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Mark McGwire: Home Run Hero

Mark McGwire: Home Run Hero

by Rob Rains

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The powerhouse player who's revolutionizing the game...

In 1998, Mark McGwire made baseball history by breaking the legendary 61-home-run record set by Roger Maris in 1961. Not only did the outstanding Cardinals player break Maris' mark, he surpassed it by hitting 70 in one season! Find out all the facts on McGwire, from his childhood in Southern California to his time with the Oakland A's, to his major league comeback with the St. Louis Cardinals. Learn what it takes to make baseball superstardom-and how to hit a home run on all of life's playing fields.

With eight pages of photos, plus new information on McGwire's record-breaking season!

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429954471
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/01/2011
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
File size: 958 KB

About the Author

Rob Rains is the co-author of eight sports books. He wrote The St. Louis Cardinals: The 100th Anniversary History, as well as co-authored Red: A Baseball Life (with Cardinal Hall of Farmer Red Schoendienst) and Jack Buck: That's a Winner! (with broadcaster Jack Buck). A frequent contributor to The Sporting News, Rains and his family live in St. Louis.

Read an Excerpt

Mark McGwire

Home Run Hero

By Rob Rains

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1999 Rob Rains
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-5447-1



In Mark McGwire's dreams, the batter was standing at home plate, challenging the record for most home runs hit in a season. The pitcher was on the mound, waiting, ready to throw the ball.

"OK, here it is, try to hit it, let's see if you can do it," McGwire imagined the pitcher saying.

He visualized the pitch. He visualized the swing. He saw the bat hit the ball and take off ...

On September 8, 1998, McGwire's fantasy became reality. He wasn't dreaming any longer. He was standing at home plate, batting against Steve Trachsel of the Chicago Cubs, well aware that he had tied the major league record of 61 homers the previous day. As Trachsel delivered the ball to the plate, McGwire swung and the ball began its climb toward left field.

Unlike many of McGwire's homers during this fabulous summer, this line drive stayed low but was high enough to clear the wall. The 62nd blast was his shortest of the year, but it was long enough to make history.

McGwire later said he felt he was floating as he ran the bases, almost missing first base as he jumped into the arms of Coach Dave McKay, his long-time batting practice pitcher. All of the pressure that had enveloped McGwire over the past three months was realized in that happy jog around the bases and in the ensuing celebration.

A record that many people had predicted would never be broken — Roger Maris's mark of 61 homers in 1961 — had been broken. It had not been easy, despite the fact that it appeared McGwire could hit a blast over the wall seemingly at will. Nothing in baseball, McGwire knew, was easy, especially hitting home runs.

McGwire thinks hitting a home run might be the hardest thing to do in sports. You can't try to hit one, he said, knowing all too well that trying too hard is the first step to failure.

McGwire has established himself as the greatest home run hitter in the major leagues today, so he is a qualified expert on the subject. He also had to face the pressure and expectations that increased with each homer.

"You get in the box, you see the ball as best you can, and react to it and try to hit it," McGwire said. "If it leaves the ballpark, great. If it's a base hit, great. If it's a strikeout, you learn from it. It's not like somebody is putting the ball on the tee for you and saying, 'Here, hit it over the fence.'

"A home run is just a base hit that goes over the fence. Sometimes, if you get a little lift, it goes farther than the one before."

Before and after his record-breaking homer, McGwire tried to downplay his own importance and accomplishments, trying to focus on the Cardinals' performance. What he accomplished, however, made that stance impossible.

By hitting 58 homers in 1997, McGwire had put himself in a position to challenge Maris's record in 1998. He did so with the combined challenge of changing leagues and teams in mid-season and going through a month-long span in which he hit only three homers.

"If hitting 61 home runs were easy, we wouldn't be talking about it," McGwire said before the 1998 season began. "A season has to be absolutely perfect for it to happen. I'm not saying I can do it. I'm not saying I can't. It's not worth talking about until someone goes into September with 50."

McGwire admits he was not a student of baseball history as a youngster and didn't know much about Maris, or Babe Ruth for that matter, until he kept hearing those names in conjunction with his own. That association was first made when he was a rookie with the Oakland A's in 1987, and spent much of the season on a pace to challenge the home run record before finishing the year with the rookie mark of 49.

He knew Ruth was a great home run hitter and one of the greatest players in the history of the game, but that was about the extent of his knowledge.

He knew Maris was the player who broke Ruth's 1927 record of 60 homers, and that he played most of his career in the shadow of Mickey Mantle, but not much else.

He didn't know that when Maris was chasing Ruth in 1961, his hair began to fall out, in clumps. He didn't know how almost everybody, including those within the Yankee organization, rooted against Maris. He wasn't the fair-haired boy, he wasn't the handpicked successor to the throne. Mantle, after Joe DiMaggio, was the golden boy. Had Mantle gone into the final week of the season with 59 homers, people would have been cheering him on, not hoping he would fail.

Maris broke the record, but he never got the thrill of being recognized for it. The commissioner of baseball at the time, Ford Frick, put an asterisk behind the number 61 and made baseball recognize both Maris's achievement and Ruth's mark of 60, because it had been established in a 154-game season rather than Maris's 162-game season.

Once Maris had finally broken through the 60-homer barrier that had stood for 33 years, people thought it would happen more often, as had been the case when Roger Bannister finally broke the four-minute barrier for the mile run. Once Maris established the possibility that it could happen, others surely would follow.

For 36 years, none did. Then came the marvelous summer of '98, when not only McGwire but Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs passed both Ruth and Maris. Neither McGwire nor Sosa stopped at 62 homers, as McGwire continued on, establishing the new standard of 70 homers with the last two coming against Montreal on the final day of the season. Sosa finished with 66, helping the Cubs reach the playoffs as the National League's wild card entry.

As he learned more about Maris during the chase and spent time with Maris's children, one of the things McGwire learned was how Maris, perhaps worn out so much by the struggle to get the record, never enjoyed it. He died of cancer in 1985 at the too-young age of 51.

Maris's family had been united in their hope that the record would never be broken, allowing their father's legacy to continue. As McGwire and then Sosa approached the mark, however, it became apparent to Maris's children that having the record broken might actually enhance his memory.

Maris had one golden season in an otherwise unremarkable career. His previous career best was 39 homers in 1960. He hit 33 in 1962, and that was the most he hit in a season for the rest of his career.

"Maris was never comfortable with New York," columnist Steve Jacobson of New York Newsday wrote in 1997. "Yankee tradition was Ruth, DiMaggio and Mantle. Maris was the outsider; he felt the Yankees wanted Mantle to be the one to break the record. He may have been right, but they didn't hinder him. He didn't forgive them.

"He and Mantle shared an apartment; they got along, but Maris resented the establishment. He resented the Yankees for questioning his intention when doctors couldn't find the broken bone in his hand in 1963. He never hit more than 33 homers again."

Dave Anderson, a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The New York Times, said the demands on McGwire and also on Sosa were less than those facing Maris, even if they did come under increased media scrutiny.

"That was a hellish experience for Roger," Anderson once said, "something that went way beyond the media. The aura of Ruth was overwhelming. You know the story about Maris losing some of his hair during that time; it was falling out of his head from stress. Just to give you some idea, even the commissioner of baseball didn't want Ruth's record to fall. Ford Frick, the guy who wanted an asterisk attached to Maris's record, had once been a ghostwriter for Ruth."

Maris had to deal with reporters from 10 New York area newspapers, including seven from metropolitan New York. There was no CNN, ESPN or all-sports radio stations to hound him every step of the way. For McGwire, dealing with the media almost became as formidable a task as facing the opposing pitcher as he zeroed in on the record.

Early in his career, McGwire was teammates with Jose Canseco and he predicted that if either of them was going to mount a challenge to Maris's mark, Canseco would be the one to do it.

"If either of us ever hits 60 homers, it will be Jose," McGwire said in 1988. "He's just so strong. It's out of this world."

Ten years later, it was McGwire who earned those accolades. He has hit the longest measured home runs at seven major league stadiums — Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Comiskey Park in Chicago, Jacobs Field in Cleveland, the Kingdome in Seattle, the Metrodome in Minneapolis, the Skydome in Toronto, and Tiger Stadium in Detroit.

That isn't a fact McGwire would be able to repeat off the top of his head. He doesn't keep mental notes that verify his own accomplishments, just as he doesn't keep physical reminders of them. His Rookie of the Year award from 1987 is locked away in a storage facility in California with other memorabilia. His Gold Glove is on display at his optometrist's office. One of his two Silver Sluggers awards was given to his father.

The reason he wanted the ball from homer 62 was so it could go on display at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Never for a moment did he think about keeping it for himself.

It took McGwire a long time to figure out that he is a home run hitter, one with the best home run to at-bat ratio in major league history. He entered the 1998 season second to Ruth, but passed him with an electrifying April and May. McGwire doesn't need a trophy, a plaque or a baseball to remind him of his place in history. That will fall to others to decide.

"God gives you something at birth, and you are on this earth to try to figure out what it is," McGwire said. "It's not to copy somebody's swing or jump shot or the way he passes the football. You have to be yourself. So many children today try not being themselves and that's why they get in trouble.

"When they don't succeed trying to be somebody else, then they walk away from the game. They say, 'I'm not any good.' How do they know?"

McGwire said he played with other youths in high school who had just as much talent and baseball ability as he did. He knows they think the only reason McGwire made it to the majors, and they didn't, was luck.

"I'm sure they are sitting on their couch at home now saying they could have made it," McGwire said. "You know what stopped them? Themselves. That's what stops kids today. Nobody stops them but themselves."

Failure is a great teacher, and McGwire has seen a lot of failure in baseball. He has failed, but he has grown from the experience. It has made his mind stronger, and he has come to the realization that it's. The most important piece of equipment in a player's possession.

"My mind is very strong," McGwire said in June 1998. "I'm very in tune with what the pitcher has. I'm very in tune to the situation I'll be in during a given at-bat.

"The mind is the strongest thing on your body. And if you tell your mind you're going to fail, you're going to fail. But if you're putting so much positive reinforcement in there, it's going to give you a better chance to do something that given day."

McGwire has never been someone who said "what if." He doesn't live in the past, preferring to look to the future.

"I don't think you succeed in life or sports if you sit back and say, 'What if I did this?'" McGwire said. "You can't go back and get those days. I'm a firm believer that people who live in the past never succeed in anything. They're always failing."

McGwire's 1998 season became a success the minute he slammed his 50th homer of the year. That accomplishment made him the first hitter in baseball to hit 50 or more homers in three consecutive seasons, something Ruth never was able to achieve. At that moment, reaching Maris's record was not a primary concern for McGwire.

All McGwire sought was the ability to control his own fate, the same goal he had ever since his days growing up and playing with friends at the end of a cul-de-sac in Claremont, California.

He wouldn't have it any other way.



For countless youngsters, growing up to become a professional athlete is the only thing they dream about. They identify with a player and/or a team and have visions that someday they will be playing in the major leagues or the NFL alongside their hero.

Only a tiny handful of kids ever get to realize those dreams. Some players who do eventually rise to the major leagues and become stars say they were too busy playing the game as youngsters to ever think that far into the future.

McGwire was one of those kids. Growing up in a middle-class athletic family in Claremont, California, McGwire was one of five boys, all of whom were involved in whatever sport was in season. He said the first time he seriously thought he might be able to make a career out of baseball was when he was a junior in high school and began attracting the attention of pro scouts in the area.

McGwire's earliest sporting memories are of golf and going out on the course to caddy for his father, John, when he was only five years old.

"Golf was the first game I learned," McGwire said. "My dad taught me how to grip a club when I was five, and I never had another lesson."

McGwire and his brothers all became very good golfers, and when he was a sophomore in high school McGwire actually quit the baseball team to concentrate on golf.

"I had pulled a chest muscle, so it would be a while before I could really swing a bat," he said. "I had been playing on the junior varsity team, which didn't excite me much. I'd been playing golf for years. My dad used to take me to the peewee courses when I was six or seven, and I'd developed my own swing. I never had a lesson."

McGwire still remembers playing in a tournament at age 15, when he shot a personal-best round of 72 to tie him for the lead and put him into a sudden-death play-off. McGwire and his opponent remained tied through the first four extra holes, before McGwire finally sank a birdie putt on the fifth play-off hole to earn his first victory.

"The thing I liked about golf was that you were the only one there to blame when something went wrong," said McGwire, who lowered his handicap to 4 by playing so much. "I missed baseball, though, and I went back to it."

McGwire did keep up with golf and played in several pro-am tournaments as a celebrity after he reached the major leagues. Performing in front of those crowds created a different kind of pressure, he said.

"The weirdest and probably the scariest thing that I've ever done was at the first practice round I ever played for the AT & T at Pebble Beach," McGwire said. "There might have been 50 people watching. I got up to the tee and I was nervous as hell. What did I do but look up and hit it right to the ladies' tee. How embarrassing. It was something I'll never forget. It was the first time I ever had that feeling."

McGwire began playing youth baseball when he was eight years old. A neighbor was on the team and asked McGwire if he wanted to join him. McGwire had been playing soccer, which at the time was a more popular sport in Claremont, but thought baseball sounded fun as well.

"We grew up on this great cul-de-sac," McGwire said. "We got broken pieces of drywall from the homes being built nearby and marked off a football field with it like chalk. We played with a Nerf ball in the street and we played baseball there with a tennis ball."

Numerous newspaper and magazine stories have been written over the years detailing how McGwire hit a home run over the right field fence in his first Little League at-bat. While the stories technically are true, they are a little misleading. McGwire did homer in his first "official" Little League at-bat, when he was 10 years old. But the homer came after he had been playing in a different youth league for a couple of years.

Because he was taller and stronger than most kids his age, McGwire's natural athletic ability separated him from most of the other youngsters. He pitched for most of his Little League career for the Claremont LL Athletics, and his father can't recall McGwire's team ever losing a regular-season game when McGwire was on the mound. When he wasn't pitching, he played shortstop. He batted cleanup.

Several observers stopped McGwire's parents to remark on their son's baseball skills and predicted that he would one day become a star in the major leagues.

"As parents, we never gloated over Mark's success," John McGwire said in an interview in 1990 with the Inland, California, Empire Magazine. "Even when some of the city's old-time ballplayers and opposing Little League coaches would stop and tell me that Mark was a future big leaguer, I never let him know about it."


Excerpted from Mark McGwire by Rob Rains. Copyright © 1999 Rob Rains. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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