September 8, 1998- Busch Stadium, St. Louis. Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals- in the 4th inning connected off of Cubs pitcher Steve Trachsel- for his shortest home run of the season- it barely cleared the left field fence- 341 feet away but it was good enough. Roger Maris’s record of 61 home runs in 1961 had finally fallen. By August it became pretty clear that the record was going to be broken- but who was going to break it? Mark McGwire was in a race with Sammy Sosa of the Cubs. Even when McGwire broke the record there was still a few weeks to go in the season. It was possible that Sosa could catch and pass McGwire. As it turned out McGwire ended up with 70 and Sosa 66- so they both broke the Maris Record- but McGwire would be the new record holder-until Barry Bonds hit 73.
It is hard to believe that this was 23 years ago. Time flies. In the summer of 1998 this was the big sports story in America- the chase for Maris’s record and the fact that two great sluggers were making a challenge made the story even bigger. It would be one of those stories though -that due to the steroid controversy that followed- involving McGwire, Sosa. Bonds and others would taint the record and the great summer of ’98 would quickly become a distant memory.
I have always thought that the entire steroid era controversy would have been avoided to a large degree if sacred records – the Maris Record hadn’t been broken. They not only broke the record that had stood all those years they smashed it. Having two players smash it in the same year when no one had seriously threatened it for nearly 40 years drew attention to the probability that something funny was going on. I think if McGwire- Sosa and Bonds had all just had 55 home run seasons for example- no one would have cared. Records in baseball have always been more important and valued than other sports.