Being born in the 2000’s is very weird because you missed out a lot in sports like the prime Bulls, and the prime Yankees, and I missed all these great moments that will go down as the greatest of all time. I grew up with guys like LeBron James, late years Derek Jeter, and other great athletes that don’t compare to the normal human citizen. And watching documentaries about those times make me feel like I was part of that time and what you learn is the most important part to me. So let’s go back in time and relive the peak of Baseball, the 1998 season.
1994 – 1997: In 1994 the MLB couldn’t come to an agreement to split $2 Billion so they went on strike and cancelled the rest of the 1994 season, and after that they lost a lot of fans from this. People really disliked the idea of millionaires arguing with billionaires like it is in 2020 as of June 15th. The 1995 season the MLB saw the dramatic change in attendance and viewership, Baseball was really in its worst state at the moment. Well what this documentary is all about is the 1998 HR Race to break Roger Maris record of 61 HR’s in a season. When Maris was on the verge of breaking the record, people kept telling him “don’t break the record you’ll ruin the legacy of Babe Ruth.” And then when he took a day off the same reporters were like, “why would you take a day off when you are on the verge of breaking one of the most prestigious records in sports. So years and years after the record was broken by Maris he stated he wished he’d never broken it in the first place. But in 1997, Mark McGwire came up short with 58 HRs but was expected to break it the following year. Mark McGwire was born to hit the long ball, literally his first at-bat in Little League was a HR. But Mark didn’t grow up being a hitter, he was always a pitcher until a scout told him to play first and solely just be on the hitting side of things and from there he never stopped hitting. Mark broke the USC HR record and led the nation with 32 HRs, he ended up getting drafted by the A’s and they ended up winning the World Series in 1989. After that, his last year of his contract got traded to the Cardinals.
1998 Season: The two guys at the beginning of the 1998 campaign that people thought could break the record were Ken Griffey Jr and Mark McGwire. With this in mind this record chasing brought back a lot of fans butts right back into their seats and now Baseball was back on top. Mark knew about the record and he got a lot of pressure to break it, he said that you would have to have 10+ HRs per month to be able to be on track to break it. But Mark came out with a bang firing on all cylinders with 23 HRs by May 23rd and all the HRs were all moonshots and not some lazy flyball that barely got out. Griffey stood barely any chance, but in most people’s eyes as of 2020 Griffey is the GOAT because the guy was the complete 5 tool player. But then in June Sammy Sosa struck, Sosa stated he always plays better in hot weather and usually does terrible in cold weather. Sosa went on a tear in June with 20 HRs on top of the 13 he had beforehand. Kerry Wood, the Cubs young phenom at the time said that Sammy was hitting everything you could imagine to every spot you could imagine. At the beginning of spring training, the Cubs were a mediocre team at best and had a very hard schedule ahead of them. So this guy in this bar was selling 45c beers until the Cubs won their first game, and guess what, the guy ended up selling 50,000 beers. Sammy Sosa has a very inspirational story coming out of the Dominican Republic, at a young age Sammy was a shoe shining boy with hopes of playing baseball. He got signed at the age of 16 by the Texas Rangers. So let’s get back to the 1998 season, at the end of June it was Mark at 37, Sosa at 33, and Griffey at 33.
At this point Sosa became the first Cub to have 30+ HRs and 30+SBs, Sosa was always a people person when it came to media and press, well on the other hand Mark was more of an isolated guy that just wanted to focus on Baseball. You wanna know how big baseball was back then, Mark McGwire would have around 60 reporters around him, and SportsCenter would stop their live television shows to show Mark hitting batting practice. Stadiums were also filled for batting practice in hopes of catching a Mark McGwire HR ball. Mark and Sammy were on par with Michael Jordan with popularity around the world at this point. Let’s fast forward a little, Mark hit the 40 mark by mid July but then Sosa caught and tied at 45 HR on August 10th, now the pressure was really on Mark. But after one of the games a reporter noticed in Mark’s locker androstenedione which is a safer alternative to Steroids. Mark said he used them to recover after games and heal his injuries and stated that he was given raw strength and he doesn’t think they enhanced his play. The MLB backed him up by saying people who are diminishing what Mark is doing right now is wrong and they should stop and just take his word for it. On August 23rd Sosa hit his 50th HR, but on the same day Mark hit his 53rd. You’re probably wondering ‘what happened to Griffey?” Well he completely fell off in the 2nd half of the season and went into major slumps that took him out of contention to break the record. By the end of August both men were at 55, and this was the talk around sports and possibly the talk around everywhere. Mark broke the NL record for Most HR in a single season on September 2nd with his 59th HR. Right after that, the Baseball gods gave us something too perfect to be true, a two game series between the Cardinals and Cubs with the record in reach for Mark and Sammy to break it this series. These ratings shattered television and the hype around these two games were bigger than the World Series. In game 1, Mark tied Maris against Sosa and hit his 61st HR. Then in the 2nd game, in the bottom of the 4th just like Maris in his 2nd at bat, Mark McGwire broke the record against the Cubs. This was one of the greatest moments in sports history, even though it was one of his shortest HRs people in america never felt this good about sports since a bunch of college kids beat the Solviet Union for the Gold Medal in hockey. Now who was the person that caught his $1 million dollar ball? Well it was a Cardinal grounds crewmen, on his way to clean the confetti off the warning track, he picked up the ball and just stuffed it in his pocket. And didn’t want the money after all that. Mark put the ball up for auction and it auctioned off at $3 Million On September 13th, Sosa tied Maris’ record and now the race is close again. It all came down to the last three games of the season, McGwire 65, Sosa 65. On September 23rd, Sosa took the lead with a HR to deep center against the Astros, but yet again Mark retaliated on the same night to tie things back up. But Mark ended on top with 4 HRs in the last two games, so Mark ended up with 70 HRs and Sosa ended with 66 HRs. We can all say Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire saved Baseball for good.
After the 1998 Season: Barry Bonds broke the record on October 5th 2001 with his 71st HR of the season. But in a shocking development, Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, and Jason Giambi were 3 of the half dozen MLB that got caught using steroids. Following that Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa got caught as well. In 2003, 103 tested positive for using steroids that was supposed to be anonymous but got leaked out into the public. Sammy also got suspended in 2003 because he was using a corked bat, Sosa ended on bad terms with the Cubs and hasn’t been invited to Wrigley Field in more than a decade. Mark on the other hand came clean on January 11th 2010, for using steroids but still used the excuse of them just helping him heal from injuries and not using them for power. Mark ended up retiring in 2001 after two injury plagued seasons. But he did return to baseball in 2010 as a hitting coach for the Cardinals, and then the Dodgers, and after that the Padres.
My Opinion: I think Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa deserve to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame because of their impact on the game itself, they all saved Baseball and so did the steroid era.