Next great Chicago home run race set to begin

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It's been a long time since Chicago has had a good home run race to follow.

The one we remember happened in 1998 and … well, we can all remember what happened after that.

The Cardinals' Mark McGwire hit 70, the Cubs' Sammy Sosa finished with 66 and the record books were tarnished forever as the Steroid Era reached new absurdities.

This season, there is a new Chicago home run race, something that has led the Chicago Tribune to include a “City of Big Sluggers” graphic each day to its print edition.

A Chicago slugger is leading both leagues in home runs. The White Sox's Jose Abreu has 30. The Cubs' Anthony Rizzo has 25.

Both are in heated competitions, with Baltimore's Nelson Cruz entering with 29 homers and Miami's Giancarlo Stanton sitting at 23 in the National League

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The South Side

Abreu, at 27, was expected to be a force in the White Sox's lineup. He did the same for years in Cuba.

Either way, he's making his six year, $68 million contract seem like a bargain. He wasn't as much of an uncertainty as a guy like Yasiel Puig or Yoenis Cespedes. There was plenty of track record there for Abreu. The question now is how long the home run assault will continue.

"That second half, when teams are in contention, and they know that one person can hurt you on a daily basis, they're going to start walking him and doing everything else (but pitch to him)," recent Hall of Fame inductee Frank Thomas said to the Chicago Tribune about Abreu's chances, adding “He ain't gonna break that record” referring to McGwire's rookie record (49), which is the same as Albert Belle's team record.

The North Side

Rizzo's assault on the other side of town is more of a surprise.

After a miserable 2013 campain, where he hit 23 homers and batted .233, there was some question on his development and how big of a part Rizzo and fellow current Cub Starlin Castro (who had an equally pitiful 2013) would be of the Cubs' seemingly bright future, with the team now holding three of the top seven prospects in the game, according to But both were All-Stars this season, answering those questions.

Where it will lead

With both Rizzo and Abreu playing on bad teams, it's hard not to think Thomas is right that they'll keep getting less and less pitches to hit. But they both keep performing.

"That's what we say every day," former Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said to the Chicago Tribune.

"And every day he keeps putting up more home runs. I think he has a chance to do it. This guy, he doesn't try to do too much to the ball. He reminds me a little bit of (Miguel) Cabrera — tries to hit the ball in the gap, and he never changes his swing."

As the Tribune notes in its home run race graphic, 1956 was the last time two players from the same city won the titles. Mickey Mantle (Yankees) hit 52, Duke Snider (Brooklyn Dodgers) had 43.

And, only two Sox players have ever won the home run title, Dick Allen (1972 and 73) and Bill Melton (1971).

Neither Chicago team is likely to make the playoffs, but both might be headed for history.

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