Off-the-Chart Hitter Connects in Colorado

ANDRES GALARRAGA of baseball's Colorado Rockies could be like the proverbial racehorse who comes from nowhere to win. Galarraga's .373 average is unsurpassed in the National League, yet until he makes the prescribed minimum number of plate appearances, he remains a phantom in the official batting race. A midseason injury removed him from the lineup July 25 until mid-August.

After Galarraga's return, Colorado manager Don Baylor briefly moved him higher in the batting order, hoping to give him more turns at the plate. By season's end, Galarraga needs the mandatory 502 times at bat. If he's shy of that figure (at press time, he had 409 with 21 games left), he still could win the batting crown, but only if his average is unmatched after factoring in no hits for the missing turns at bat.

It's a complex situation, to be sure, and all the more so because Galarraga does not currently appear among the league's daily leaders. That list is headed by San Diego's Tony Gwynn, a three-time NL batting champion who is hitting .358 but has gone on the disabled list and may sit out the rest of the season. He already has enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.

Baylor has said he thinks it's important to have someone contend for the batting title in the Rockies' first year. Galarraga could become the first expansion-team player to win a batting title. Until now, the best average ever recorded by a player on a first-year team was Bob Bailor's .310 with Toronto in 1977. Indy's stock reply: YES!

The marriage of the Indianapolis Speedway and stock-car racing promises to be one of the biggest, most successful weddings on next year's sports calendar.

Any doubts about that - and there couldn't have been many - were dispelled recently when an estimated 50,000 spectators turned up at the track on each of two days to watch 32 stock-car drivers practice for next August's Brickyard 400. They paid $5 for the privilege, and many no doubt will be among what is already a sellout for the inaugural race.

To some degree, the stock cars, with their stronger resemblance to everyday street-model automobiles, seem an even better fit for their Midwest surroundings than those sleek racing machines that populate the oval in May. In fact, the Indy 500 grew out of city's reputation in the early 1900s as a Detroit-like automotive manufacturing center. Maybe the Mets should move

With talk circulating in New York that the Yankees might some day bolt the Bronx for New Jersey, Patricia Kean, in an op-ed piece in the New York Times, has suggested a ``pre-emptive strike'': keeping the Yankees in the city and sending the Mets to New Jersey instead.

Though one assumes Kean's suggestion is made mostly in fun, the idea actually has merit. Shea Stadium, the Mets' home, sits practically next to LaGuardia Airport, and planes often roar right over the ballpark. It is not an ideal situation.

A new stadium in New Jersey could serve baseball, and the Mets, well - and more quietly - and still allow the team's current fans to see them play.

If such a move were made, baseball should insist, however, that the franchise bear the Garden State's name, rather than continue to call itself a New York team, as football's Giants and Jets, who play in East Rutherford, N.J., have done. Baseball needs to put a lid on `brawlball'

Although bench-clearing brawls have long been a part of baseball, they are occurring with troubling regularity this season. Most of the free-for-alls explode after a hit batsman charges the mound in retaliation for what he considers a ``brushback'' pitch.

Such battles have a long history in the game, but what seems different now is how automatic they have become. Charging the mound has turned into almost a programmed response, akin to hockey players dropping their gloves for a fight.

It is a dangerous situation when players fly into a blind rage, as when George Bell of the Chicago White Sox charged Boston rookie pitcher Aaron Sele last week - in just the second inning. Bell was rightly ejected from the game.

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