1998: Summer of Love*

John Franz

I can’t help but think about the year 1998. I was in eighth grade, going into high school and having what was one of the best summers of my life, bearing in mind that was before the steroids allegations and before my view of Sammy Sosa changed.

But this is a celebration. The drama that brought baseball to life came between two men from very different backgrounds, Mark McGwire, a Southern California native, and Sosa, who is from the Dominican Republic.

These two men, right or wrong, will be linked together in history forever. I must admit, we Americans wanted our own to break the late, great Roger Maris’s record of 61 homeruns. I personally wanted Sosa, a Chicago Cub, to beat it.

McGwire reached the 62 homerun mark first, he picked up his son in pure joy as he crossed home plate before being mobbed by his teammates.

The Cubs were in St. Louis that night as Sosa hugged McGwire and they gestured each homerun celebration to each other, “Big Mac” with his elbow to elbow and Sosa with the heart kisses.

The family of Roger Maris, who in 1961 broke Babe Ruth’s record, which many did not want him to break, did it with class. Maris’s family was in attendance to see McGwire break their father’s and husband’s record.

“Before the game, I met with the Hall of Fame , and they pulled out Roger’s bat and I touched it, I touched it with my heart,” McGwire said after the game.

Less than a week later, Sosa would tie the record at 62 with a two homeruns against the Milwaukee Brewers that ended in a homerun by Mark Grace, a homerun which became pivotal in the Cubs’ playoff hopes.

“1998 has been unbelievable. Chicago, I love you.” Sosa said.

Sammy wanted to break the record, but his sights were set on the playoffs. I was in San Diego to witness Sosa’s 63rd homerun, a grand slam to left field. I am a baseball history buff, and I’m proud I’ve seen one of the only three men ever to hit a 63rd homerun.

McGwire would later hit 70 homeruns in ‘98 while Sosa would eventually hit 66. I believe that McGwire deserved to break the record even if he is a Cardinal, but Sosa’s 66 homeruns was no joke of a second-place finish. Sosa and McGwire helped save baseball, with the same class that Mickey Mantle and Maris shared in the 61 season.

Only three years would stand until Barry Bonds would break McGwire’s record with 73.