Baseball's finest hour, McGwire's finest
Posted: Wednesday September 09, 1998 02:30 AM
By Bernie Miklasz, Post-Dispatch Staff
With a crack of the bat, Mark McGwire sent a wicked streak of lightning through the night sky. His 62nd home run left the ballpark so fast, so violently, that it was barely a flash. When it crashed down, streaking inside the left-field line, just over the fence, we knew that McGwire had sent a thunderbolt to the baseball gods. He would be joining them now.
Somewhere in the universe you knew that Babe Ruth laughed and bought a round for the house. You could hear Ty Cobb hoot and cackle. Lou Gehrig quietly smiled. And Roger Maris -- undoubtedly pleased that such a quality individual claimed his home-run record -- politely moved over, and was happy to do it.
Mac felt their eyes on him.
"Thanks to Babe, Roger, and everybody who's watching up there," McGwire said later.
The baseball icons on this earth were mighty impressed, too. Some of the most important figures in Cardinals history beamed with pride as McGwire created the newest piece of baseball mythology for this hallowed franchise.
Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock, Red Schoendienst were on their feet at Busch Stadium, laughing and clapping. McGwire was one of them now, a Cardinal of legendary distinction. Mac's No. 25 could have been retired on the spot. He stands among the greats.
It was a night when McGwire reached up and touched the stars. It was a night illuminated by an epic deed and a thousand flashbulbs. It was a night of big shoulders and bigger drama. History took flight at 8:18 p.m., giving all who saw it the memory of a lifetime.
The magical moment immediately became the source of one of the most important questions in St. Louis history: Where were you when No. 62 went out?
Were you one of 49,987 dancing in the aisles at Busch Stadium?
Were you at home in front of the TV set, getting jiggy with it?
Were listening to KMOX?
Were you a wide-eyed child, sitting on a parent's lap?
Did you laugh?
Did you cry?
Did your heart pound, did your stomach do flips, did your soul tingle?
Did you remember why you cherish America's game?
Baseball is a field of dreams again.
"It's put baseball back on the map as the sport," McGwire said. "It's America's national pastime."
We share Mac with the nation now, but let's be selfish for a little while. Mac did it for you, baseball's greatest fans, in the greatest baseball town in America. The Cardinals concluded a five-game home stand Tuesday night by beating the Cubs 6-3. They head to Cincinnati and Houston. And it would have been a mean curve for No. 62 to fly out of another city's stadium. McGwire adores St. Louis, and St. Louis adores him. It is the most genuine, touching, beautiful fan-player relationship in baseball. The mighty, record blow had to leave our ballpark.
"What a perfect way to end the home stand," McGwire said. "By hitting 62 for the city of St. Louis and all the fans. I truly wanted to do it here, and I did. Thank you, St. Louis."
Mac says he believes in fate, and fate dictated that he slam his way into our hearts, going deeper than ever. And so he came through. Perhaps that's why he hit the first pitch in the fourth inning. Maybe this is why homer No. 62 was his shortest of the season, a mere 341 feet.
Hey, Mac wanted to end your suspense. He wanted to let you celebrate. So why delay? Why wait for a 500-foot bomb to come down? This 341-foot slap shot got the good times rolling. Mac always had an impeccable sense of timing. The time was right, a city was ready, so he ignited the fireworks. Let the party begin.
"I hope there's a lot of champagne on that flight to Cincinnati," Mac joked.
Oh, what a night. September 8, 1998. Think about it, freeze the feeling, and savor this evening. The wonder of it all will be replayed, and recited, by this and future generations.
We will chuckle when we remember how Mac had to pause on his home-run trot to backtrack and make sure he'd touched first base.
We will recall how the classy Cubs' infield shook Mac's hand as he made his way home.
We will close our eyes and see him stomp on home plate.
We will feel a rush of second-wave emotion when we remember how Mac scooped up his son, Matthew, and hoisted the boy into the air for a ride that was better than anything you'll find in an amusement park. It was time to grab the hankies.
We will see the classy Sammy Sosa trotting in from right field, to congratulate McGwire. Mac's reaction was to wrap his arms around his friendly rival and hug him so hard that you wondered if Sammy could recover to homer again this season.
McGwire blew kisses to the fans, to his parents.
And then McGwire made one of the kindest, sweetest, most generous moves that you'll ever see. Mac spotted the Maris family seated near the Cardinal dugout. He jogged to them, and hopped the railing. He went into the stands to hug the late Maris' children.
Earlier in the day, McGwire had gripped the bat used by Maris to hit the 61st homer on October 1, 1961. The karma in that bat moved him.
"I touched it," McGwire said, choking up. "I put it to my heart."
The Maris family was due for this tender mercy. Finally, the affection and respect that Roger Maris deserved, but never received, in 1961, when he set the record. Maris was scorned, treated as the enemy at home, as he pursued Ruth's 60-homer barrier. His passage into history was joyless.
Thirty-seven years later, McGwire did the right thing: he shared his triumphant moment with Maris' sons and daughters. He made sure that they felt the love that so coldly eluded their father. The embrace came 37 years too late, but Mac delivered.
Oh, how he delivered. He hit a record-setting home run, a shot that was so powerful that it went 37 years back in time, to touch Roger Maris. He brought the generations together. He made the bitterness go away. His was a healing touch.
It was baseball's finest hour, McGwire's finest hour. When the big man sent the lightning through the sky, we glowed in the presence of true greatness.
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