St. Louis Sports Online

Eric Niederhoffer 

St. Louis SportsOnline

columnist & principal photographer

The Academic--Going, Going, Gone... September 1998

The following is a pseudo-scientific approach to baseball. Do not attempt this at home without adult supervision.


Mark McGwire has been spending more time watching for evidence that his powerful swings are translating into the big payoff-home runs.

Observe Mr. McGwire during the end of the season and compare his behavior to my memory of his appearances at the beginning of the season. Use photographs to document any changes in his plate appearances. Submit evidence to independent prosecutor Ken Starr. Wait for book and movie contract. Retire early.

Results and Discussion:
As the following series of photographs clearly demonstrate, during the Friday September 25, 1998 game against the Montreal Expos, Mark McGwire spent a considerable amount of time observing his long fly balls to left field. In McGwire's first two at-bats that evening, his long fly balls seemed to have sufficient lift but not enough distance to clear the left field wall.

A Mighty Swing for #66...and Watching It Go Foul




Was McGwire's lag time at the plate a result of insufficient strength or just smart base-running technique (the first law of conservation of energy says not to run to first base unless you actually need to or if you are going to face a severe financial penalty for failing to do so)?

I don't know what McGwire was thinking at the time of those Ruthian swings, but I might infer that he was after more home runs to add to the record book; otherwise, why not run down towards first base each time. Don't most players run to first base even for routine foul balls?

Could McGwire have been showing signs of fatigue this late in the season? Surely his nutritional diet was tuned for late season heroics?

Was the pressure of Chicago Cub swinger Sammy Sosa, with post-season playoff potential, becoming more of a factor? "He's the man" man's man could have been demonstrating signs of discomfort with a competition for the top place on the all-time homerun leader board.

Any of these explanations are plausible; but then again, none of them could be on target.

Does it really matter?

Or maybe it was just that I, like the rest of the world's baseball fans, was watching McGwire longer. Whatever.

McGwire hit number 66 that night and the fans were happy.

What is great about the game of baseball and what reminds me of my childhood (when my grandfather would talk about the Mets) is that something as simple as spending a few more seconds at home plate has the potential for generating passionate discussion about something with relatively little impact on the outcome of the game.

But you know that it is those passionate discussions that attract fans and preserve interest in the game.

Selected Archived Columns: The Academic

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