LET us take a break from power, politics, and money, and consider ... home runs.
It has dawned on some statistically minded followers of the national pastime that 1994 may be a record year for homers. This season's first month saw 708 four-baggers, compared with 210 hit during the same time last year. In the spirit of election-day exit pollsters, the number-crunchers use the April data to project a record 5,035 home runs for the season, rounded to the nearest base.
What lies behind this trend? Some theories and possible tests:
The Top-Quark Theory: There is an undiscovered component in the nucleus of baseball's elementary particle (the baseball) that accounts for the unusual rate of high line-drives over the left-field wall. We propose that two off-the-shelf Rawlings be taken to Fermilab outside of Chicago, hurtled in opposite directions around an underground track until they approach the speed of light, and allowed to collide. Somewhere in the debris, evidence of an elusive propellant may appear.
The Global-Warming Theory: A warmer-than-usual spring has led to more-limber-than-usual batters. This takes less account of the eye-hand coordination factor, but let's give it a try. Divide all hitters averaging above .300 into two groups. The ``control'' group will be flown to a ballfield north of the Arctic circle - say, Greenland's icecap, where it's still 30 below. The rest will head for the Astrodome, where the temperature will be raised 1 to 2 degrees above Houston's 10,000-year average. Let both groups face Roger Clemens or Dave Stewart. If the Astrodomers beat the Arctic squad, fossil fuels will find real advocates in baseball fans.
The Low-Skilled Labor Theory: This holds that pitchers (and maybe outfielders?) ain't what they used to be. One quick check: Have all batters hitting above .300 face a fast-pitch softball hurler, and observe results. If the pitcher comes out with an ERA below that of the National League's best and brightest, we have narrowed the range of explanations.
The Ruby Slippers Theory: In a modification of Dorothy and Toto's way of getting home, New York Yankees' Paul O'Neill digs in his left foot, waves his bat at the pitcher three times, taps his cleats, and repeats, as the ball is thrown, ``Hit the ball hard; hit the ball hard; whether it's left field, right field, or up the middle, hit the ball hard somewhere.'' Don't laugh. The man is batting .443, 163 points higher than his April career average.