Remembering the Summer of '98 (cont.)
It was hardly smooth going for McGwire from there, though. On Aug. 21, the Associated Press ran a story that discussed McGwire's use of androstenedione, a steroids precursor. The Cardinals railed at what La Russa called an "invasion of privacy." (An AP reporter had spotted a bottle of andro weeks earlier in McGwire's locker.) The media jumped on different sides, some condemning the AP reporter for his supposed "snooping," others beginning to question whether McGwire's record would be legitimate because of his use of a substance that was banned in other sports and in the Olympics.
Less than a week later, baseball commissioner Bud Selig launched a study of supplements. McGwire, shaken by the scandal but undeterred, marched on.
He ended August with 55 home runs. He hit two in a game on Sept. 1, breaking Hack Wilson's NL record of 56, and two more on Sept. 2 to reach 59. On Sept. 5 against the Reds in St. Louis, he hit No. 60.
On Sept. 7, Sosa's Cubs came to town for a two-game series, the final meeting of the year between the two teams and the two sluggers. McGwire cranked a home run off the Cubs' Mike Morgan on Monday afternoon to tie Maris.
The next night -- Tuesday, Sept. 8 -- McGwire completed his journey.
"The night he hit his 62nd, I saw his BP. I think I counted 16 [home runs] in a row. And his 17th one, he hit a line drive that short-hopped the wall. And the crowd was disappointed. It was impressive."
-- Kerry Wood, Cubs pitcher
"You know, I had pitched in that ballpark in the 1980s, and I remember George Hendrick hit a ball off that clear Plexiglas in front of some stadium club up there in left field, and the whole league was talking about that for a couple of weeks.
"I remember standing by the cage and Mark McGwire taking batting practice that day, or maybe it was the day before he hit 62 -- it might have been the day he hit 61 -- and he hit nine consecutive balls in the upper deck during batting practice, just nice and easy. He hit nine consecutive balls as far as I've ever seen balls hit in my entire life. If the upper deck weren't there and they were just allowed to travel, they had to be 500 feet. And it was so effortless. It wasn't like he was grunting. He was just kind of swinging easy, making contact, letting go with his right hand, and like sweeping the bat. A nice stylish swing, and all these balls, every one of them, had a blue flame coming out the back."
"Our team photographer took a photo from the third base side of the stadium that really demonstrated how packed the pressbox was. People were just on top of each other. It was overflowing. And everybody in the picture looks miserable. Everybody just looks like they're hot and irritated.
"When McGwire was not batting, the pressbox would thin out. People would get out of there, because it was so stuffed and so cramped and so hot and so stuffy. People would go to the auxiliary seating, back in the air conditioning or downstairs on the service level, or just walk around the stadium and get a drink. And then when the inning would come up where he was back up to bat again, the pressbox would just start slowly filling up again."
-- Brad Hainje, Cardinals assistant to the director of media relations
In the bottom of the fourth, with nobody out and nobody on, McGwire laid into a Steve Trachsel pitch and laced it some 341 feet to left field. No. 62, the record breaker, was to be his shortest home run of the year.
"I wasn't in the lineup when he hit the 62nd home run. I was injured. I remember Tony La Russa wanting me to get in that lineup somehow. But I just couldn't do it. Not to be on that scorecard when he hit that home run, you think back, and you wish there was just some way you could have been out there.
"I remember when he hit it, I was probably the first one up the stairs to congratulate him. I had to endure the pressure of hitting behind him, myself and Ray Lankford."
"I was sitting in a club box behind our dugout on the third base side. And when he hit the ball, I was thinking, 'Well, there's a short hop off the wall or a ball off the wall for a double,' or maybe the left fielder makes a nice play and he holds him to a single. And then the next thing you know, the ball disappears and everybody's like 'Where did the ball go?' Everybody was so intent on the ball."
"I kind of wanted No. 62 to be one of those high, majestic, Big Mac Land kind of efforts, and here was this vicious line drive that just made it over the wall."
-- Steve Stone, Cubs broadcaster
"I remember, [Trachsel] was just kind of moving toward third base, toward us on the third base side. And all of the sudden he stopped and looked. And looked. And then all of a sudden, he realized it was a home run, and everything just exploded. And the next thing you know, you look over and Mark and [Cubs first baseman] Mark Grace are over there doing the cha-cha at first base."
McGwire made his trip around the bases, shaking hands with Cubs players along the way and hugging his son Matt as he crossed home plate. Sosa ran in from right field to congratulate him. Selig was in the stands, cheering along with several members of the Maris family. More than 43 million fans watched on television, the biggest audience for a regular-season baseball game in almost 16 years.
"The thing I still see is just that powerful swing, the follow through, the extension he had. I've got a painting at home that I saw in a gallery one time, of that swing. I just saw it and bought it. It's incredible. I have it hanging in my office at home, and I actually had Mark sign it. That vision of that full extension, I remember."
"The night he broke the record, he got a call from President Clinton. We had a back room, and it was basically him and his son Matt. Here he was in this back little room, basically our strength coach's office, talking to the President. That was something."