And we thought Superman masqueraded as a newspaper reporter. As we now know, he doesn't cover stories, he's the subject of them. If there really is a Superman, he has to be Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals.
McGwire's prodigious belts have given new meaning to the term "home run hitter." Tuesday he surpassed perhaps sports' greatest achievement, the 61 home runs hit by Roger Maris in 1961. Maris had merely topped the mark of 60 set by the legendary Babe Ruth in 1927. With 18 games remaining McGwire may even approach 70.Yes, records are made to be broken, but it's nice to have them broken by someone who displays grace as well as power. McGwire has both attributes in abundance. Instead of lashing out a couple of weeks ago when stories of his taking a legal performance-enhancing substance called androstendione surfaced, McGwire, who is injury prone, calmly explained why he uses it.
His grace under pressure was clearly evident Monday when he hit No. 61 and Tuesday when he hit record-breaking No. 62. This is what happened after he sent a fastball on a laser beam just over Busch Stadium's left field wall and into baseball history in the fourth inning Tuesday at 7:18 p.m. MDT:
Once he determined the ball had cleared the fence, he raised his right arm in triumph, slapped hands with Chicago infielders, hugged the Chicago catcher, pointed "to the Man Upstairs" and then embraced his son, Matthew, 10 ("My biggest home run"), who had flown in from California for Monday's and Tuesday's games and was waiting on the other side of homeplate for dad. McGwire then hugged his teammates and had a special hug for home run rival Sammy Sosa, who jogged in from right field to pay tribute to McGwire. McGwire signaled to his proud parents, who were seated behind homeplate.
But there was more. The gesture that followed is as significant as the home run that preceded it. In the stands were the four sons and two daughters of Roger Maris (his widow was hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat). Their father, who died of cancer in 1985 at the age of 51, never knew the adulation McGwire received. New Yorkers had hoped their favorite son, Mickey Mantle, would break the record, not Maris. McGwire, a student of the game, knows this. He also knows that he's dressing in the same clubhouse where Maris ended his career in 1968 as a member of the Cardinals.
After celebrating with his teammates, McGwire ran into the stands and embraced each of the Maris children, sharing poignant thoughts with them.
Before Tuesday's game, McGwire met with officials of the Baseball Hall of Fame. They showed him the bat that Maris used to hit his 61st homer. McGwire took it and put it against his heart.
"Roger, I hope you're with me tonight," McGwire said.
Roger, and baseball fans everywhere, were.