Some Former Yankees Unimpressed by Orioles’ HR Record
BALTIMORE (AP) _ Johnny Blanchard can’t argue with the numbers.
The barrage of long balls hit by Brady Anderson and the rest of the 1996 Orioles has established Baltimore as the most prolific home-run hitting team in baseball history. The 1961 Bronx Bombers held that distinction until last Sunday, when the Orioles broke their record of 240 home runs in one season.
But Blanchard, who hit 21 homers for the ’61 Yankees, is ready and willing to dispute the validity of the Orioles’ record.
``They didn’t have Mickey Mantle, they didn’t have Roger Maris,″ said Blanchard, speaking from his home in Minnesota. ``Nobody on that ballclub is stronger than anyone on ours. If ever somebody was going to put an asterisk by a record, it’s this one.″
That’s because that ’61 New York team played in expansive Yankee Stadium and the Orioles play their home games in Camden Yards, a cozy bandbox that has served as a launching pad for 221 home runs in 78 games this season.
The deepest part of the 5-year-old ballpark is 410 feet. It’s 333 feet to the left-field foul pole and 318 down the line in right. Most significantly, the power alleys are 364 feet and 373 feet.
``That’s goofy,″ Blanchard said. ``You could have set Camden Yards inside Yankee Stadium and not even brush a coat of paint. We had power alleys of 457 feet and it was 461 feet to center. I know for a fact that Mantle hit at least 50 balls of at least 420 feet that were turned into outs.″
Ralph Houk, who managed the ’61 world champions, also questioned the Orioles’ accomplishment.
``These days, there are a lot of ballparks where it’s a lot easier to hit home runs,″ he said. ``I don’t think records like that mean much, because stadiums are so much different now than they were back then.″
Yet the 1996 Orioles, with seven players who have at least 20 home runs, certainly deserve a place in history. While the Yankees got nearly half their home-run production from two players _ Maris had 61, Mantle 54 _ virtually every player in the Baltimore lineup has contributed.
Anderson, the leadoff hitter, had 46 homers through Thursday; his previous career high was 21. Roberto Alomar and B.J. Surhoff have career-high home run totals, while Palmeiro, Bobby Bonilla and Chris Hoiles are on pace for career bests.
Throw in late-season acquisitions Eddie Murray and Todd Zeile and it’s no wonder the Orioles recently reeled off a stretch of 12 straight games with at least one homer.
Of course, Anderson, Palmeiro, Hoiles and Bonilla aren’t quite as revered as Maris, Skowron, Blanchard and Mantle. The Orioles don’t have a cute nickname like the Bronx Bombers, either.
``This is not a lineup that consists of a true leadoff guy or a true No. 2 hitter or true No. 8 or 9 hitter,″ said Palmeiro, who had 37 homers through Thursday after averaging 22 over the previous nine seasons. ``We have nine guys that can hit three, four and five in any lineup.″
That brings to mind another advantage the Orioles have over the ’61 Yankees: the designated hitter. Back then, the Yankees filled the No. 9 spot with a pitcher.
Baltimore manager Davey Johnson once played on an Atlanta team that included four 40-homer players. But he said that team, like the ’61 Yankees, didn’t have the top-to-bottom power the Orioles have.
``This team has more guys that are capable of hitting the ball out of any ballpark,″ Johnson said. ``When we added Zeile and Eddie Murray, and then Hoiles started hitting, top to bottom we became very solid.″
Back in spring training, Anderson never figured he’d be to the Orioles what Maris was to the Yankees _ the best of the best. But he knew his team had a chance to do something really special.
``Breaking the home run record? Well, you couldn’t see that coming, but I thought everyone in the lineup had the potential to hit 20-25 homers,″ Anderson said. ``You just knew this offense would be able to accomplish something great.″
The 1961 Yankees are renowned for their home run record and their World Series victory over the Cincinnati Reds. As far as Palmeiro is concerned, the latter achievement made the former notable. And there’s a lesson there for the Orioles.
``People talk about the 1961 Yankees because they won it all. Does anyone know what team holds the National League record for homers?″ he asked. ``No one will talk about us if we don’t win the World Series. But if we win it, then I think people will recognize that the Orioles hold the home-run record of all time.″
Most people, anyway.
``If we had played in Camden Yards,″ Blanchard said, ``I guarantee the world that we would have hit 325.″
End advance for Sept. 21-22