Pressure Shouldn't Slow Down Juan Gonzalez
By Johnny Paul
Forth Worth Star Telegram
ARLINGTON, Texas, July 5, 1998 -- Rangers right fielder Juan Gonzalez promises that his locks of jet black hair will remain in place this season no matter what.
"Yes, I know the story," says Gonzalez, whose grin eventually evolves into laughter. "My hair will not fall out."
Gonzalez, the major leagues' most prolific run producer, knows the story about former Yankees right fielder Roger Maris, who produced arguably the game's most significant single-season accomplishment, breaking Babe Ruth's home-run record in 1961.
The strain of that pursuit and all the attention that came with it took its toll on Maris, who began losing clumps of hair during the chase.
Halfway through the season, Gonzalez has positioned himself for a serious pursuit of the single-season record for runs batted in, established by outfielder Hack Wilson of the Chicago Cubs, who drove in 190 in 1930.
That pursuit will generate more interest -- more than Maris ever encountered in this age of electronic media -- should Gonzalez remain within striking distance in September. The attention, though, will not become a distraction, Gonzalez says.
"I've prepared my body and my mind for a big year," he said. "I know the media will be coming, but that's part of it. That's the media's job, and I understand. You guys have a tough job, too."
Gonzalez continues to be the recipient of national exposure. The list this season includes: "USA Today, Sports Illustrated, Baseball Weekly, ESPN Magazine, Los Angeles Times, New York Post" and "CNN-SI". He also has been the subject of feature stories by almost every local newspaper when the Rangers stop in an opposing city.
Gonzalez complies with the requests, but he does not relish all the attention, said Luis Mayoral, the Rangers' Latin American liaison and Gonzalez's confidant.
"He doesn't want to be put on a stage with Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas and Albert Belle," Mayoral said. "He'd rather do his thing on the field. That's his nature. That's his makeup."
Gonzalez has performed well in the media spotlight. He thrived in the 1996 playoffs against the New York Yankees, batting .438 (7-for-16) with five home runs and nine RBI in four games.
"He's more mature," Rangers manager Johnny Oates said. "He's got a better grasp of the English language, and he's more comfortable speaking in public. That series was a coming-out party for him. It was national exposure big time, and he handled it well."
"He was the only guy doing anything offensively, and people wanted him," recalled John Blake, the Rangers' vice president for public relations. "He handled it well. He was as good in defeat as he was after we won Game 1. I got a lot of compliments from the national and New York media in terms of Juan making himself available and answering their questions.
"It was a good national spotlight for him, and he came through it well. I couldn't ask for a guy to handle the postseason any better than he did. I think that was a turning point for him in that regard."
The Rangers, though, do have a plan in place should a media crush befall Gonzalez this season. It will resemble the plan the Cardinals put in place for McGwire, who remains on pace to break Maris' single-season record for home runs (61).
The Cardinals make McGwire available for a 30-minute session with the media 3 1/2 hours before the first game of each road series with no other pregame availability during the series.
"You try to make it as easy as you can for the individual, and that's what we'll do", Blake said. "You want to be cooperative, but it can become a distraction. I think Juan understands how important it is, and I think he's been very cooperative."