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86? 87? Web sites' math differs on Bonds' record pace

By GREG AUMAN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 22, 2001


My first memory of the daily "Record Watch" vigil came in the summer of 1983, when Steve Carlton and Nolan Ryan surpassed Walter Johnson's career strikeout record within a week of each other.

Every day, the Orlando Sentinel ran a mugshot and updated total for each pitcher as they leapfrogged each other with every start.

Carlton never was the same after that season, and Ryan ended up winning by, well, 1,578 Ks, but for one summer, it was the first thing I turned to in the newspaper.

Three years ago, the daily update was taken to another level when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa made their assault on Roger Maris' home run record.

Such unprecedented slugging had Web producers furiously tapping at calculators, trying to keep track of the pace the two hitters were on. Unfortunately, not everyone was arriving at the same numbers.

We're not talking 154 games vs. 162 games or anything to do with juiced balls, diluted bullpens, thin mountain air and the other usual asterisks.

Folks just don't know how to make projections like they used to.

This summer has another home run watch, and there's no argument whether Barry Bonds is on pace to do more damage to McGwire's mark of 70 than Big Mac even did to Maris. Bonds is on target to catch Maris, Sosa and McGwire in August, but sites disagree as to exactly how many the Giants outfielder is on pace to end up with.

NBCsports.com's "Chasing McGwire" feature had Bonds on pace for 87 after his 38th home run Wednesday, as did ESPN.com's "Going, Going, Gone" feature, but at the same time, Sportsline.com's "Bonds Home Run Tracker" had him on pace for 86.

After using a variety of formulas in '98, most sites agree that projections are calculated by dividing the number of games a player's team has played by his home run total, then multiplying by 162.

The issue now is how to handle a figure like 86.70 home runs, which is what Bonds projected to after Wednesday's game.

NBC and ESPN choose to round up, as does the authoritative site on the matter, homerunrecord.com, but I'd side with Sportsline's decision to round down any fraction. You can't hit part of a home run -- it's all or nothing, a swing or a miss.

It might not be long before a second mugshot is added to go with Bonds' -- ESPN's feature shows that Arizona's Luis Gonzalez is on pace for 68. Entering Thursday's games, he was eight home runs behind Bonds -- the same margin that Sosa trailed McGwire by on this date in 1998.

Another projection to consider (with less math and more intuition) is public opinion, which suggests that 86 might be a bit high for Bonds. A poll at CNNSI.com asked how many homers Bonds would finish with, and 55 percent said 69 or fewer.

TID-BYTES: NBA.com reported a record 1.2-million visitors on the day after the 76ers upset the Lakers in Game 1 of the league final, double the traffic for the corresponding day last year. ... Old-school kudos to the Washington Post, which got the scoop on Cal Ripken's retirement Monday afternoon but held off on posting the news online until 11:30 that night, allowing it to trump the rival Baltimore Sun on a huge story. ... Shed a tear for the PGA Tour's B.C. Open, which for years has been named not for a sponsor but for the comic strip drawn by local caveman cartoonist Johnny Hart. The tournament is auctioning title sponsorship for its 2002 event on eBay.com. Bidding starts at $1.1-million, and here's hoping the winning bidder's ID is "Grog."

-- If you have a question or comment about the Internet or a site to suggest, e-mail staff writer Greg Auman at aumanac1@aol.com.

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