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McGwire is Ruth's rightful heir
Posted: Wed May 13, 1998
Roger Maris certainly looked like an athlete. And he was indeed a very good athlete. It was just that he didn't look like a home run hitter. And there was the general sense that he didn't deserve to hit 61 home runs in a season. In a very real way, for a lot of people, Maris has just been keeping, temporarily, Babe Ruth's record on hold until the next rightful owner comes along. And never mind that it's been 36 years now.
Why, I think maybe if there was one thing I'd like to be able to do just once in my life, it would simply be to stand there at home plate, admiring a huge home run I'd just hit. It may be the most God-like thing a human being can do, staring out after a home run he has wrought.
And then beginning what is always called the home run "trot." I have no idea whether the expression home run "trot" originated with Babe Ruth, but I bet it did. It should have. The swing. The long look. The bat toss. The trot. The handshakes.
This brings us to Mark McGwire.
It has been decided, in some form of national referendum, that Mark McGwire is the person for whom Roger Maris has been holding Babe Ruth's record all these years.
McGwire looks like the Babe's heir, an absolute monster of a man, and yet, like Ruth, so obviously warm and gentle. McGwire's home runs do not merely clear the fence. They are not parabolas. Rather, they just go out until they run into something. McGwire is, really, the first athlete since Michael Jordan who does something which so evidently, to the naked eye, seems to defy physical laws.
Superiority is not all that easy to discern in athletes. How many baseball fans could pick out Kerry Wood, the Cubs' new 100-mile-an-hour pitcher, from a bunch of other guys throwing 95? Could you go to the gym and watch boxers and tell which one possesses a knockout punch? But McGwire, like Jordan, is simply and obviously different from every other human being.
Ever since he shook off a series of major injuries and settled in a year or so ago, McGwire has begun drawing crowds in batting practice. At his home St. Louis park and every National League stop, thousands of people are showing up a couple hours before game time simply to watch him take practice swings against 70-mile-an-hour puff balls.
For all I know, there has been nothing like this in the entire history of baseballmore than 125 years. Did huge numbers of fans show up to watch Ruth practice? I never heard about it.
McGwire, a California boy, who has fallen in love with St. Louisand it with himis a bit confounded by all the attention. He keeps talking about how somebody or other is ahead of him by a homer or two a month into the season. McGwire doesn't quite understand about myths. Roger Maris was a mere human who did one legendary thing, and that irritated us because it seemed out of context. We have already made McGwire a legend, and now we will be just as disappointed if he doesn't do a Ruthian thing.
These commentaries, which appear each Wednesday on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, are posted weekly by CNN/SI.
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