Mark McGwire': A Mac For All Seasons

Mark McGwire's 70 home runs shattered the most magical record in sports and gave America a much-needed hero

  • Ed Reinke / AP

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    He didn't much like being turned into a carnival sideshow, but he never let it distract him. When a reporter spotted androstenedione, a legal but controversial steroid, in McGwire's locker, the slugger explained that he used it to protect himself from the muscle tears that so often plague finely conditioned athletes, especially those few so well muscled as he, and he left it at that. Though he was criticized, McGwire marched ahead, not even pausing to rip off the head of the reporter who'd gone peeking into his locker. What kind of a modern athlete would fail to do that? As for "andro," whatever else it does, it can't help a player's timing, his hand-eye coordination, his ability to discern a slider from a splitter. But even if andro improved his power by an unlikely, oh, 5%, then instead of 70 home runs, McGwire this year would have hit... maybe 67. Take 5% off a 450-ft. missile, and you've got a 427.5-ft. missile--long enough to clear any fence save center field in Detroit's Tiger Stadium.

    In September, when every game offered the chance for a record, each McGwire at-bat would be accompanied by the gaudy detonation of thousands of flash cameras. "It was blinding," says McKay. "I asked him if it bothered him, and he said, 'I don't see them.'" He didn't see what was on the periphery of his concentration because, says LaRussa, "he knew where he was going." This made it easy for the manager, whose only contribution to McGwire's record, he confesses was "making sure he knew what time the game started."

    Unquestionably, McGwire's feats of 1998 were granted a deeper dimension by the presence of his confederate, the ecstatic Sammy Sosa. Here was a joyous, ebullient counterpoint to McGwire's more sedate self. From the moment in midspring that Sosa launched a sudden torrent of home runs like none ever seen in baseball history--he hit 20 in June alone--the two men were flawlessly scripted antagonists cast in the same play. This was rapture vs. gravity, spontaneity vs. self-restraint, Latin brio vs. California cool. Their collision seemed inevitable; yet what ensued was less a crash than a hug. The two men cheered each other on, praised each other's skills, slapped hands, dissipated the heat. They became allies in this drama, united against the two-digit foe that lay blandly impassive in the record books: 61.

    The enemy collapsed sooner than anyone expected. By Sept. 8, the record was McGwire's. Sosa, trying to lift his team into postseason contention, didn't flag. On Sept. 25, with McGwire stalled at 65 home runs, Sosa hit a pitch out of County Stadium in Milwaukee and pulled ahead.

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