But as soon as I reflect on that support, I quickly tell myself, Hey, I've still got two weeks left in this season. I want to finish the season strong. The first day in Cincinnati after I broke the record, I didn't even know where I was. The second day, I was sort of coming back to earth. Then in Houston, over the weekend, the Astros just pitched me tough. In the first two games I saw one good pitch to hit—and fouled it back. But I have no doubt that in these last two weeks I can get back to where I was and get locked in again.
A lot of people ask me if I think anyone will make a run at the record next year. I don't know. I can't answer that until the end of the season, when I know what the final number is. I do know that there are five or six guys who will always hit between 40 and 50 home runs, and any one of those guys is capable of getting to the next level. I've always said the best way to look at it is you have to average about 10 home runs per month. That's consistency. But being that consistent is the hardest part.
I hit a little rut in late July and early August. That's not unusual for me. In past years when I've played a lot, I've gotten tired about that time and then found a second wind and had strong Septembers. What happened this year is that I got caught up in playing every day, because if I did take a day off on the road, the fans would get upset. I should have been thinking, O.K., what will help me stay healthy for the whole season?
I think I missed two or three days off that I normally would have taken, so some fatigue began to set in. I was struggling, and everybody was asking, "What's wrong with Mark? He hasn't hit a home run in 29 at bats or something." I got a little edgy. I said, "What are they worried about? There are things in the world to worry about other than Mark McGwire trying to hit a homer."
I probably shouldn't have said some of those things at the time. But then again, I was just being who I am. Other players read some of that stuff, and in early August guys on other teams came up to me and said, "Hey, just relax. Enjoy this. Enjoy the ride. What you're doing is great for the game."
I sat back and thought about it and said, "These guys are right." Sometimes somebody has to knock you in the head.
Some people think being around Sammy Sosa in Chicago for a series on Aug. 18 and 19 turned me around. But I made the decision to go ahead and have fun with this before that Cubs series. I will say this about Sammy: You can't help but see the way he reacts to the attention. I think Sammy enjoys it so much because nobody really talked about him before. All of a sudden he hits 20 jacks in June, and the next tiling you know he's right here. He's one funny individual. How can you not play off him? It just so happened that we got together right around the time I was starting to enjoy it. I changed my mind, and then Sammy was there. He made me think even more, Hey, this is fun. This is a game we love to play.
It's weird, but after that the only time I had a feeling that the media and fans were closing in on me was the first day of a series, which is when I had to hold a press conference. In some of my first games after press conferences, I don't think I did that much. I would be just getting back into the flow, and then I'd be sort of distracted a little bit by the press conference. Then for the rest of the series I did pretty well.
Baseball allows the media into the clubhouse up to 45 minutes before a game. I learned I couldn't even sit in front of my locker without someone tapping me on the shoulder and asking, "Got a minute?" So I made it a point to get some quiet time for myself. I'd find a back room where the media were not allowed, and I'd sit by myself and collect my thoughts and just get myself together. It worked. No music. No teammates. I'd just be relaxing. One of my real good friends, Ali Dickson, taught me how to do it—sort of meditation exercises. She showed me that this was a way to get myself grounded again. I call it tunnel vision.
Ali's on the board of directors for my charitable foundation, and it so happened that I had 59 home runs when she came to St. Louis on Sept. 3 to help with a public-service announcement I filmed for the prevention of sexual abuse of children. The next day the Cardinals began a five-day home stand. That's when my family started calling, asking for plane reservations and hotel rooms in St. Louis. I was saying, "You know, guys, I don't know when I'm going to hit a home run. They've been pitching me pretty good, even though I've hit a few home runs the last few days. I'm facing the Reds, and they've pretty much had my number all year, and then there's the big series against the Cubs. I don't know."