Blasts were a rocket for baseball and our hearts
Posted: Monday September 28, 1998 02:35 PM
By Bernie Miklasz
"I can't believe I did it.
- Mark McGwire, September 27, 1998.
Big Mac, chiseling furiously to the end, hammered two homers off the Montreal Expos and put two more indentations into the baseball record book.
McGwire finished with 70 home runs.
That's not a home-run total; that's an interstate.
Come to think of it, the stretch of I-70 that runs through St. Louis needs to be renamed as soon as possible. It has to be I-Mac. While we're at it, let's erect a giant, Bunyanesque McGwire statue along I-70. Make this monument bigger than the Arch. Have the world's largest McGwire hold a redwood-tree sized bat. Plant one leg on the side of eastbound I-70, and the other leg on the west side, and all motorists shall pass under him.
OK, it's been a long season, and we're all a little loopy. McGwire started this year in spring training, in Jupiter (Fla.) and he ended it on Mars. Mac visited the planets, touched them all on a remarkable odyssey and offered his own big-bang theory.
"It's been a hell of a ride," he said.
McGwire's 70 homers sent a powerful current through our culture. He set a record, saved baseball and inspired fans on this continent and others. In St. Louis, we saw history. Better yet, we lived it, screamed it and felt it in our hearts. It was a glorious shared experience that unified a city, maybe even a nation.
"It's one of the most special things we'll ever see in our lives," said Drew Baur, one of the Cardinals owners.
McGwire didn't just break the major-league home run record, he bombed it into a twisted, heaping, smoking rubble. It is unrecognizable now. Mac topped Babe Ruth's highest HR total by 10. He left Roger Maris behind by nine. Sammy Sosa has had one of the great seasons in major-league history, and he trails McGwire by four homers going into today's special playoff with San Francisco.
That's why I believe Mac walloping his 70th is even more meaningful and significant than his arrival at 62 on Sept. 8, when he went past Maris. By no means should we downgrade the 62 accomplishment, but look at it this way:
At some point we were certain McGwire would get to 62, and he did. It was almost inevitable. It was expected. It was not shocking. And another man, Sosa, got to 62 less than a week after McGwire set the standard. A record is somewhat diminished when more than one athlete gets a piece of it. Four players - Ruth, Maris, Sosa and McGwire - have now hit 60 or more homers. That's the old world.
And now we have an explorer who has reached the new world: 70
Only one: Mark David McGwire.
A k a, "Macgellan."
Come on now, 70? That's discovering a hidden planet. McGwire went to where no baseball player has traveled before. And no player may ever reach his new frontier. The number 70 is the gateway to an entirely different baseball universe.
McGwire's 70th homer didn't generate the rush of emotion that we saw on Sept. 8. No. 62 was extraordinary for different reasons. No. 62 was McGwire's preseason goal, and it had special meaning for him. It was a homer that deeply touched Mac's own family, plus the family of the late Maris. That home run made our hearts race. But this home run - 70 - has a profound impact on history. It makes McGwire a unique individual, who has his own category: the 70s.
"To say the least, I've amazed myself," McGwire said.
He's certainly amazed the rest of us.
"This is something you can tell your kids you were a part of," teammate John Mabry said. "You can't say enough about it, what it's meant to the game and the people that have been around it. He's not only in the hearts of St. Louis, but he's in the hearts of the country and even around the world."
After McGwire hit the 62nd - then hugged his son, then Sosa, then the Maris family - Mabry got off a good line. "If Mac wrote this script, then he'll get more nominations than `Titanic.' "
And now what? "After 70, this might be coming out in a trilogy," Mabry said. "This might be like the `Godfather' or something. And have three parts to it. There's `The Chase.' There's `The Tie.' There's `The Smashing of the Record.' "
There's also a dream sequence.
A gawky kid grows up in Southern California. He plays Little League baseball and hits a homer on his first-ever at-bat. He goes to college as a pitcher. He's turned into a first baseman. He marries the bat girl. He hits 49 homers as a rookie in Oakland.
His career plummets. He bats .201 in 1991. He divorces the bat girl. He loses his confidence and undergoes psychological counseling. He misses almost two full years with injuries. He thinks about quitting baseball but sticks to it.
He rebounds. He becomes a changed person. He's traded to St. Louis. He falls in love with the best baseball town in America. He decides to stay. He opens his arms to abused children and donates $1 million of his annual salary to help them. He weeps, smiles, shares all of his emotions. He hugs and kisses his son with millions watching on TV. He hits 62 home runs to set a record. He extends the record. He teams up with the marvelous Sosa to show everyone that there's still class and good manners in pro sports. He keeps homering. He hits five shots in his last 11 at-bats to finish with 70. He is the new American sports hero.
"I never dreamt anything like this," McGwire said. "I didn't dream that much as a kid, playing baseball. I did everything that every kid would do. Play any sport, have fun, and grow up and have experiences in life. I never thought I'd ever do what I'm doing here. I don't think any young kid can ever sit back and think, `I'm going to break Roger Maris' record' because you don't even know if you're going to play baseball in high school. But it happened."
This morning in America, there may be a kid out there who dreams of breaking Mark McGwire's home run record. If the kid is going to be better than McGwire, he'll have to be really something. The kid will have to be a combination of mental strength, physical strength. He'll have to display an amazing grace under pressure. He must have a big heart, and a compassionate soul. This young dreamer will have to be the best home run hitter that ever lived, and even that may not be enough.
There's only one Mark McGwire, now and forever.
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