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 Mark McGwire

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PostSubject: Mark McGwire   Tue Sep 09, 2008 12:05 am

By Rick Hummel
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
09/06/2008

Ten years have passed since that Sept. 8 night at Busch Stadium when Mark McGwire hit No. 62 on the way to 70 home runs in 1998.

"Can you believe that? God, time flies by," McGwire said Friday from his Southern California home.

McGwire, who doesn’t spend much time watching baseball these days and who has done very few interviews in these last 10 years, said he wasn’t all that aware that the 10th anniversary of his record-breaking homer was coming up until a man brought it to his attention while McGwire was shopping in a software store recently.

But now, as he spoke by telephone, the memories came flooding back and McGwire, who will be 45 years old on Oct. 1, was only too happy to recall that day — and that year — although he remained consistent in not giving insight into what has become known as the "Steroid Era" in baseball.

"That day, Sept. 8," he said, "I had a real calmness about me. It was a very eerie feeling that I didn’t ever experience again or hadn’t experienced before. I remember driving to the ballpark and, even with all the hoopla going on, it probably was the only day I felt so peaceful. It was a premonition that ‘tonight is going to be the night.’

"The whole year was so spiritual, so universal, with so many things that happened," he said. "I don’t know if people believe this stuff, but I think that when the stars are aligned right, things happen.

"One of the biggest things was hitting No. 61 on Sept. 7 on my father’s 61st birthday.

"Then, No. 62 I hit in the fourth inning, the same inning that (Babe) Ruth hit his record home run. The balls (in 1998) were numbered, you’ll remember, and the ball that went over the wall for No. 62 was number 3." Ruth wore No. 3 with the New York Yankees.

"It was one of those things that only God knows why," McGwire said.

Roger Maris’ record, the one McGwire broke, had stood at 61 for 37 years, but McGwire recalled that in his rookie year of 1987, he had 32 home runs at the All-Star break. He would finish with 49, but he said, "People had me breaking Maris’ record since 1987.

"And, it’s funny, looking back at the beginning of the year, Sports Illustrated had me on the cover, which usually is a jinx, for their baseball edition (of 1998). But the whole article was about me trying to break the home run record that year. The stars were aligned."


LIFE AT HOME

One of the highlights of that Sept. 8, besides getting an embrace from home run rival Sammy Sosa, who would finish with 66 homers, was McGwire picking up 10-year-old son Matt, who had come in from California for the weekend. Matt McGwire, an aspiring musician who likes "that Haight-Ashbury rock ’n’ roll," according to his father, will be 21 next July 4.

Asked if he could pick up his oldest son now, McGwire responded, "Ah ... no. He’s bigger than I am, although he’s tall and skinny."

McGwire has two more boys with second wife Stephanie, whom he married in 2002. Max is nearly 6 years old and Mason is 4, "and they really have no idea what I’ve done," McGwire said. "They think I’m a golfer. That’s all they ever see me with is golf clubs. It’s going to be very enjoyable someday to sit back and tell them about this."

But that time can wait.

"I’ve just moved on with my life," he said. "I"ll never forget it, but there are other things in my life, my family, that are so much more important. This is very fulfilling, more fulfilling than baseball."

With the backdrop of the lengthy players’ strike in 1994 and the subsequent lockout the next winter and spring, many have credited the McGwire-Sosa home run chase with helping restore interest in baseball.

"They want to shake your hand and say ‘thank you’ for bringing them back to baseball after the bad taste of the strike in ’94," he said. "If they really believe that ... I’m proud of that."

McGwire’s record lasted just three years: Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001. "I thought it would have lasted longer," McGwire said. "But you move on. He has the record now, and so be it."


'PEOPLE HAVE THEIR OPINIONS'

Bonds was at the center of the BALCO investigation that helped finally open a window into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball and cast a shadow on the players who put up big numbers in that era, including McGwire. It ultimately led to McGwire’s telling a Congressional hearing in 2005 that "I’m not here to talk about the past" when asked if he had used drugs.

"On those things, I just keep my opinions to myself," he said. "People have their opinions, and I have my opinions. People can think what they want."

Hall of Fame voters have expressed their opinions. McGwire has received less than 25 percent of the vote in his first two years of eligibility. It takes 75 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to be inducted. Again, McGwire chose not to speculate why.

"Things have changed over the years on the information highway," he said. "I’m living my life the way I want to live it. I couldn’t be happier."

He did say, though, an election to the Hall of Fame "would be like icing on the cake. I tried to work as hard as I could throughout my career. If the Hall of Fame is the last step, that would be great."

For several years, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has wanted McGwire to go to Cardinals spring training as an instructor. "There’s no question that I can help a lot of people, but I just really enjoy being around my family," McGwire said.

"When you play, it’s about you," he said. "When you’re done playing, you realize that it’s not about you."


LEAVING THE GAME

McGwire left baseball and some $36 million on the table in 2001 in what would have been a two-year contract extension with no regrets, other than hitting .187 in his final season. "It was time to move on," he said.

McGwire’s last game was the fifth game of the divisional series at Arizona in 2001 when La Russa, in a move he later lamented, sent up Kerry Robinson to pinch hit and sacrifice for McGwire with the score tied 1-1 late in the game. Robinson did sacrifice, but the Cardinals lost and McGwire would never bat again.

But McGwire said he preferred to remember his last regular-season hit, a three-run homer off Rocky Coppinger in Milwaukee.

McGwire is long on memories but short on actual memorabilia. This is by choice.

Other than a picture in his office of son Matt and himself around a batting cage in 1998, McGwire said, "I don’t know if I have one piece of any memorabilia from that year. I know what I did with it. I gave everything away. I gave away all my shoes, all my jerseys, all my batting gloves, all my bats — to all the players and coaches, visiting players, umpires, family members and friends. Even Bobby Knight has some stuff.

"People asked me, ‘Why aren’t you keeping any of this for yourself?’ I said, ‘You know what? I have the memories in my mind and that means more than having something special.’ I wanted everybody on my team, my friends, my opponents to have a piece of this."


'I CAN STILL HIT'

Today, McGwire says, he works out twice a day and still weighs 245 pounds. "I can still hit, if somebody wants me," he said. "Now, wouldn’t that be a shocker?"

His hair still is red, except for his goatee, which is gray. He spends much of his time watching action-hero cartoons with his boys and then some of the cartoons of his youth that have been recycled on a special network. "Speed Racer, Woody Woodpecker, Popeye. They watch all the same cartoons I used to watch," he said.

McGwire’s in-laws are from the Metro-East area, but he said he hasn’t been back to St. Louis since the last weekend of the old Busch Stadium in 2005 when he took a number off the outfield wall one night and participated in an on-field celebration after the last game.

"It’s amazing that I was only there for 4½ years and I was with Oakland for 11 years and they remember me as a Cardinal," McGwire said.

"I had a tremendous time there. Best baseball fans in America."


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