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EXPANSION FIGURES TO TRIGGER ANOTHER SILLY SEASON IN RECORD BOOKS

Roger Maris hit 61 home runs and Maury Wills stole 104 bases.

Rod Carew batted .388 and Andres Galarraga hit .370.

The New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles each won 109 games.

Big numbers, but what's the connection?

Easy. Expansion effects.

Every time baseball adds teams, the stats get silly. Records are broken, win totals zoom and pitchers get pounded.

Does the arrival of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays mean 1998 is the year Mark McGwire hits 62 homers, Tony Gwynn bats .400 and the Atlanta Braves win 115 games?

"Overall, you will see offensive statistics go up because the pitching is so diluted," said Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Fred Claire.

"It's hard to relate it to individual cases, like McGwire hitting 60 or 65 home runs, because there are too many factors involved in something like that," he said. "But throughout the majors, you will see a difference."

Just witness what happened the last two expansion seasons.

In 1993, when the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies picked players from both leagues, pitchers paid the price.

NL teams averaged 140 homers and 728 runs, way up from 105 homers and 628 runs the previous year. AL clubs also jumped, from 127 homers to 148 and from 700 runs to 762.

Galarraga hit .370, the highest NL batting average in 45 years -- albeit just one-tenth of a point above what Gwynn hit a few years earlier.

That season, the Braves went 13-0 against the Rockies on their way to winning 104 games, barely beating out San Francisco's 103 for the NL West title.

It was just the second time since World War II that two NL teams had won at least 102 games. Los Angeles and San Francisco did it in 1962, also an expansion season and the first 162-game schedule.

In 1977, the new Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays took only AL players in the draft. The impact was immediate -- AL teams went from averaging .256 with 94 homers and 646 runs to .266 with 144 homers and 732 runs.

Carew won the batting title at .388, the highest in the majors since Ted Williams also hit .388 in 1957.

"There's been a dramatic effect on offense each time there's been expansion," Blue Jays general manager Gord Ash said. "There's no reason to think that won't be the case again this year, but there's no telling how much it will be.

"I think the difference is about one pitcher per club. But that's enough to change things."

It sure was in 1961, when Maris broke Babe Ruth's record with 61 homers. Maris particularly picked on the new Washington Senators, hitting nine home runs against them.

The Yankees won 109 games that year. The Orioles matched that number in the expansion season of 1969, and those remain the highest win totals in the majors in 43 years.

In 1962, Wills ran wild against the expansion New York Mets and Houston Colt .45s. He stole a combined 27 bases against them and broke Ty Cobb's mark with 104 steals.

"Those were the teams I really would load up on," Wills recalled this spring. "You knew you could take advantage of those teams, and you did."

The Mets lost a record 120 games that season, but they eventually got their revenge on Wills and the rest of baseball.

In 1969, Wills became the first batter in Montreal Expos history and singled at Shea Stadium. By the end of the year, though, the Miracle Mets were World Series champions.

This year, the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays have more modest goals. Boosted by big-salaried players, they both have a chance to achieve what none of the 12 expansion teams since 1961 has accomplished -- finish within 20 games of .500.

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