McGwire Surpasses Maris With 62nd Home Run
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 8, 1998; Page C1
ST. LOUIS, Sept. 8 Mark McGwire completed an amazing and wonderful journey into baseball history tonight, finishing a mission that has captivated a nation, revived a sport and constructed a legend. With one more mighty swing, he became the first man in history to hit 62 home runs in a season, surpassing the previous and once seemingly untouchable record of 61 by Roger Maris in 1961.
It came with lightning quickness in the bottom of the fourth inning, on a first-pitch sinker from Chicago Cubs right-hander Steve Trachsel, who will join Al Downing, Tracy Stallard and a host of others who have allowed monumental home runs.
McGwire ripped a low, searing line drive that disappeared down the left field line and cleared the outfield fence by inches. He jogged down the first-base line watching to see if the ball stayed fair, and when he saw first-base coach Dave McKay celebrating, he thrust his right fist into the air, igniting a joyous celebration that was unlike any in sports since Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games record in 1995.
"Absolutely incredible," an emotional McGwire said later. "What can I say? I'm almost speechless. It's been awesome. The last week and a half my stomach has been turning and my heart beating a million miles a minute. What a feat."
Play was stopped for 11 minutes as McGwire and 49,987 fans at Busch Stadium soaked up the moment. After McGwire's St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Cubs, 6-3, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig conducted an on-field ceremony.
He called the event "clearly one of the most historic nights in baseball history" and presented McGwire with the first "Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award." The Cardinals presented McGwire with a '62 Corvette, signifying 62 home runs, and McGwire was given the ball he hit.
McGwire had begun the afternoon by holding the bat Maris used to hit his 61st home run. Later, he cried as he attempted to discuss the moment.
"I touched it with my heart," McGwire said. "When I did that, I knew tonight was going to be the night. I can say my bat will lie next to his, and I'm damn proud of it."
McGwire needed just 145 games to hit his 62 home runs, and has 18 games remaining. Maris hit his 61st in the New York Yankees' 163rd game of 1961.
Tonight's home run was McGwire's third in four days, all of them historic and all of them hit in front of perhaps baseball's best fans. With the Cardinals scheduled to begin a five-day trip to Cincinnati and Houston on Wednesday, this was McGwire's final chance to do it at home.
Even though Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa is right behind him, McGwire will take a couple of days off, including most likely Wednesday night in Cincinnati.
He was congratulated first by McKay, becoming so tangled up that he skipped over first base. He returned, touched the bag and then began a slow, memorable victory trot.
"It was a sweet run around the bases," McGwire said. "I really have to see the tape. I don't remember it. I was floating. I hope I didn't act foolish."
McGwire received congratulations from every Cubs infielder and third base coach Rene Lachemann. As he touched home plate, he was mobbed by teammates and his 10-year-old son, Matthew.
He twice grabbed Matthew for hugs and eventually embraced dozens of others, including his friend and manager, Tony La Russa, who returned from his mother's funeral late this afternoon to attend the game.
McGwire eventually entered the stands beyond the first-base dugout and shared a long, loving embrace with the children of Maris, who died of cancer in 1985.
Sosa, who has 58 home runs and seems destined to surpass Maris as well, jogged in from his position in right field to embrace McGwire.
At one point, McGwire was given a microphone that allowed him to thank the fans at Busch Stadium and to pay tribute to Sosa's amazing season.
"To all my family, my son, the Cubs, Sammy Sosa," he said. "It's unbelievable. Thank you, St. Louis."
McGwire's 62nd home run is the highlight of a season in which he has established himself as one of the best home run hitters of all time. And it is the high point of a roller coaster career in which he has played for the U.S. Olympic Team in 1984 and burst into the major leagues with 49 home runs in his rookie year of 1987.
Tough times followed after that. He hit just .201 in 1991 and missed virtually all of the 1993 and '94 seasons with foot and back injuries.
By 1995, with the help of a new hitting coach with the Oakland A's (Doug Rader), McGwire was back on track. The Cardinals acquired him by trade before last year's trading deadline, and this season McGwire became the first player in history to hit at least 50 home runs in three consecutive seasons.
Now 34, he has done what no slugger in history has ever done.
At 341 feet, tonight's home run was McGwire's shortest of the season. Because it was so short, it never got into the stands. With two groups bidding $1 million for the ball, Major League Baseball personnel were worried about fans getting injured trying to retrieve it.
Instead, groundskeeper Tim Forneris picked the ball up behind the wall and delivered it to the Cardinals. McGwire has said he will donate it to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"I knew it was going out, and it went right over the edge, and I said, 'That's going out,'‚" Forneris said. "So I ran on to the field and got it."
Hall of Fame representatives met with McGwire and Sosa this afternoon and allowed them to take turns swinging the bat Maris used to hit his record-breaking 61st home run in 1961.
"They both enjoyed grasping 37-year-old history both literally and figuratively," said Jeff Idelson, the Hall of Fame's executive director of communications and programming.
McGwire had been expected to break Maris's record since hitting 58 home runs last season. He has lived with those expectations, and tonight finally fulfilled them.
"I've been talking about it since January," McGwire said. "It's one swing away, and all of a sudden, I hit a ball that disappeared on me."
Forty-five minutes after the game, McGwire stood in the middle of the field and thanked his teammates and friends. He told the packed house that "I wanted to do it for all of you the best fans in the country."
He left the field after a victory lap in the vintage car, saluting and waving to fans along the way.
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