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Commish & the Cardinals: Jubilation (and relief) on McGwire's No. 62

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Jubilation: McGwire’s No. 62

After hitting the historic homer, McGwire celebrates

with first-base coach Dave McKay.

Post-Dispatch file photo

With the Cardinals leaving town after the game on Sept. 8, 1998, Mark McGwire again accommodated the Busch Stadium faithful. And the great thing about the record-breaking homer was that we weren’t even sure if McGwire was going to have the record three weeks later, what with Sammy Sosa making his charge.

Of course, McGwire may well have finished with 71 homers for the season. Second-base umpire Bob Davidson deprived him of one in Milwaukee in late September when he determined that a fan had reached over the wall to make contact with the ball.

We welcome readers to STL Pinch Hits with an exclusive look back at some of the top games from my career on the beat. Here's my coverage from that day.

Sept. 8, 1998

The production was the Summer of 62. The star was Mark McGwire. The reviews were off the charts at Busch Stadium.

McGwire’s shortest homer of the season, 341 feet, engendered the loudest, longest roar of this or many other seasons. McGwire’s fourth-inning, first-pitch liner over the left-field wall off Chicago Cubs righthander Steve Trachsel was his 62nd homer, breaking the most hallowed record in baseball. The record had been held since 1961 by the late Roger Maris, who finished his career with the Cardinals but had 61 homers with the New York Yankees in ‘61.

Ironically, before the 6-3 Cardinals victory, both McGwire and home-run rival Sammy Sosa of the Cubs got to swing the 61st home-run bat belonging to Maris, which had been taken out of the Hall of Fame and brought here.

McGwire rubbed the bat on his chest and, according to Donald Marr, president of the Hall of Fame, said, “I hope you’re with me tonight.”

McGwire brought both bats with him to the postgame interview session.

With tears welling in his eyes, McGwire said, “I touched it. I touched it with my heart. Now I can honestly say my bat’s going right next to his and I’m damned proud of it.”

After he hit his seventh homer in seven games, McGwire almost missed first base before coach Dave McKay, into whose arms McGwire had jumped, helped rescue him.

“When I hit the ball, I thought it was a line drive and I thought it was going to hit the wall and the next thing I knew, it disappeared,” said McGwire. “I had to go back and touch it. I can honestly say that’s the first time I ever had to go back and do that.”

Then he accepted congratulations of all four Cubs infielders. As he came down the third-base line, McGwire tapped his heart and pointed to the sky to show Maris that Maris was indeed with him.

Before he touched home, McGwire shook hands with and embraced Cubs catcher Scott Servais. In the various celebrations, which took 11 minutes, McGwire lifted and hugged his son Matthew three times. He also hugged several other Cardinals and even Sosa, who came in from right field to edge into the pileup near the plate.

McGwire gave Sosa the traditional Cardinal home-run ritual of two fists popping and then punches to the abdomen. Then they exchanged the Sosa ritual of two fingers going to the lips and heart in honor of his mother and former broadcaster Harry Caray.

“It was a sweet, sweet run around the bases,” said McGwire.

“I was trying to imagine what it was going to feel like doing that. I sure the heck was floating.

“I hope I didn’t act foolish, but this was history.”

At one point, McGwire was handed a microphone and he thanked the St. Louis fans. Another ironic note: McGwire officially could begin thanking the St. Louis fans because attendance kicked past 2.8 million for the season. Any paid admission over 2.8 million nets McGwire a dollar a head.

He also hopped into the box seats to embrace the Maris children. “Like I said, I touched Roger’s bat and put it against my heart and that’s the first thing that came to my mind when I ran over there and told all four of them and it was just unbelievable,” McGwire said.

The ball went into a storage area which used to be the visitors bullpen and it was recovered by a groundskeeper, Tim Forneris, who returned the ball to McGwire.

McGwire was honored with a postgame ceremony in which he received a red convertible from the Cardinals owners and a trophy from the commissioner’s office, called the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award.

Commissioner Bud Selig called the night “one of the most historic nights in baseball history. (St. Louis) is the crown jewel of baseball franchises.”

Now that he owns baseball’s most prestigious record, if not in all sports, McGwire said, “Absolutely incredible. I’m almost speechless.

“I’ve been talking about this since January,” said McGwire, who agreed a significant weight had been removed from his shoulders. “I don’t know how heavy the Arch is but the Arch is off my back now.”

McGwire’s homer was his 50th against righthanded pitching, and his 32nd this year at Busch Stadium. He reached the 62-homer plateau in his 145th game. “Was it that quick?” asked McGwire.

“I’ll tell you what, the last week-and-a-half, my stomach has been turning and my heart has been beating a million miles a minute. To do it that fast, I just don’t know.”

In 188 games as a Cardinal over two seasons, McGwire has hit an almost unimaginable 86 home runs. Because of what he has done and who he is, McGwire may be the player most responsible for bringing back the fans after the 1994 strike threatened to ruin the game.

McGwire said, “The whole country has been involved in this, I think since after the All-Star break. If people say it’s bringing the country together, I’m happy to bring the country together.”

But McGwire also said, “I hope my son one day grows up and becomes a baseball player and breaks it.”


Rick Hummel

@cmshhummel on Twitter

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