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It was only a matter of time
With 62 out of the way, how many more will McGwire rip in '98?
Posted: Wednesday September 09, 1998 02:56 AM
ATLANTA (CNN/SI) -- He did it.
With his 62nd home run, Mark McGwire brought an end to the expectations, the hype and the single-season home run record set by Roger Maris 37 years ago.
With 18 games to spare, McGwire broke baseball's most glamorous record on Tuesday, finally putting to an end the speculation he inspired when missing the record last season by only three homers despite changing cities and leagues in midseason.
McGwire simply lined a laser to left -- his shortest home run of the season at 341 feet -- and No. 62 barely cleared the wall.
"I have been talking about this since January," he said. "I can honestly say I did it."
When it finally happened, McGwire was so caught up in the moment that he missed first base as he rounded the bag. He had to return to touch it, led back by first-base coach Dave McKay.
"I sort of missed one big thing -- to touch first base," he said. "I hope I didn't act foolish, but this is history."
From there, McGwire got handshakes from every Chicago infielder as he trotted home and then hugged catcher Scott Servais.
McGwire was mobbed by his teammates at home plate, where he hoisted his 10-year-old batboy son Matt high into the air. McGwire then ran into the seats to hug the family of Maris, whose record he had just broken.
Before the game, McGwire held the bat that Maris used to hit his 61st and rubbed it against his chest.
"Roger, I hope you're with me tonight," McGwire said.
He was, indeed.
Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa, who has 58 home runs, ran in from right field to hug McGwire. They bashed their arms together, and McGwire gave Sosa a mock punch to the stomach. Sosa reciprocated with his trademark: kissing his fingers, tapping his heart, holding up his fingers in a V in honor or the late Harry Caray, an announcer who worked for the Cardinals and Cubs.
As the specially marked ball cleared the left-field fence, there was no scramble to retrieve it because it landed in an area where no fan could get it.
Tim Forneris, a ground-crew worker, picked it up and later gave it to McGwire in a postgame party on the field. McGwire also got a '62 red Corvette from the Cardinals in the tribute and he and his son took a slow victory drive around the field as the crowd cheered.
"Right when it hit off the bat, I knew it was going out and it went right over the sign," Forneris said. "There was a bunch of ground-crew guys on the wall. But I was right on the edge and I said, 'That ball is mine.'"
By Wednesday, that landmark ball, along with McGwire's bat and jersey, will be on display at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
The homer triggered an 11-minute delay, baseball's biggest midgame celebration since Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record in 1995.
After McGwire finished celebrating with his teammates and the Maris family, he grabbed a microphone to address the sellout crowd of 43,688, which was still standing and cheering.
"To all my family, my son, the Cubs, Sammy Sosa. It's unbelievable," McGwire said. "Thank you, St. Louis."
McGwire, who appeared anxious in grounding out on a 3-0 pitch in the first inning, hit his solo shot on the first pitch, an 88-mph fastball at 8:18 p.m. CDT.
"I was hoping it wasn't going to be me," Trachsel said.
The home run, despite its short distance, surely will rank as one of the biggest in history, up there with the ones hit by Bobby Thomson, Bill Mazeroski, Hank Aaron, Carlton Fisk, Kirk Gibson and Joe Carter.
"I couldn't be happier for him," Roger Maris Jr. said.
The 34-year-old slugger also did it at home, just like he wanted, the day after he tied the record. The Cardinals begin a five-game road trip Wednesday, and McGwire wanted to share the moment with the fans and city he has embraced since Oakland traded him to St. Louis on July 31, 1997.
McGwire did not get a chance to add to his total, which includes 15 home runs in only 21 days. He walked in his final two plate appearances in the Cardinals' 6-3 victory.
McGwire's race began on March 31 when he hit a slam on Opening Day -- he homered in the first four games of the season -- but his chase to become 1998's home run champion is not finished.
With the Cardinals out of contention, McGwire may take off a few days over the final 18 games; the season ends September 27. He is just four homers ahead of Sosa, who figures to play every day down the stretch with the Cubs still in the NL wild-card race.
Like Maris, McGwire broke the mark in an expansion season. But consider this stat: This year, home runs are being hit at a rate of 2.05 per game; last year, the average was also 2.05.
McGwire accomplished his feat in the Cardinals' 145th game, while Maris' Yankees played 163 in 1961. Before Maris set his record, commissioner Ford Frick declared any record would carry a "distinctive mark" if it did not beat Babe Ruth's mark of 60 in 154 games.
That decision was reversed seven years ago, but it came seven years after Maris died in 1985. Maris played his final game on this same Busch field for the Cardinals in the 1968 World Series.
Unlike Maris, McGwire didn't lose his hair in his pursuit of the record, even though the expectations and pressure began building way before the Cardinals' first workout in spring training.
At one point in mid-June, McGwire complained that he felt like a "caged animal" because of all the attention his BP sessions were attracting. Later in the season, as the media hordes started to increase, he was stung by an Associated Press report that he used androstenedione, an over-the-counter muscle booster that is legal in major league baseball but banned by the NFL, NCAA and International Olympic Committee.
Before McGwire's shot, the home run record had been the exclusive domain of the New York Yankees since 1920. That was the year Ruth set the single-season record with 54, and he held the mark until Maris beat him.
In taking the record from a team built on power, McGwire brought it to one of baseball's most unlikely cities. The Cardinals were a franchise famous for fastballs -- from Dizzy Dean to Bob Gibson -- and also fast feet -- from the Gashouse Gang to Lou Brock.
Stan Musial, who was at the game, was the most acclaimed slugger in St. Louis history -- "I've never seen anyone like him, really," the Hall of Famer said of McGwire -- but only two players had ever hit 40 homers for the Cardinals before Big Mac arrived. Rogers Hornsby hit 42 in 1922 and Johnny Mize hit 43 in 1940.
McGwire quickly destroyed Mize's team record, hitting No. 44 on July 26 at Coors Field.
All along, McGwire seemed destined to break the record. He was born exactly two years after Maris hit his record-breaker off Tracy Stallard, homered in his first at-bat in Little League and hit 49 homers in 1987 as the AL Rookie of the Year.
After back-to-back, two-homer games in Miami to start September with his 56th, 57th, 58th and 59th homers, the announcement was deafening, yet unspoken.
It was only a matter of time.
McGwire's 449 career home runs place him 21st on the all-time list, three behind Carl Yastrzemski. Aaron, who never hit 50 homers in one season, hit his all-time leading 755th career homer at the age of 42.
But on Tuesday night, it was only one homer that mattered. As fans marveled from bleachers and barstools and sofas across the nation, Mark McGwire hit No.62, making baseball history.Is he doomed to repeat it?
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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