June 1, 1997 in Sports

8 Inside-The-Park Homers Add Up To One Wild Week

Jayson Stark Philadelphia Inquirer

Week in Review

At Week in Review, there’s nothing we love more than a good 498-foot home run.

Unless it’s a good 298-foot home run.

OK, last season was baseball’s Year of the Homer. This season, we have something much more fun - the Year of the Inside-the-Park Homer.

In a development that threatened to put the tale-of-the-tape estimators out of business, inside-the-park fever busted out last week like never before.

We saw eight inside-the-park home runs in six days. We saw seven in 72 hours. Whew. You needed an oxygen tank just watching them all.

We’ve all heard that hitting is contagious. But at this point, it’s an inside-the-park epidemic. Isn’t it?

“Nah, it’s not an epidemic,” Pirates inside-the-park man Tony Womack told Week in Review. “Right now, it’s more like a 72-hour virus.”

If it is, though, it’s one of the weirdest viruses of modern times. So we’ve checked in with the brilliant David Vincent, home-run historian from the Society for American Baseball Research, to put in perspective exactly how amazing this is:

This year: eight inside-the-parkers in six days. Last year: six inside-the-parkers all season.

In the last 50 years - since inside-the-park homers became a rarity - there have been no other weeks featuring eight inside-the-park homers. The only week with seven was June 1-7, 1966, from this elite group: Willie Mays, Dick Allen, George Smith, Tony Oliva, Ron Hunt, Bill White and Al Ferrara.

In Monday’s Pirates-Cubs game, there was one by each team in the same “inning.” Last time that happened: June 14, 1929 (Detroit’s Bob Fothergill, Yankees’ Earle Combs).

We’re now up to 13 inside-the-parkers in 1997. Totals for each “season” for the last five years: ‘96 - 6, ‘95 - 9, ‘94 - 13, ‘93 - 12, ‘92 - 13.

So what’s up? Who knows? We just know we’ve been on the inside track since last weekend, when this insider trading began with a May 24 shot by the Angels’ Darin Erstad. Then came this procession:

Sunday - Pat Meares, Twins: Lost-in-the-roof Metrodome special.

Monday - Doug Strange, Expos, plus the insider highlight of the year: Sammy Sosa, Cubs, and Tony Womack, Pirates, in the same inning.

Tuesday - Craig Paquette, Royals (Jose Canseco’s still spinning), and Kenny Lofton, Braves, on a ball that hopped into the Padres’ bullpen, hit a pitcher in the tush and remained in play - a fact lost on left fielder Greg Vaughn.

Finally, Thursday - Kurt Abbott, Marlins.

Classics, one and all. But the game that turned everybody inside-out was Pirates-Cubs. First, Sosa went shallow in the top of the sixth inning, with an assist from right fielder Jose Guillen, who helpfully crashed into center fielder Adrian Brown and knocked the ball out of his glove.

Womack matched that inside-the-parker with one of his own 8 minutes and 39 seconds later, lofting one over center fielder Doug Glanville and motoring around the bases in an amazing 13 seconds flat (3.2 seconds faster than Sosa).

“I saw where he (Glanville) was playing me,” Womack said. “So I knew if he didn’t catch it, it was a double. Then I saw it bounce, and I said, ‘That’s a triple.’ Then I got halfway to third, and I saw they were waving me home. So I said, ‘OK, I’m going. Just don’t make me look stupid.”’

Stupid? He looked like Michael Johnson, flying to the tape. Except that Johnson never slid through the tape. Womack still can’t believe his teammates accused him of sliding home for no reason.

“I’m glad I did,” he said. “If I didn’t, I might still be running.”

Inside stuff of the week

Best of the rest of inside-the-park hysteria:

Best quote - From Strange, on his circumnavigation: “I got to third base, and I was looking for someone to hand the baton to.”

Best payback - Erstad got his inside-the-parker because he was smart enough to bounce a ball off the shin of Toronto’s Otis Nixon and get it to ricochet about 200 feet. Too bad he didn’t try that five weeks ago.

When the Blue Jays were in Anaheim in April, Erstad hit a ball over the fence that “wasn’t” a home run. Why? Because Nixon reached over and homer-napped it.

“OK,” Nixon said, “now we’re even.”

Best suggestion - For years, we’ve wondered: Why are the Metrodome roof and the baseball both white? The entire A’s outfield was wondering the same thing Sunday while trying - unsuccessfully - to locate Meares’ lost-in-space inside-the-Hump job.

Afterward, delighted A’s manager Art Howe had this proposal: “They ought to blow this place up.”

Puck talk of the week

We normally don’t talk much hockey at Week in Review. But even we’re allowed to have Stanley Cup fever, eh? So we’re changing lines on the fly to present our first-ever Stanley Cup baseball notes.

Vive la difference - First we ask: What’s the difference between hockey players and baseball players?

“Hockey players are in real good shape,” Colorado’s Larry Walker, a hockey goalie for 13 years as a kid, told Week in Review emissary Jerry Crasnick of the Denver Post. “Can you picture John Kruk on skates?”

Uh, on second thought, don’t. Instead, we ask this: Who’s cooler - hockey players or baseball players?

“Hockey players,” Walker said, “because they play on ice. It’s cold.”

Wild game of the week

There were so many weird games in the American League last week, it’s tough to pick just one. But here goes:

A’s 8, Royals 6 (Tuesday) - One minute, the Royals’ Jose Rosado is throwing a one-hit shutout, has a 2-0 lead and is 0-and-2 on Oakland’s Patrick Lennon leading off the ninth. The next, he walks Lennon, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus breaks out.

Royals manager Bob Boone hooks Rosado for Hipolito Pichardo. Back-to-back homers by Mark McGwire and Scott Spiezio later, it’s A’s 3, Royals 2. A Scott Cooper homer later, it’s 3-3 after nine. Then the A’s score five in the 10th. The Royals come back with three. So a game that was seven strikes away from a one-hitter turns into an 8-6 mess.

Says Art Howe, “Just a typical A’s win.”

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