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Mark of greatness
McGwire ties baseball's most glamorous record
Posted: Tuesday September 08, 1998 12:24 PM
ST. LOUIS (CNN/SI) -- Mark McGwire now has a share of baseball history.
McGwire hit his 61st home run, tying Roger Maris for one of baseball's most recognized single-season records, just barely fair and deep to left field in the bottom of the first inning during Monday's 3-2 win over the Chicago Cubs.
The St. Louis Cardinals slugger now has 20 games left to break Maris' record, which was set in 1961 and has stood for 37 years as the benchmark for major league power hitters.
Chicago's Sammy Sosa, right behind McGwire in his pursuit of history, popped out in the top of the first to remain at 58 home runs.
The crowd stood in unison while the St. Louis first baseman held both arms wide and high as he approached first base, receiving a high-five from the Cubs' Mark Grace. He also received a high-five as he rounded third base from Cubs' third baseman Gary Gaetti, a former St. Louis teammate.
Security officers immediately came onto the field. McGwire's 10-year-old son, Matthew, a St. Louis batboy waiting at home plate, got a big hug from his father, who first hopped on home plate with both feet for emphasis.
The Maris family, watching from first-base seats, applauded, too, as did Sosa. McGwire then came back on the field and acknowledged the Maris family by pointing his right index finger to the sky, tapping his heart three times and blowing a kiss.
"He tapped his heart, like dad was in his heart," said Kevin Maris, a son of the former player.
McGwire's own father, attending the game with other family members, also celebrated his 61st birthday Monday. His son's drive slammed off the facade of the stadium club -- the third deck at Busch Stadium -- and fell into the packed stands below. Mike Davidson, a 28-year-old from St. Louis, wound up with it after it deflected off the hands of three other people.
"They are my brother-in-law's seats," Davidson said. "He gave them to be because he had to work today."
Davidson said he planned to give the ball to McGwire and wouldn't ask for anything in return. The first fan to get his hand on the ball was Rich Reichert, 32, of St. Louis. He couldn't hang on and cut his left ring finger as he tumbled to the concrete.
"After the ball bounced off my hands, it was a little bit of a blur," Reichert said. "All I know was I got knocked down by about 10 guys."When Sosa came to the plate in the top half of the first, the crowd -- clad mostly in Cardinal red -- saluted the Cubs' slugger with a standing ovation, quite a tribute considering the long rivalry between the teams. Sosa tipped his hat to the crowd and gave his trademark two-finger salute to McGwire, holding a runner at first.
In his other at-bats, Sosa struck out looking in the third and swinging in the fifth before singling to left in the eighth and striking out swinging in the ninth. McGwire singled to left in the third, popped out to center in the fifth, and lined out to center in the seventh.
McGwire's record-tying homer opened pandemonium's box and closed intense scrutiny that stretched back to last season, when McGwire missed the record by only three homers despite changing cities and leagues in August.
But now, the Maris who passed a man larger than life was caught by a man larger than, well, most everybody. Described in a recent Sports Illustrated as "a 6-foot-5, 250-pound duplex with pillars for forearms," McGwire struck No. 61 at the same age, 34, that Maris was when he retired from the game -- as a St. Louis Cardinal.
Despite the likelihood of breaking Maris' mark, McGwire is not even favored to win his own league's award for most valuable player. Of the 18 players to hit 50-plus homers between 1930, when the award was sanctioned, and last season, only seven of those players were named MVPs.
This season, McGwire most likely will lose the MVP to Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa, who has trailed McGwire closely throughout the season's home run race. Sosa's team, unlike McGwire's, has a shot at a postseason berth via the wild card, giving the Cubs' clubber the edge under the unwritten most-valuable-to-his-team rule.
Sosa emerged as McGwire's running mate in midseason. But the expectations were placed on McGwire shortly after he was dealt from the Oakland Athletics at last season's trading deadline for three mediocre pitchers in a downsizing since outdone by the 1997 World Series champion Florida Marlins.
Notions were cultivated during an off-season that, in an expansion year (like 1961 when Maris set the mark) and with a livelier-than-ever ball, 1998 might be year McGwire challenged 61.
On March 31, McGwire opened the season and the flood gates of speculation with a grand slam over the left-field wall at Busch Stadium against the Dodgers' Ramon Martinez.
On April 30, he hit his 11th homer off Marc Pisciotta in Chicago to tie the Mariners' Ken Griffey Jr. and the Rockies' Vinny Castilla for the major league lead. Exactly one month later, having already established a major league record for home runs by the end of May, McGwire launched No. 27 off Andy Ashby in San Diego.
On June 30, McGwire tied Reggie Jackson for most homers before the All-Star break, cracking his 37th homer 470 feet to left off the Royals' Glendon Rusch. Five games remained before the Midsummer Classic.
He went without a homer in those five games, and went without making much of an impact in an event preceding the All-Star Game, the exceedingly anticipated home run contest. McGwire hit only four homers in the affair, bowing out after the first round, but not before crushing one 510 feet through the thin air at Denver's Coors Field. On July 26 in the same ballpark, McGwire punished John Thomson's first offering 452 feet to left for home run No. 44 -- with two months left to play.
In a showdown with Sosa at Wrigley Field on August 19, McGwire struck his 48th and 49th homers. And a day later in Shea Stadium, McGwire struck No. 50 in the first game and No. 51 in the second game of a doubleheader, becoming the first major leaguer to hit 50 homers in three consecutive seasons.
Reluctant throughout the season to discuss surveillance by fans and media known as the Maris Chase, McGwire finally acknowledged the prospect of reaching the single-season record for homers.
"I'd have to say I do have a shot," said McGwire after the doubleheader. "I know it will be tough. I believe that if someone got 50 by September, they'd have a shot."
Two days later, McGwire broke yet another major league record with his 52nd homer of the year and 162nd in the past three seasons, surpassing "The Sultan of Swat," Babe Ruth's total from 1926-28.
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 448 career home runs place him 21st on the all-time list, four behind Carl Yastrzemski. Hank Aaron, who hit a career-high 45 homers in 1962, hit his all-time leading 755th career home run at the age of 42.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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