1927 Home Run race: Babe Ruth v. Lou Gehrig, Yankee teammates. Thursday, December 1, 2016
1961 Home Run race: Roger Maris v. Mickey Mantle, Yankee teammates. Friday, December 1, 2016 1:00AM
1998 Home Run race: Mark McGwire v. Sammy Sosa, Cardinal v. Cub.
Mark McGwire: born Oct. 1, 1963; previous high: 58 in 1997 with Oakland and St. Louis
Sammy Sosa: born Nov. 12, 1968; previous high: 40 in 1996 with Cubs.
Performance enhancing drugs (PED), including steroids, were in full rage. Barry Bonds took note and probably in 1999 joined the club. Bonds would break the 1998 season home record in 2001 by hitting 73 HR but Bonds was not seriously challenged even though Sosa finished with 64 in 2001. Sosa was ten back in late September 2001.
In 1994 the players union went on strike and ended the season after about 114 games. There were no post season games in 1994 for the first time in 90 years. The 1995 season started late for the same reason and teams played 144 games. The 1998 home run race was a welcome distraction and infusion of good will. Nobody wanted to be concerned about PED, least of all feeble minded acting commissioner Allan Huber "Bud" Selig, owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. When the American and National Leagues merged a year later, Selig didn't even notice. He just became commissioner ... officially. Now knuckleheads are ready to elect Selig to the Hall of Fame, which shows how terrible that institution is.
OK, back to baseball.
There's an oddity. Both the Cardinals and Cubs played an extra game in 1998. In the Home Run (HR) races documented in the two previous posts, both the 1927 and 1961 Yankees played one tie game and so one extra game. In 1998 the Cardinals played one tie, Cardinal game 131: Aug. 24, 1998 in Pittsburgh; McGwire did not play in the tie game. The Cubs, however, played an extra regular season game Sept. 28, 1998 in Wrigley Field at the end to break a tie with the San Francisco Giants for the one and only wild card spot in the tournament. The Cubs beat the Giants but lost to the Atlanta Braves 3-0 in the first round. Cub slugger Sammy Sosa did, however, get that one more game to hit home runs. He did not: two singles in 4 at bats (AB).
McGwire hit one homer in each of his first four games. Sosa hit none, so McGwire jumped off to an early lead that became dominant. Unlike the previous two posts where both batters played on the same team, this Home Run race is between batters on two teams in the same league. So, some of the game comparisons may be a bit off on dates but later in the season that game data will be supplemented with dates, which is how fans viewed the race at the time.
The dominance of McGwire is apparent and reached an astonishing 16 in team games 49: 25-9. Sosa finally got within one:
Sosa was struggling to catch McGwire all season. McGwire reached 55 August 30, 1998. Sosa the next day and they were tied entering September.
September 1: McGwire hit 2
September 2: McGwire hit 2, Sosa 1
So McGwire surged again, reaching a four HR lead in games 145-147. But Sosa came back.
Yes, Sammy Sosa held the season HR record for a short time. Friday, September 25, 1998 Sosa hit number 66 in the 4th inning in Houston and McGwire hit number 66 in the 5th inning against Montreal in St. Louis. McGwire then hit two homers in each of the last two Cardinal games.
Players with at least 60 Home Runs in a season, sorted by year: