Rembrandt with a bat: Big Mac rates with true greats

Nov 20, 2001 4:31 AM

Mark McGwire’s retirement is something that is not easily dismissed. He is one of the more important figures in the history of baseball.

Stats freaks may downplay his career batting average of .264 and claim that all he could do was hit home runs. So what? All Rembrandt could do was paint.

Big Mac was arguably the most powerful slugger ever to play the game. His home runs were monstrous, much to the delight of the fans, who came out by the thousands just to see him take batting practice.

In that magical year of 1998, McGwire’s pursuit of Roger Maris’ record and his continuing battle with Sammy Sosa elevated interest in baseball to the greatest extent it had enjoyed for many years. And, there are still after effects of that year.

After McGwire belted 70 round-trippers, it was generally held that the record would stand for many years because it was such a towering accomplishment. But Barry Bonds broke the mark less than three seasons later.

This in no way detracts from McGwire’s achievement, nor does it less Bonds’ feat. There is, however, a feeling among many baseball people that the record of most home runs in a season (the premier individual record in sports) fits better on a player recognized as one of the best five or six ever to play the game, rather than on a one-dimensional performer.

In any event, both Bonds and McGwire will eventually wind up in the Baseball Hall of Fame. McGwire will be part of a blue-ribbon class that also will have Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn slated for induction in 2007 at Cooperstown, N.Y.

The Cardinals had offered McGwire a contract good for $30 million if he would stay for two more seasons. But McGwire, showing pride and class, declined the offer. McGwire stated that he could no longer perform to his usual standards and wouldn’t be worth the money.

This is like a gift from the heavens to the Cardinals as it provides them with money to pursue free agents who can fill some of their needs ”” outfielder, first baseman, closer. Incidentally, the period for clubs to sign free agents begins this Tuesday. Vote for Friedgen

Picking the college football Coach of the Year is a no-brainer. It obviously is Ralph Friedgen of the University of Maryland. In his first year of taking over a losing program, he guided Maryland to a 10-1 record, the ACC championship and BCS bowl bid New Year’s Day. Most likely, it will be the Orange Bowl.

Fiesta to Oregon

Oregon will represent the Pacific-10 Conference in the BCS Fiesta Bowl. The Ducks can finish their regular season no worse than being the co-champions of the Pac-10. Oregon heads a formidable contingent of conference teams going to bowls. That list includes Washington, Washington State, Stanford, UCLA and USC.

BYU snubbed again

The Mountain West Conference is, despite its 1-A Divisional status, one of college football’s minor leagues. Thus winning the league title does BYU no good as far as being chosen for a BCS Bowl. Instead, the Cougars will play Conference USA champ Louisville in the Liberty Bowl at Memphis on Dec. 31.

College Picks
Friday, Nov. 23

California at RUTGERS: This game was originally slated for Sept. 15 and would have been better not to be played. California (0-10) is at the bottom of the Pac-10, while Rutgers is worst in the Big East. Few people will attend and less care. The contest offers a chance to cash a heavy wager. In fact, it’s our Best Bet.Take California (—12)

Saturday, Nov. 24

Washington at Miami, FL: Another game originally scheduled for Sept. 15. The Huskies will regret the long trip from Seattle. The Hurricanes are in high gear. Take Miami (—24½)

Notre Dame at Stanford: The Cardinal are very good, while the Irish are mediocre. Look for Stanford to knock Notre Dame out of any bowl possibility. Take Stanford (—8).

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.