62: 10 Years Later

Answer: Steve Trachsel.

Question: Who gave up Mark McGwire’s 62nd home run, making the former Bash Brother the single season home run king?

Ten years ago today, September 8, 1998, baseball was saved from the depths of negativity and fan apathy as Roger Maris‘ record of 61 home runs in a single season was broken on a low line drive shot from Mark McGwire.  Four years earlier, the players’ strike led to the cancellation of the World Series and many season ticket accounts.  Baseball became mostly irrelevant.  Personally, I turned to hockey as my “favorite sport.”  Many people have similar memories of treason against America’s past time.

The race for 62 between McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated a nation and made baseball matter again.  I turned on Sports Center every night to see who homered and how far off or ahead of Maris’ pace the two sluggers were.  It was exciting and I was happy to watch it.  With the dominance my Yanks were having, 1998 was arguably my favorite baseball season.

In 2005 things changed… During his testimony on Capitol Hill on March 17, 2005, McGwire admitted nothing, but by doing so he was immediately found guilty in the court of public opinion.  He wasn’t “here to talk about the past” and wanted to be “positive about the subject.”  He, along with the greater public, knew that he was guilty of taking steroids or some sort of performance-enhancing drugs, but the real question is does it matter?  Steroids were running rampant in the game as more players reached 50, 55, 60, 70 home runs than ever before.  Previous unreachable plateaus were cruised by as records were broken almost daily.  America ate it up and loved our new stars Sosa and McGwire.  People started watching baseball again.  The game mattered.  Owners made money as people flocked to the stadium to watch history.

Now we’re 10 years later.  Mark McGwire has been banished into hiding by public scorn (or the fear of) and lives a quiet life.  His accomplishment was quickly surpassed by Barry Bonds, who hit 71 to break McGwire’s unreal total of 70 in 1998.  He has been on two Hall of Fame ballots, coming nowhere near the 75% needed to be elected.

That’s a shame.

Mark McGwire brought baseball back to prominence and had an absolutely great career.  Sure, he was playing in and a product of the “Steroid Era,” but we shouldn’t hold that against him.  By my estimation, around 85% of players were guilty of some sort of performance-enhancement, so I call that a level playing field.  We will never be able to differentiate between those who did and those who didn’t, so remember the era and don’t ostracize the heroes of the generation.  What McGwire’s legacy should be is one of the two players who helped bring baseball “back” with his thrilling chase of Roger Maris’ 61 home runs.  He was and is a hero to many and one of the true stars of 1998.

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