Mark McGwire: Mark of Excellence

To reach the summit, McGwire overcame a failed marriage, a crisis of confidence and a pain-racked body. What bred the will to succeed?

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PETER NEWCOMB / AFP / GETTY

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Dickson, 28, a nearly 6-ft.-tall former UCLA volleyball player, is more athletic and less Miss Georgia than the blond-coiffed baseball wives she often sits with during games. She wants to write screenplays and reads Hollywood trade magazines when anyone not named McGwire is at bat. Brighter and snappier than her boyfriend, Dickson grew up with six brothers in a household similar to McGwire's. They make a handsome couple you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley.

Dickson runs the Mark McGwire Foundation, with a pledged $3 million of McGwire's money and tons of unsolicited donations coming in by mail--some in $70 checks and some in $1 bills from young kids. The foundation will be funding two facilities this year in St. Louis, Mo. (the Family Resource Center and the Evangelical Children's Home), and two in Los Angeles (Children's Institute International and the Stuart House, Dickson's old workplace). "I have had a couple of really close friends open up to me and tell me that they were abused and it scarred their lives," McGwire says, becoming the first slugger to use the phrase open up to refer to anything other than his batting stance. "Ali worked at a sexual-abuse home in Santa Monica, and I got to go there and see firsthand these young, innocent children walk through the door, and it's heartbreaking. That's why kids are into drugs and alcohol and violence."

Though known for his frugality, McGwire has become an impressive philanthropist. On. Jan 9, he is planning to play host to a fund-raising concert in Walnut Creek for LaRussa's charity, the Animal Rights Foundation. He also donated almost half the $2 million he got from McDonald's, the one endorsement he's done since he broke the home-run record, and got the Golden Arches to quietly give six-figure sums to a handful of charities, including ARF and the Sammy Sosa Foundation, which helps victims of Hurricane Georges in the Dominican Republic. McGwire posed with a Great Dane on the cover of the 1999 ARF calendar, even though he's allergic to dogs. If you make a particularly sad face, it is likely you can get McGwire to give money to your cause.

McGwire himself didn't see a lot of abuse growing up in a very happy, nondysfunctional family in Claremont, Calif. Although he and his brothers were only a few years apart, they were not very close; he wasn't a best man or groomsman at any of their weddings. He's made an effort to become closer to them over the past year, but only Dan McGwire (who played in the NFL in the early '90s as backup quarterback with the Seattle Seahawks) showed up for Mark's record-breaking game. "My other brothers were working at the time, and they couldn't get away," Mark explains. What, was Felicity on that night, guys?

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