Tuesday, September 8, 1998 - At Busch Stadium II (Kent Mercker - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent: Chicago Cubs (Steve Trachsel - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance: 43,688
Mark McGwire became the first player in major league history to hit 62 home runs in a single season - and he did it tonight, in a nationally televised game between the Cards and Cubs. Oh yeah - the Cardinals won the game by a score of 6-3, to improve to 71-73 on the season. Not exactly in contention for postseason play - but the story of the year - especially for Cardinal Nation - was the quest for 62.
Not since 1961 - when both Maris and Mantle were in hot pursuit of Babe Ruth's 60 - had two players seriously challenged for the new and improved record - in the same season. Of course, it just so happened that the other guy in hot pursuit of the record - Sammy Sosa - was stationed out in right field when McGwire's hot shot cleared the left field wall. He even jogged in from his post to offer awkward hugs and forearm bashes to his friendly rival - as the nation collectively sighed.
So this was a big deal. People who weren't really that interested in baseball found the pursuit of 62 home runs a fascinating subject. The two rivals seemed to embrace the challenge of breaking the record - and the surviving Maris family members were gracious enough to be on hand for handshakes and hugs when Big Mac smacked Number 61 on Monday - and Number 62 tonight. He would go on to hit an unfathomable total of 70 - a record certain to last - possibly forever - until it was broken in 2001, that is.
In the wake of the Steroids Scandal, along with the new Barry Bonds home run record of 73 - McGwire's accomplishment has diminished in the eyes of many of the fans and media that originally lauded him, along with Sosa - for "saving baseball".
Those who claim McGwire "cheated" by taking performance enhancing drugs seem to forget that the substance he used - referred to as "Andro" - was legal. There's no telling how many major league players were using some form of PEDs at the time - but I'd venture to guess it was over half of them.
McGwire, Sosa and Bonds are being singled out because they were far more successful than the other guys. They were also more entertaining - which is why this otherwise meaningless game was televised for the world to witness. I know I saw it - and so did you. What other games do you remember watching on television that year? Aside from the game on Monday.
Meanwhile, after all the hoopla with the McGwire home run subsided, the Cardinals put together a five-run sixth-inning to take control of the game. Back-to-back home runs by Ray Lankford - a three-run shot - and Ron Gant were also featured - but few remember.
Strangely enough, the Cardinals closed out the '98 season with a 12-6 record - so they actually had a respectable 83 win season. In 2006, that would've won the NL Central!