As seen in Sandbox Sports
Not one, but two guys broke Roger Maris' home run record. Juan Gonzalez challenged Hack Wilson's single season RBI mark of 190--and he wasn't alone. Batboys are ripping batting practice home runs. Any ERA below 5.00 is considered not just good but "starter stuff." Andres Gallaraga hit 44 home runs, Greg Vaughn hit 50, Albert Belle hit 49 and they didn't even rate a "wow."
Hey, I know what's going on. Those Haitians switched from decaf to Dark French Roast and now they're winding the ball too darn tight. That's why we've got these inflated offensive statistics. That and the fact that there are expansion teams.
Those expansion pitching staffs are made up of a bunch of not-ready-for-prime-time kids and washed up veterans. Heck, facing the Tampa Bay Awful Ray's staff last year was like hitting off a batting tee. That's why they signed Canseco. Not because he hit 46 homeruns, shoot, my baby sister could hit 46 home runs playing in places like Camden Yards. The Awful Rays inked Jose because they heard he can pitch (and bounce the ball off his head).
McGwire...forget him. If he had to eat real food like everybody else instead of just drinking buckets of that andro-steroid-stuff or whatever the heck it is, why he'd be as skinny as Jose Offerman--probably hit nine homers. And Sosa, he just got lucky. Besides, he plays in Wrigley Field. The season ticket holders sitting behind home plate down a couple brews and let out a belch. Their breath is enough to blow a routine pop up out of that bandbox they call a baseball field. Shoot, if Duane Kuiper had played all of his games in Wrigley Field, or Coors Field, or Jacobs Field, or Strawberry Fields, he would have hit at least two career home runs instead of just one.
Before you buy into all of this conspiracy theory stuff about how the offensive explosion of the past few years is due to things like rabbit balls and thin pitching staffs, take a look back...way back, to 1968 and 1930.
Baseball is cyclical. In 1968 Boston's Carl Yaz-you-try-and-spell-it led the American League with a .301 average. Oakland's Danny Cater was second with a .290 average. Only five National Leaguer's hit over .300. The Senator's Frank Howard led both league's with 44 home runs. No one else hit more than 36. Five American League starters and two in the Senior Circuit had ERA's below 2.00. Were the Pitchers that good? Were the hitters collectively that bad? Of course not. But if you just look at the anemic offensive numbers (and if your name is Oliver Stone) the only logical explanations would be either the leagues re-adopted the dead ball of the 1910's or the pitchers were super beings from the planet Pitchertron.
The fact is, baseball goes in cycles. There are pitching eras and there are hitting eras. Some of it is attributable to rules changes--the lowering of the mound in 1969 to compensate for the dominance of pitching at least contributed to that year's increased totals of a dozen .300-hitters in the N.L. and five .300-hitters in the A.L.
If you think 1998 produced some big numbers, check out 1930. And remember, in 1930 there was no expansion. There was no hitter-friendly Camden Yards, Coors' Field or Jacobs' Field. And while there was bunt-for-a-HR Wrigley Field, there was also Shibe Park in Philadelphia with its 460-foot power alleys and Yankee Stadium with its 500-foot center field. Parks in them days was BIG!
In 1930 the New York Giants' Fred Lindstrom hit an incredible .379...only good enough for fifth in the league. The Phillies' Hall of Famer Lefty O'Doul hit .383 and didn't even lead his team! Chuck Klein led the Phillsters at .386--good enough for third in the N.L. Brooklyn's Babe Herman took the silver medal at .393 and the Giants' Bill Terry led the league at .401.
In the Junior Circuit the pitchers didn't fare much better. The Athletics' Al "Bucketfoot" Simmons (applause please) led the league at .381 followed by the Yanks' Lou Gehrig at .379, Babe Ruth and the White Sox Carl Reynolds at .359, and Simmons' teammate, Mickey Cochrane at .357. In all, with only 16 total teams, the two leagues combined to produce 77 .300 hitters. That's SEVENTY-SEVEN guys hitting at least .300. In the A.L. there were 34 .300 hitters. That means there were four fewer American League teams than in 1968 (12 to 8) but 33 more .300 hitters.
In the N.L., every regular on the St. Louis Cardinals hit at least .303. (No word on how the irregulars did that year.) However, only five guys in each league hit at least 30 home runs. (Note to Oliver Stone: Hmmmm, extremely high batting averages but only marginal power numbers. Dang, there goes that rabbit ball theory.)
Despite the relatively weak power numbers, buckets of runs were scored and the ERA's looked an awfully lot like those in 1998. To wit: The Athletics' Lefty Grove sported the only sub-3.00 ERA in the A.L. at 2.54 (Cleveland's Wes Ferrell came in second at 3.31) and Brooklyn's Dazzy Vance (cool name) had the only sub-3.00 N.L. ERA at 2.61. Team ERA's soared. No team had an ERA below 4.03 (most were closer to 5.00) and the Philberts pitching staff mantra of "throw the ball at the bat" produced a team ERA of 6.71. (Note: This is still the Philthies staff mantra.) In the A.L., the league average was 4.65.
All in all, 1930 was a huge offensive year. Yet, no expansion, no andro-muscle-stud powder, and no Haitians on espresso. Baseball has its cycles. If the umpires call a real strike zone the numbers will come down--OK, so we know that's not going to happen, but still, in time the offensive numbers will creep back down and pitchers will live to rule another day.