Last season, baseball's Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both broke a home run record that had stood for 37 years.

So what are the chances they can repeat such success for 1999? Simply put, says a Texas A&M University professor of statistics, the odds are against the big leaguers in a big-time way.

McGwire (of the St. Louis Cardinals) hit 70 homers and Sosa (Chicago Cubs) had 66. McGwire has only a 16 percent chance of hitting 71 or more and Sosa a 17 percent probability of hitting 60 or more, says Scott Berry of Texas A&M. Berry's research will appear in the April issue of Chance magazine, a publication dealing with statistics.

To break down the numbers further, McGwire has an 86 percent chance of hitting 50 or more homers and a 52 percent chance of hitting 60 or more. Sosa has a 54 percent chance of hitting 50 or more and only a 2 percent chance of hitting 71 or more. In fact, Berry's figures show that Sosa may not even be second behind McGwire this season: Ken Griffey (Seattle Mariners) has a better chance than Sosa of hitting 50 or more homers (57 percent) or 60 or more (20 percent). His chances of hitting 71 or more are about the same as Sosa's, explains Berry.

"I'm a huge fan of Mark McGwire and I think he's the best home run hitter of his generation, but from a statistical standpoint, the numbers don't look good for him to repeat the kind of year he had last season," says Berry, a lifetime baseball fan and admitted "stat freak."

Berry's figures are derived from complex statistical models. Perhaps one of the most significant factors is what he terms "regressing to the mean.

"That means a player is going where he has never gone before," he confirms. "No one in the history of baseball had ever hit 70 homers before. Sosa, for example, had a previous personal high of only 40 homers and he hits 66. McGwire hit 58 the year before he hit 70, so he had never crossed the 60-barrier. Regressing to the mean implies that it is unlikely these players will perform to such extremes.

"Players separate themselves from everyone else with these high numbers, but in the end, many of them fall short of records. They regress down to their real ability."

Berry believes today's players are so good that the standards for excellence have changed.

"Just 10 years ago, 40 homers were considered a milestone and 50 was something that only Hall of Famers did," he believes. "To hit 50 homers is still quite an accomplishment, but I expect it to happen several times a year, and for someone to hit 60 or more every three or four years. I think it's safe to say McGwire's 70-homer mark will last a while."

His pick for someone to beat Hank Aaron's career mark of 755 homers? "It has to be Griffey, not McGwire," he believes. "The age factor comes into play here. Griffey is only 29 and McGwire is 35. McGwire has a better homer-per-bats ratio (every 8.8 at-bats compared to 11.8 for Griffey). But Griffey could easily play another 10 years."

If Berry's figures are right and McGwire does hit 50 or more homers this season, he'd be the first player in history to do the feat in four consecutive seasons.

For more information, call Berry at (409) 845-3141

Contact: Keith Randall (409) 845-4644

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