Even his teammates swooned. One day Tom Pagnozzi begged pitching coach Dave Duncan to reschedule his daily meeting with pitchers and catchers. "What for?" Duncan asked.
"We always meet during BP," Pagnozzi said. "We want to see Mark hit." Duncan obliged.
"He is a freak," Pagnozzi says. "There are power hitters, and then there is Mark McGwire. He's way beyond anybody else in this game. I've been in St. Louis 11 years, and I saw him hit more balls into the upper deck there in two months than all the other players in all my years there combined."
McGwire's appeal in St. Louis, though, is even more powerful than that. He made baseball fans feel as if they mattered again. "With the A's, I lived downtown in San Francisco last year for the first time," says McGwire, who had resided in suburban Alamo. "The city is so full of life, so many things to do. I felt so much energy living there. But when I left for the ballpark, by the time I was halfway over the Bay Bridge, there was no more energy. Then I came to St. Louis, and the people just overwhelmed me. I had never felt anything like that. The energy level was incredible."
Five weeks after the trade, McGwire called up his attorney, Robert Cohen, and said, "I want to stay here. Let's see if we can work out a deal with the Cardinals." A flabbergasted Cohen told McGwire to get a good night's sleep—and reconsider. McGwire was only two months away from being the focus of a free-agent bidding war. The Anaheim Angels, who had been rumored to be pursuing McGwire, showed no interest in bringing him home to be near Matthew. But surely large-market teams would create another huge McGwire number, one with a dollar sign preceding it. "Don't be surprised to hear from the Braves," Cohen said. When McGwire woke up the next day, he hadn't changed his mind.
Ten days later McGwire agreed to a three-year contract extension that guarantees him $30 million and will add another $9 million if a mutual option for a fourth year is exercised. He also pulls in $1 for every ticket sold beyond 2.8 million. (The Cards averaged 2.64 million over the previous two years.) And Matthew gets a seat on the team plane when he visits Dad during the summer. "Sure, I could have gotten more money, but why?" McGwire says. "I had everything that I wanted right in St. Louis."
On Sept. 16, at the press conference to announce his new deal, McGwire said he was establishing a foundation to dispense $1 million a year for at least the next three years to help abused and neglected children. When a reporter asked a question about his concern for abused children, something strange happened to McGwire. His stomach felt like a deep, dark well, all his words tucked in a bucket at the bottom. No matter how hard he tried, he could not bring that bucket up. He thought about all the kids in the world—kids the same age as Matthew—who have had the blessing of childhood ripped away from them. His mouth opened, but all he could do was cry. The cameras kept rolling, and 33 seconds passed before he could speak again.
"I surprised myself," McGwire says. "I didn't know all that emotion was going to come out."
Having changed his shirt and cap and guzzled his daily protein drink, McGwire zips off in his Porsche again, this time to his favorite lunchtime spot, an only-in-California beachside diner with framed movie posters, plastic patio furniture and leggy waitresses who warmly greet him by name.
"Raul Mondesi complained that the Dodgers weren't showing him any respect," McGwire says, digging into a turkey omelette. "Two days later he signs for about $9 million a year. He's a good player, but.... It's like the NBA. You've got guys making $56 million who've never done anything. It's gotten out of hand."