After coming to the end of Then We Came To The End a few days ago, Pax Arcana was left without anything to read at the beach. Thankfully, my erudite and esteemed aunt-in-law (is that a thing?) had snagged me a baseball-related book at her building’s book exchange that filled the gap perfectly.
The book is called Confessions of a Baseball Purist by ESPN announcer Jon Miller. It’s a quick read, and full of some nice surprises — such as Miller’s willingness to slam Charlie Finley, Bud Selig, and others in the baseball establishment, up to and including his possibly-brain-dead broadcasting partner Joe Morgan.
More interesting, considering the book was written during the 1997 season, is the discussion of the surge in power numbers over the past few years. This was the season before the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa steroid derby of 1998, but already McGwire had clubbed 52 and 58 dingers in successive years and other sluggers (cough Brady Anderson cough) had enjoyed similar success.
Miller and Morgan had argued for years, he said, over whether the surge in power was due to juiced baseballs or not. Morgan, apparently, believed that altered baseballs had spawned the phenomenon.
Miller had other ideas:
A few years back, Mark McGwire appraoched me before a game at the Oakland Coliseum. He’d heard my ESPN partner, Joe Morgan, ruminating about reasons why home-run production was on the rise. McGwire was mildly annoyed that Joe kept talking about juiced baseballs and watered-down pitching instead of giving credit to sluggers like him.
“Joe keeps talking about why there are so many home runs,” Mark said. “Well, here’s the answer.”
With that, he held out his right arm and flexed it. I’ll never forget that flex; his biceps muscle looked like a high-rise condiminium — it was gigantic.
McGwire is a big believer in weight training. He lifts weights during the season as well as in the off-season, and his program is closely monitored to ensure that he maintains his flexibility as he builds muscle.
Miller also hints that smaller ballparks, league expansion, and changes in hitting styles (power hitters going to the opposite field) may also be to blame. Not mentioned are steroids, HGH, androstenedione, synthetic horse testosterone, space shuttle rocket booster fuel, creatine, bull shark spinal fluid, and whatever else it was that McGwire et al were introducing into their bloodstreams to build those high-rise biceps.
Also ignored are the greenies — methamphetamines — that I’m led to believe were common currency in locker rooms and clubhouses. You would have thought that a guy who spent more than 20 years milling around in such places might have noticed.