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The Good Father
Rick Reilly
September 07, 1998
Like his dad before him, Mark McGwire long suffered in silence. Not until he allowed his emotions to show and his tears to flow did he become what he really wanted to be...
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September 07, 1998

The Good Father

Like his dad before him, Mark McGwire long suffered in silence. Not until he allowed his emotions to show and his tears to flow did he become what he really wanted to be...

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Right.

"Nothing. I'd have everything I need."

This man's a red-whiskered Ruth—a huge thing, pitcher turned hitter, nuts about kids, colossal eater and making his greatest mark in the 50th year after Ruth's death, as if to memorialize him. "Babe Ruth?" McGwire says. "That's crazy. People bringing me up with Babe Ruth. It still blows me away."

The record is all anybody wants to talk about—except the man pursuing it. "Fifty homers three seasons in a row, that was the thrill," he says of the major league record he set last month. "When I hit the 50th in New York, that felt pretty cool. I mean, you think of how many great home run hitters never once hit 50—Henry Aaron, great as he was, hit 47, what, one time? So, breaking Roger Maris's record, that would just be icing on the cake."

Bull. Sixty-two would be more than icing on the cake; it would be the icing and the candles and the balloons and the last great party of the century. "I'm sort of worried about this thing," McGwire said when he was at 45. "The media have it built up so big now. I mean it leads every SportsCenter, every Fox, every paper has one of these damn home run watches. They're all talking about, 'Hey, it's an expansion year! It's going to happen!' Well, what if it doesn't? Will it be, 'Hey, he let down the fans! He choked!' I mean, only 16 guys have even hit 50. How can you hit 50 and let down the fans?"

Besides, what if he gets nothing but popsicle sticks and chewing gum? "If I were a pitcher," says McGwire, "I'd challenge me. I'd say, 'O.K., here you go, I'm taking you on. Let's see if you can do it.' "

A few agree. "It wouldn't bother me if he hits number 62 off me," says Scott Sullivan of the Cincinnati Reds. "I'd rather be associated with him than some jerk."

Says former Giants pitcher Steve Reed, now with the Cleveland Indians, "I'd throw him three straight heaters down the middle. If he hits it, good enough. But I'd feel bad if I walked him."

Still, it's one nasty record, and it gave Maris blotches on his skin and globs of hair in his comb, and it gnaws at McGwire sometimes. "I'll say to myself, What am I getting so stressed about?" says McGwire. "The Man Upstairs knows what's going to happen. I totally believe that, and that takes the pressure off." Just take what they give you.

One day in the St. Louis clubhouse some of the players were watching a horrifying video of people dying—a woman hit by a train, a man stomped by an elephant. McGwire stood off from his teammates, his back to the TV. "Bad karma," he said.

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