. And it doesn't appear as though that will change in the near future.
"That's right," Thrift said. "They're getting paid for not being better hitters."

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