Mcgwire Launching Shots Into History

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 27, 1998

L’Observateur / May 27, 1998

When Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in 1927, the consensus was that it was an unbreakable record.

As a long line of great sluggers came along and failed to reach that mark – Lou Gehrig, Hack Wilson, Jimmy Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle to name a few – the record appeared to be more and more unreachable.

For 33 seasons, 60 remained the Holy Grail of baseball. That is until 1961when Roger Maris came along and launched number 61 on the last day of the 1961 season. Like Ruth, Maris has been challenged but never surpass -not by the likes of Harmon Killebrew, Hank Aaron, Reggie Jackson, George Foster, Cecil Fielder or Ken Griffey Jr. For 36 years, three years longerthan Ruth’s, Maris’ name has stood atop the record books.

But this could be the year that a 62nd home run flies over a fence in a major league park. And if it is a typical home run by the player most likelyto do it, it will be well over the fence.

That player is Mark McGwire, arguably the greatest slugger of our generation. Not only does he hit them out at an alarming rate but thedistance he hits them is amazing. Try a 500-plus shot earlier this year atBusch Stadium, not exactly a homer haven. Last August, shortly aftercoming over to St. Louis from Oakland, McGwire became the first player tohit two shots into the upper deck of Pro Player Stadium – and he did it without the benefit of batting practice. And who can forget the moon shothe hit off Seattle pitcher Randy Johnson in the Kingdome last year? McGwire has challenged Maris before. In his rookie year, McGwire had 30-plus home runs at the All-Star break but slowed down in the second half of the season to hit 49, still a record for rookies. He passed up a chance tohit 50 in order to be there with his wife when their first child was born.

Seasons of 32, 33 and 39 home runs followed. Two years later, McGwirewould launch 42 home runs in only 139 games in 1992.

After playing only 74 games over the next two seasons due to injuries and the baseball strike, McGwire bounced back to hit 39 home runs in 317 at bats, setting a major league record with a home run every 8.1 at-bats.Those numbers were topped in 1996 when he hit 52 home runs in 130 games. The following year, McGwire had 34 home runs in 105 games withOakland before being traded to St. Louis July 31. Many expected McGwire’s numbers to go down because of Busch Stadium and the adjustment to the National League. But after a slow start,McGwire recovered to hit 24 home runs in 51 games for the Cardinals, becoming the first player in history to hit 20 or more home runs in each league in the same season. His combined 58 home runs led the majorleagues and were the most since Maris.

McGwire has stayed healthy this season and has a major-league leading 25 home runs through 49 games Monday, becoming the first player ever to hit 25 home runs before June 1.

But remember, Ken Griffey Jr. set the previous record with 24 home runsbefore the end of May last year and he finished with “only” 56 home runs.

And what could hurt McGwire in his chase for the record along with any injury is that he has already walked nearly 60 times this season. The restof the Cardinals line up needs to step to ensure that pitchers do not pitch around him.

If Maris’ record is to be broken, many fans are cheering for McGwire to be the one to do it. McGwire is one of the low-key players in the majors,quietly going about his business. He brings excitement to the gamebecause you never know where his home runs might land.

McGwire is one of the truly good guys in the game today. Not only did hegive up that opportunity to hit his 50th home run in his rookie season, but when McGwire signed his contract with the Cardinals at the end of last season, he donated $1 million of it to charity.

McGwire may fall short of the record this season but he is already a hero in many fans eyes.

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