For me, there are few baseball memories as fond as the historic Home Run Chase of 1998.
Looking back, that summer was the epitome of innocence. I would spend every morning going through the box scores in that day’s newspaper, spending hours in front of the television watching SportsCenter and updating my ‘Home Run Tracker’ board I hung in my bedroom.
Then, on September 8, 1998 – it all changed.
What was an exciting, albeit easy-going routine for me, gained new significance when St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire launched his 62nd home run of the season off Chicago Cubs right-hander Steve Trachsel, becoming baseball’s single-season home run king.
The slugger belted a pitch from Trachsel, barely sneaking it over the left-field wall at old Busch Stadium to topple Roger Maris‘ record of 61 long-balls. As he rounded the bases, he shook hands and hugged the Cubs’ infielders before touching home plate, exuberantly raising his son, the Cardinals’ bat boy, up in the air in celebration before being mobbed by his teammates.
Sammy Sosa, who battled with McGwire for the league home run lead all season-long, raced in from right field, and the two home run icons embraced in what many saw as a historic moment for the game. Never before had such a power display taken center stage, and, at least for the time being, baseball was king.
The former Oakland Athletics’ prospect – who was once part of that organization’s Bash Brothers duo with Jose Canseco – would, as we all know, go on to hit 70 home runs that year, eclipsing the Chicago outfielder Sosa, who wound up with a record-breaking 66.
Now, we look back at 9/8/98 with a jaded sort of view; one that leaves a bitter taste in our mouths. Steroids hit those home runs, many say, not those players.
The game was ruined forever by the Steroid Era, say others.
I say otherwise.
As difficult as it was to hear that McGwire and other storied sluggers of the 1990s and 2000s used what we now commonly refer to as PEDs, there’s no disputing that the Summer of 1998 saved baseball.
Just four years out of the strike that ended the ’94 season early, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and the Home Run Chase breathed life back into America’s Pastime, letting us all live a little more innocently, as these legends chased history.