Griffey, Maddux, Indians Highlight First Half; Will There Be a Second Half?
PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Ken Griffey Jr. and the Cleveland Indians are up, Mitch Williams and the Toronto Blue Jays are down. Ryne Sandberg is gone, Darryl Strawberry is back and Michael Jordan is still in the minors.
Tony Gwynn is climbing toward .400, Chuck Knoblauch is closing in on the doubles record, and Greg Maddux is chasing a record third-straight Cy Young Award.
No one in the AL West is winning. And, surprise, the New York Mets have a better record than Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants.
It’s the All-Star break in baseball’s first year of realignment - time to figure what will happen in the second half, or if there even will be a second half.
The first half, until the last week or so, belonged to Griffey.
Already a five-time All-Star at age 24 - his dad, Ken Sr., only made the All-Star team three times - Junior has spent the first four months leading off the nightly highlights shows.
Juiced ball or not, he broke Babe Ruth’s record for most home runs by July 1 and has been ahead of the pace Roger Maris set when he hit a record 61 home runs in 1961.
All along, Griffey, who seems more at ease on the field than maybe any player ever, has said the pressure would not get to him. He said he won’t be bothered the way Maris was, when his hair starting falling out near the end as he chased Ruth.
But what has got Griffey tearing his hair out is Seattle’s play. The Mariners have never finished closer than 12 games of first place since he joined them in 1989, and he recently said the constant losing was dragging him down.
The good news for Griffey is that the Mariners are in the AL West. The division could become the first one ever to produce a first-place team with a below-.500 record; at one point, Texas was on top despite being seven games under the break-even mark.
Griffey, though, said he feels the same way the baseball traditionalists do about a losing team making the expanded, wild card-added playoffs. He wouldn’t like it, even if it was his team that made it.
″It would have to be with a winning record,″ he said.
Then again, the Oakland Athletics might take care of that. Once 24 games under .500 this season, the A’s suddenly turned into the best team in baseball, closing within three games of first place as the weekend approached.
Whether they win depends mostly if there will be a second half. As the All- Star break approached, labor negotiators for players and owners were no closer to a settlement and the possiblility of a strike loomed large, perhaps starting around Labor Day.
Until three weeks ago, the Indians were the most-talked about team in the majors. They haven’t played in the postseason since 1954 but, buoyed by sellouts at Jacobs Field, Cleveland won 18 straight games at home and surged to the top of the AL Central.
The Indians present one of the best blends of old and new in baseball. They feature Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and Carlos Baerga - among the brighest new stars in the game - along with the likes of Jack Morris, Eddie Murray and Dennis Martinez. Cleveland is trying to hold off Frank Thomas and the Chicago White Sox, along with Knoblauch - he has 36 doubles; Earl Webb holds the record with 67 - and Minnesota.
In the AL East, the two-time World Series champion Blue Jays have been the big story, for all the wrong reasons. Toronto, trying to become the first three-time champion since the 1972-74 Athletics, rapidly dropped into last place as its pitching failed. On Friday, the Blue Jays found out relief ace Duane Ward will not pitch this season because of arm trouble.
The Philadelphia Phillies, who lost the World Series, found out in spring training that John Kruk had testicular cancer. Several other key players, including injured All-Star Lenny Dykstra, have been on the disabled list.
The Atlanta Braves, still trying to win that elusive World Series, zoomed to an early lead in the reconfigured NL East. They’re led by Maddux, 11-4 with a major league-leading 1.79 ERA.
In the NL Central, the Cincinnati Reds, who traded for Deion Sanders, and the Houston Astros, who cut Mitch Williams, are dueling. The Chicago Cubs, stunned by Sandberg’s sudden retirement, are out of it.
Los Angeles has surprised in the NL West, even though Dodgers relievers have blown 17 of 31 save chances. Rookies Chan Ho Park and Darrren Dreifort, who caused a lot of commotion by starting in the majors, are back in Double-A.
The Giants, even with Bonds and Matt Williams, recently were tied for the worst record in the majors. A season-ending injury to Willie McGee prompted them to sign Strawberry just six weeks after he completed treatment at the Betty Ford Center. San Diego is trying to build with young players, although Gwynn remains the Padres’ big star.
The biggest star in the minors, without a doubt, is Michael Jordan. Though his average has dipped from .327 in mid-April to .195, his drawing power is Hall of Fame stuff - playing for the Double-A Birmingham Barons, his games have generated almost 40 percent of total attendance in the 10-team Southern League.
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