Almanack: Search for home truths

BASEBALL fans in the United States are gearing up for a bumper year in the major leagues, where the home runs have been flying with hitherto unheard-of frequency. Statisticians are purring in anticipation of a record year; hitters and glaziers can't believe their luck. It's only the poor pitchers who are searching for explanations - or excuses.

Fifty per cent more home runs have been hit this season than at the corresponding stage last year. The first batter of the year, St Louis's Ray Lankford, hit a home run on the sixth pitch of the season. The next day the Chicago Cubs' Karl Rhodes became the first player in US Major League baseball history to hit homers on his first three at-bats on opening day. Hours later, Toronto's Carlos Delgado broke a window in the Hard Rock Cafe 140 metres from the plate. And so it goes on.

Why the sudden explosion? It's not the balls. 'It's all exactly the same as it always has been,' said Scott Smith of the Rawlings Baseball Corp. Some say it's smaller stadia, like the new compact arenas in Texas and Cleveland. Others, like the Minnesota pitching coach Dick Such, have more sinister theories: 'Actually, I think there are a lot of corked (illegally modified) bats in the big leagues,' Such alleged. But Bo ('Bo knows baseball') Jackson knows best. 'If you knock the heck out of the ball,' Bo said, 'it'll jump.'

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