Through Sunday, McGwire, who will turn 36 two days before this season ends, was on pace to hit 63 home runs in 1999. That would leave him with 520 career homers, one behind McCovey and Ted Williams and 11th on the alltime list. He then could pass Aaron within four seasons if he maintains his absurd pace of the past four years (61 home runs per year) or within five seasons even if he slacks off by more than 20% (to 48). "It's too far away," says McGwire when asked to discuss his chances. "I haven't even had time to think about 500. Baseball is the only sport in which you don't have time to reflect on what you've done. You constantly have to worry about tomorrow because there's another game."
This much he does know: He won't extend his career by becoming a designated hitter. Aaron hit 22 home runs over his final two seasons, in 1975 and '76, while playing almost exclusively as a DH. "I was just talking to my parents when my mom said somebody asked her if I'd keep going as a DH," McGwire says. "She said, 'No way Mark will do that.' She knows me. I'd get bored. I don't like the DH rule, and we don't need it. If I were commissioner, the first thing I'd do is get rid of it."
As it turns out, the owners and the players, in their roles as labor adversaries, may be the only people who can stop McGwire's assault on Aaron's record. McGwire told SI last week that if baseball has a work stoppage after the 2001 season, when the existing labor agreement is set to expire, he'll quit, no matter how close he is to Aaron's mark. He's so certain of that he won't entertain any discussion of a contract extension from the Cardinals in the meantime. (His contract also runs through 2001, assuming either he or the club picks up an option for that season.)
"I want no part of being a major league player if we subject fans to that again," he said, referring to the 1994 and '95 work stoppage. "I would be too embarrassed to be a player, having put the fans through that again. I don't care how close I am to the record or how much money is out there; I wouldn't come back. To be part of major league baseball after putting everyone through that again? You're crazy if you think I'd do that."