NEW YORK (AP) – Baseball had a brownout this year, with home runs dropping to their lowest level in eight years.

Is there a link between the power outage and tougher steroid testing?

“A lot of guys who were hitting them haven’t been hitting them,” Florida’s Lenny Harris said. “I think the drug policy had a lot to do with it. It changed a lot of guys’ diets. There are too many people having off years.”

An average of 2.06 homers per game were hit through Sunday, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, down 81/2 percent from last season’s final average of 2.25. The figure hasn’t been so low since it dipped to 2.05 in 1997.

“I think it’s cyclical,” baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. “It’s very hard to determine what variables are at work here. I don’t think anyone really knows, and it’s hard to draw a conclusion.”

Some players point to the first year of steroid testing with penalties for first offenders. Nine players have been suspended for 10 days each for violating the major league policy, including Baltimore’s Rafael Palmeiro.

Gene Orza, the chief operating officer of the players association, said linking steroid testing to the home-run average is too simplistic and pointed out that this year’s level is only slightly lower than the 2.09 average for 2002.

“The numbers are essentially the same as they were three years ago, before there was testing, and in those three years players have been tested a massive number of times,” he said. “You might want to consider other possibilities for home run production: the players are bigger because of training regimen, the ballparks are smaller, bat manufacture and design is different. There can be a slew of reasons.”

Boston center fielder Johnny Damon cites better pitching.

“We haven’t really faced too many chumps for pitchers this year,” he said. “Young guys coming in have got some unbelievable stuff.”

Several stars had huge power drops, many because of long-term injuries. San Francisco’s Barry Bonds went from 45 to two as of Monday, Philadelphia’s Jim Thome from 42 to seven and St. Louis’ Scott Rolen from 34 to five.

“If I hit 12, the ratio would still be down,” Bonds said

Among those players who’ve been mostly healthy, Seattle’s Adrian Beltre has fallen from 48 to 18, the New York Mets’ Carlos Beltran from 38 to 15 and Washington’s Vinny Castilla from 35 to 12. All three were free agents last winter and switched teams – and home ballparks.

Texas has done its part to ensure the home-run average topped 2.0 for the 12th straight season – a figure reached only once in 25 years before the current boom began in 1994. The Rangers have 152 homers at Ameriquest Field, a record for a home ballpark, and lead the major leagues with 252 overall – 12 shy of the mark Seattle set in 1997.

Bucking the trend are Houston’s Morgan Ensberg, who has gone from 10 homers to 35, Atlanta’s Andruw Jones, up from 29 to 50, and the New York Yankees’ Jason Giambi, recovered from illnesses and back to 30 after hitting 12 last year. Jones is the first major leaguer to hit 50 since Thome and Alex Rodriguez in 2002.

“I know they’ve been saying a lot of stuff about a lot of people using illegal products to make themselves feel strong, but the game is still the same,” Jones said. “All the guys still look strong, and there’s no doubt in my mind they can still hit home runs, 50, 40 home runs.”

Braves general manager John Schuerholz thinks some players look smaller, but added, “It’s not scientific at all.”

“There may have been some relationship. I have no data on that,” he said. “Obviously, all of the supposition is that performance-enhancing drugs allow you to perform at a higher level physically, whether it’s speed, arm strength or power.”

It’s hard to discern whether increases and decreases in size are related to steroids. Tigers coach Lance Parrish talked about All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

“The only guy on this team who’s really lost any substantial weight on this team is Pudge, but I think that was by design on his part,” Parrish said. “People accuse him of being on stuff and then getting off it, and who’s to know? But I know just from watching him from the first day of spring training, he’s been on an unbelievable running regimen, diet and workout programs that are second to none. So I can see why he lost so much weight.”

AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley in San Francisco, Howard Ulman in Boston and Steven Wine in Miami, and AP freelance writer Joe Resnick in Anaheim, Calif., contributed to this report

AP-ES-09-19-05 1810EDT

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