"I've always appreciated how difficult it is," McGwire says of hitting 61, "and now I know how possible it is. I hit 58 and had a terrible July. But it would have to be almost a perfect season for it to happen."
How will it add up? Never have there been better reasons for marking McGwire. Yet the numbers he prefers to talk about are the ones that refer to children he's never met. That, too, is the measurement of McGwire.
He pulls the Porsche into his garage, with its black-and-gray rubberized floor so spotlessly shiny that you think, for a moment, that he might have parked in the wrong spot—perhaps the gourmet kitchen. "I'm kind of a neat freak," he says, unnecessarily.
There is almost no evidence that a ballplayer lives in this tastefully decorated harborside house. McGwire gave his 1990 Gold Glove to his optometrist to display in his office. He gave one of his two Silver Slugger bats to his father, John, a dentist, to hang in his office. Like most of his other trophies and mementos, his 1987 Rookie of the Year Award is stashed in a storage facility. McGwire exudes a remarkable lack of self-importance for someone in the look-at-me culture of pro sports. For instance, the gym he frequents is a busy but ordinary family fitness center tucked in a strip mall near a sushi joint and a dry cleaner. Mothers in spandex lug their toddlers to the baby-sitting room, and off-duty policemen and firemen want to know the secret for developing forearms like his. "Genetics," he tells them. "You should see my father."
John McGwire provided his son with inspiration, not just genes. At seven John was bedridden for months with an illness that left him with one leg much shorter than the other. But John was interested in all sorts of sports, eventually training as an amateur boxer. One of Mark's earliest memories is the rat-a-tat-tat of a speed bag echoing in the garage as John pounded away.
His father's influence has never waned. One night in Oakland a few years back, John happened to be following Mark out of the players' lot when someone in a BMW raced in front of McGwire, cutting him off. "Mark! Mark!" the driver yelled. "You have to sign this for my son. You're his hero! Please! You're his hero!"
McGwire jumped out of his car and marched over to the man. "You, sir, as a parent, should be your son's hero," he said, pointing his finger. "Not me!" Then he signed a baseball card.
"Oh, I say that all the time," McGwire says. "I know we're role models. And you may have a favorite baseball player, but how can that person be your hero? You don't even know him. That really bothers me. Your hero should be your father, or your mother, or an aunt, or an uncle. Look to your family, to people around you."
No matter where you sit or stand in Mark McGwire's house, it is impossible not to have within sight a framed picture of his son. On the last day of the 1987 season, needing one home run for 50, McGwire excused himself to be by his wife's side when Matthew was born. (He and Kathy were married too young, he says, and were divorced a year later.) "I was born on October 1, and he was born on October 4. It's scary how much alike we are. I don't have to say a word to him sometimes, because he knows what I'm thinking."
"When we traded Mark," says an Oakland A's official, "we knew there was a good chance he'd stay in St. Louis. He develops emotional attachments quickly. He has a soft spot in his heart for children. His being a major league player often makes him an absentee father. And maybe that creates some guilt, which might have something to do with the concern he shows for child abuse."