Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Guest Post: Marc McGwire/Sammy Sosa Home Run Race

Welcome to a new installment of Children of the 90s guest blogs! We have several pieces in the works and we are still reviewing applications, so if you are interested in contributing to Children of the 90s, shoot us an email at!

...And we're back with another spectacular guest post drawn from our fabulous pool of blogger applicants. I've gotten so many emails and comments about how the blog tends to be one-sided--that is, female sided. Thankfully, we've got guest blogger Russ to infuse some much-needed testosterone into your weekly dose of 90s. So, thanks, Russ. I have no aptitude for 90s sports trivia, so I completely appreciate your knowledge and expertise on an area that so eludes me.

You can find Russ in his regular blogging gig reviewing the goodies at Trader Joe's as a contributor to the
What's Good at Trader Joe's? blog. It's also worth mentioning that today is his birthday, so leave him the requisite good wishes in the comments section. A little about Russ, from the birthday boy himself:

It's tough to not like most Trader Joe's chow. It's almost as tough to not poke some light fun at my lovely wife, Sandy. So the blog I co-author, What's Good at Trader Joe's?, gives an honest review of TJ fare while I make fun of her and occasionally get myself in trouble while detailing little bits of our life in Pittsburgh. The other guy who writes reviews, Nathan, is pretty entertaining, too. You can like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter if you like that kinda stuff.

Go check out Russ's blog for more tasty Trader Joe tidbits, and of course, enjoy his distinctly male musings on late 90s home run madness below:

1998 Marc McGwire/Sammy Sosa Home Run Race

The summer of 1998 was simply a magical time to be not only a baseball fan, but any kid who ever dreamed of making the big leagues. With Little League and the time-honored tradition of hot dogs, popcorn, and soda while attending a major or minor league game, baseball has long been a sport that’s held an undeniable special place in the hearts of our youth. And there’s few more things about baseball that capture more imagination and dreams than the home run, the long ball, the deep fly, the dinger. The homer. Practically no one has grown up without dreaming of swatting one. That spectacle of power and precision is undeniably entrenched in our American psyche, especially as kids, and it’s tough to not admire any athlete who can swat one so routinely and seemingly effortlessly.

No, the homer. Not The Homer.

1998 gave us not one but two men, of different colors, backgrounds and teams, on a collision course of history, destiny, and our imagination. Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs spent all summer slugging ball after ball over the walls and notching their names in the history books. By August, despite the constant glare of media attention, it became apparent that it wasn’t a question any longer that the single season record of 61 home runs, set by New York Yankee Roger Maris in 1961, would be shattered. It simply it was a question of by whom, and when.

It was that question that enraptured baseballs fans the nation over all summer. I remember so clearly, actually. All the SportsCenter highlights, the magazine articles, the excitement of whenever one of those teams was coming to town (back then, most Phillies games weren’t worth watching without someone or something exciting coming to town). I remember having a TV in my room (a luxury for my 15-16 year old self) and waking up early every morning to catch highlights from the night before to just see if either managed to smack one out of the yard the night before.

You know, back when ESPN was is that on your lip, Olbermann?

September, the home stretch of the season, finally came. Both McGwire and Sosa were close to the record, and as fate and broadcasters would have it, Sosa’s Cubs came to Busch Stadium for a three game set starting September 6 against McGwire’s Cardinals. Entering that series, McGwire had 60 and Sosa had 58. All summer, with homer after homer being hit by both, nothing seemed impossible. McGwre and Sosa seemed to swap hot homer streaks all summer so there there was the legitimate question lingering of which one would hit the magical No. 62 first despite McGwire’s lead. Fans either identified with McGwire’s raging biceps, his fair complexion and red hair, and his businessman-like handling of himself, or Sosa’s Dominican upbringing, goofy smile, and way he charged into the field every inning. Both guys were easy to cheer for, easy to love, easy to root for. It wasn’t a question if you liked them, it was a question of who you liked more.

Steroids? What steroids? You mean Flintstone vitamins, right, Sammy?

Ultimately, only one of them could be the first to 62. On September 8, 1998, with two outs and no one on in the bottom in the fourth inning, in the very first pitch off the at-bat against the immortal Steve Trachsel at 8:18 CDT, the time came with a long swoop of McGwire’s bat. Ironically, at 314 feet and just barely over the left field wall, it was easily McGwire’s shortest home run of the season, but by far it was the one that resonated most deeply and struck a chord most soundly and changed the record books most irrevocably. It didn’t need to be one of McGwire usual tape measure jobs to fill us with awe and wonder. It was No. 62, and that was enough.


It also filled me with thankfulness that I don’t have epilepsy.

What transpired next was one of the most awkward, impromptu celebrations in sports history. First, McGwire nearly forgot to step on first base (which would have negated his home run) and had to be pointed back by the first base coach. Then, all sorts of shoulder slaps and high fives from Cubs players as McGwire rounded the bases (usually a rather large baseball taboo) before, as he stepped on home plate, McGwire lifted his chubby young son high in the air to celebrate. Sosa, in right field, and bested, ran in to offer his congrats and atta-boys before McGwire took a microphone to address the crowd. In all, a night unlike any other in baseball history, and it certainly made my vocab homework seem pretty anti-climatic.

Mark and Sammy’s man hug was both singular and uncouth.

It’s tough to ultimately place this in the proper historical context. McGwire ended the year with 70 homers, Sosa with 66. Some credit the home run derby between the two between helping “save” baseball after the 1994 strike that wiped out the World Series for the only time in its history; others don’t. The Cardinals didn’t even make the playoffs, while the Cubs did, only to be swept out in the first round by the Atlanta Braves. Three short years later, Barry Bonds of the San Fransisco Giants smacked 73 homers to place his name on top the single season list. And in the years after that, there have been whispers of steroid use by McGwire, Sosa and Bonds that only McGwire has copped to. For some, that cheapens the memories of the summer of ‘98 and the back-and forth struggle of these two men against each other and against history. However 1998 is ultimately remembered, there’s no denying the magnetic appeal, the magical whispers, the epic long flies, and the shattering of baseball history that transpired.

And the biceps. Lots and lots of biceps.

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