Sosa isn't done chasing McGwire leaves Maris behind, but Cub staying close

September 10, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS -- Mark McGwire captivated the baseball world with his record-breaking 62nd home run on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium. The crack of his historic bat was music to the ears of millions of fans who have stuck with the sport through nearly a decade of turmoil, and the symphony is unfinished.

McGwire still has nearly three weeks to add to his amazing performance. He is on pace to hit 69 homers, which could leave the single-season record untouchable for generations.

The best chance for any other player to break it might still be in progress. Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa has been shadowing McGwire since midseason and -- with 58 -- still has a chance to steal the historical spotlight.

Imagine that. McGwire could break a record that had stood for 37 years and not even hold it long enough to be in the next edition of the Official Baseball Record Book. It's a long shot, but it could happen.

"You know what, the season's not over with," McGwire said late Tuesday night. "This is the great thing about baseball. Until the last out on Sept. 27, there is not much time to really sit down and analyze and really let it sink in because there is unfinished business.

"Wouldn't it be great if we ended up tied? I think that would be beautiful."

Sosa still has 16 games left to play. He has been drafting McGwire like an Indy car, allowing Big Mac to carry the increasing burden of baseball history on his back for the past three months. Now, if he somehow manages to sneak by and finish the season as the all-time single-season home run king, it will create a debate for the ages.

Which will be the single greatest moment in baseball history -- the home run McGwire hit to pass Maris or the homer that Sosa might hit to pass McGwire?

"Everybody knows that 62 was the mark and he has it," said Sosa, who has deferred to Big Mac at every opportunity. "I'm real proud of Mark. It was a great moment nobody is ever going to forget."

The historical implications of McGwire's dramatic home run are unquestioned. McGwire broke a record that had gone all but unchallenged since Roger Maris unseated Babe Ruth in 1961. Cincinnati Reds outfielder George Foster made a small pass at it in 1977, but finished with 52. McGwire had 33 at the All-Star break in his fabulous rookie year of 1987, but finished with 49. McGwire and Seattle Mariners superstar Ken Griffey came close last year, but not close enough to capture the national attention that has been focused on McGwire and Sosa the past several weeks.

McGwire did it with class. He did it with style. He did it with an impeccable sense of timing, breaking the record in the final game of a five-game homestand to the great delight of the 49,987 that packed Busch Stadium.

McGwire forged a link to Maris when he jumped into the stands after No. 62 to hug the Maris children. He left a tear in the eye of every baseball fan with any sense of what Maris endured as he pursued a record that -- because of the enduring popularity of Ruth -- few wanted to see broken.

There is no way that Sosa could replicate that historical passion play. He has conducted himself with the same grace and style as McGwire, but the historical foundation of the record he now is challenging is not deep enough to evoke the same kind of response.

The level of suspense probably won't be the same, either, unless he overtakes McGwire on the final day of the season with a playoff berth hanging in the balance.

"I think now everything is probably going to cool off," Sosa said. "I told Mark, 'Now maybe you can go to your house, hopefully take it easy, and wait for me.' "

Even if Sosa ends up with the record, he will have to settle for being forever linked with the bigger-than-life McGwire in the same way that Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio are linked by their amazing performances during the 1941 season, when Williams batted .406 and DiMaggio hit in 56 consecutive games.

Surely, there are worse fates than that, and there is always next year.

Home run race

Tracking the home run race between the Cardinals' Mark McGwire and Cubs' Sammy Sosa:

McGwire 62

Sosa 58

Games remaining

McGwire 17

Sosa 16


McGwire 0-for-2, 0 HR

Sosa 0-for-3, 0 HR

Pub Date: 9/10/98

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