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Mark McGwireA Biography
By Jonathan Hall
Rebound by SagebrushCopyright © 1998 Jonathan Hall
All right reserved.
Chapter One: Saving Baseball
The most compelling aspect of any sporting event is the natural unfolding of a plotline in which nobody knows the ending. Each and every game has the equal chance to be a snoozer or a classic, usually falling somewhere in between.
Likewise, an athletic performer never knows if he or she will be the hero or the goat until that split second when there exists the opportunity to affect the outcome of a competition. Occasionally, there comes a player who wins a large share of games, becoming a hero more often than a goat. Even rarer is there the performer who regularly does something magical.
Mark McGwire is such a player.
It was on a lazy Sunday evening in late August when Mr. McGwire was presented an opportunity to perform some magic of his own. It was the kind of night when people realize that the end of summer has suddenly sneaked up much sooner than expected. The kind of evening where you kick your feet up and quietly watch whatever sporting event happens to be on television.
On this specific evening, however, there was a competition occurring that was of particular interest to baseball fans across the country. This, of course, was the race for the most sacred record in therevered heritage of the nation's pastime -- the battle to break Roger Maris's 37-year-old record of 61 home runs in a single season. Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa had just tied his competitor earlier in the afternoon in Denver's Coors Field against the Colorado Rockies with his 54th home run. As fate would have it, the individual that Sosa had been chasing just happened to be playing an evening game that Sunday -- a game that was to be nationally televised on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball program. Many Americans were tuned in that evening to see St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire chase history. Particularly they wanted to see how he would respond to Sosa's tying home run.
The Cardinals were playing host to undoubtedly the best team in the National League -- the Atlanta Braves. While the Braves were certain to win their division and go to the playoffs, the Cardinals were not as successful, having played just under .500 baseball since early May. Despite the fact that this game would have little impact on the post seasons of either team, the stadium was filled to capacity with fans who were there to witness history. Each fan knew that there was a good chance they would see a home run hit by their hometown hero, Mark McGwire, who was on a pace to smash the hallowed home run record set by Maris a distant 37 years earlier.
The game was an uneven affair, with the Braves jumping out to a 6-0 lead after three quick innings. Every time Mark would step to the plate, the crowd seemingly held their collective breath in hopes of seeing the monstrous first baseman hit his 55th home run. In his first three at bats, Big Mac walked, hit a single, then a double, scoring twice to bring the Cards closer to the Braves. Going into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Cardinals trailed, 7-5.
The St. Louis faithful were relieved to see Mark stroke the ball with confidence again as they were all aware of the minislump he had recently been mired in. Big Mac had not hit one out of the park since the previous Wednesday, and it did not help that the home plate umpire had ejected him in the first inning of the previous game (for arguing balls and strikes). With Sammy Sosa tying Mac's 54th earlier in the day, McGwire and his loyal legion of fans were eager for home run 55.
With teammates Delino DeShields and Brian Jordan on base, Big Mac came to the plate to face the Braves' veteran reliever Dennis Martinez. Virtually every baseball fan in America had tuned in to watch Mark McGwire do some magic and here was a golden opportunity. After McGuire took the first pitch high and away, the television commentator predicted that Martinez would be very careful in placing pitches outside the strike zone. After all, a walk would be a lot better to the Braves than a home run -- McGwire's specialty. On the second pitch, the Braves' reliever let go a meaty fastball right over the middle of the plate.
Mark McGwire pounced.
Home run number 55.
Cardinals 8, Braves 7.
The fans in Busch Stadium went crazy.
Every fan watching that game on television that night let out a little whoop of surprised glee when Mac tagged that pitch -- sending it a whopping 500 feet! Not only had Big Mac responded to the pressure of the particular game situation, winning the game with a 3-run shot. Mr. McGwire was also making a statement to anyone who doubted his ability and strength of character to set and keep pace on his home run chase.
After the game, Mac was asked how he felt about "it."
"What? The win?" he said with a smile. He knew that the mass of reporters that were in the postgame press conference were there to discuss the home run record and not the game. But in a self-effacing manner that has become his trademark, McGwire deflected the praise he was receiving about his home runs. "It feels good to come back and win a game, feels even better doing it against one of the best teams in the National League," he said.
He didn't comment about his physical accomplishment. He didn't boast or talk trash to his home run rival. Rather he used the opportunity to discredit the competitive hype that the media was creating, offering, "I don't see the homer thing as a challenge between me and Sammy." He added, "What a great year, what a historical year. Wouldn't that be something if both Sammy and me hit -- what is it 62 or 63 homers each?"
"I'm excited for Sammy. He's having a magical year. Way better than I am having. He's got a higher batting average, he's driven in more runs, and his team is in the race for the wild card in the playoffs." These quotes typify what is most exceptional about Mark McGwire. Not his awesome show of power, his concentration, or his ability to hit home runs. The characteristic that has made Mark McGwire a hero to so many is the respect he shows his friends, fans, and competitors, as well as the pure class in which he deals with everyone around him.
If an athlete is judged by his performance on the field, he is liked and accepted as much by his performance off the field. In 1998, Mark McGwire set himself apart from all other professional athletes. He, did this not only in his tireless pursuit of one of baseball's most hallowed records. Mark McGwire's behavior throughout the season set a standard from which all others could learn.
But it had not always been like this. Mark had endured numerous ups and downs throughout his personal and professional life that gave him the proper perspective in which he could view the world around him. He had, on a few occasions, taken pause to reflect on all that was going on both within and around him. He had learned to build on his already strong character through hardship and adversity. He had looked for the support from his loving family, friends, and teammates.
And from all this experience, Mark McGwire developed a terrific understanding of how to accomplish his ultimate goal -- breaking the single-season record of 61 home runs.
There is nothing quite as majestic, awe-inspiring, and pure as a home run. It is not a statistical equation, like a batting average. It is a simple feat of athletic prowess -- a batter hits the ball over the fence. Without question, there is no other sports achievement that captivates the imagination and fantasy of its fans more than the single-season home run record. Babe Ruth held the record at 60 since 1927, then Roger Man's broke it in 1961 with 61. Since then, it was a record that seemed to be etched in stone, no one making a serious run at that venerable mark.
Until 1998, the season that saved baseball.
Copyright © 1998 by Jonathan Hall
Excerpted from Mark McGwire by Jonathan Hall Copyright © 1998 by Jonathan Hall. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book explained McGwire's life well as a baseball player but left out everything about his personal life. I wanted to see what his life and childhood was about as I am already familiar with his baseball life.
Mark McGwire Home Run Champ! is a biography written by Jonathan Hall, covering Mark McGwire¿s legendary record-breaking homerun season of 1998. If you just wanted to get a good idea of what happened in the unforgettable 1998 season, then this is a good book to read. If you are a young upcoming athlete and you are starting to get familiar with sports, especially baseball, I suggest you take a look at this book. This book does a good job going over the main points of the season. This book is good for young sports athletes. What I like and I am sure many other youngsters will like as well, is that it has large words, is double spaced lines, and most importantly gets straight to the point. This way, young children are not getting lost while they are reading it. Another positive about this book is that it has some pictures in it so the readers can really get a feeling of what he looks like, what his swing looks like, and what the celebration looked like when he finally broke the record. The pictures will keep young children even more interested in the book. If you are strictly a stats person there is no need to worry because at the end of the book there are a lot of pages filled with stats of Mark McGwire and you will get to see how good he really was and why he was one of the most feared right handed hitters of our time. This book should be read by young athletes and all types of baseball players. There are some things that all athletes should be familiar with in sports and this topic is definitely one of them. This year in baseball will be remembered for ages and never be forgotten, so I suggest this be read. This book is good for getting to know the basics about Mark McGwire¿s 70 homer season. If you are looking for a complete biography from start to finish of Mark McGwire¿s life, or you wanted to learn in detail from start to finish of the amazing homerun race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, then I suggest you look for some other books. If you are an older person interested in this topic then I suggest you find another book that is at a higher reading level and is more in-depth with details of the season and of his life. Although, if you just want to freshen up and expand you sports world of knowledge, then this is a nice easy book to sit back and enjoy. Overall, this is a good book and even though it is more suitable for a younger echelon of kids it can be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone and I encourage all sports fans to take a look at it.
Anyone looking for a personnel biography on the homerun hitter ought to go looking elsewhre. The 'biography' is more of the same old statistics you here than anything. Can't anyone write a book where you get to know more of the person behind the homeruns?