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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    And this was the instant in which McGwire's character was annealed. It would have been lovely for him to acknowledge he'd had his moment--the record breaker--and was now generously stepping back and letting his accomplice have his. But heroics aren't made from, or for, loveliness. Three-quarters of an hour after Sosa's 66th home run, McGwire concentrated harder than he had before, focused more intently, more thoroughly blocked out distraction. The last week of his season was nearly unimaginable, a season of its own. In his next 11 at-bats--his last 11 at-bats of 1998--he hit five more home runs. The tenor, having finally hit high C after years of trying, suddenly leaped to a G. "Reality," wrote Red Smith in a different baseball context a half-century ago, "has strangled invention." It was not enough for McGwire to be merely excellent. He had to be--he willed himself to be--a wonderful and beautiful beast who just happened to carry a nation on his back.

    You could argue--many do--that this was only baseball, McGwire a highly paid mercenary, the home-run chase a convenient contrivance engineered to boost television ratings and sell magazines. All correct. But don't you think the McGwire we watched during his moments across the national stage last summer would never surreptitiously tape conversations with a friend? Would never defend his behavior by retreating into the technical meaning of innocuous verbs? Couldn't possibly pursue his own fanatic agenda by rooting about in the private peccadilloes of another? Don't you think it's more likely that Mark McGwire would sit in front of his locker, stare intently ahead, think about what he needed to do, knowing that no one could help him, that the task was his alone?

    Yes. And then he would slowly rise, pick up his bat and go to it. --With reporting by David E. Thigpen/New York

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