American baseball player
Future Hall of Famer Mark McGwire smashed once and for all one of baseball's most sacrosanct records: 60 home runs hit in one season by Babe Ruth in 1927. Roger Maris had hit 61 homers in 1961. But he had hit only one home run more than Ruth, and in a season that was about a week longer than in the Bambino's day. McGwire surpassed Ruth's mark decisively, hitting 70 home runs in 1998. And just to make sure everyone had noticed, he hit another 65 in 1999. McGwire is a story-book home-run hero for the turn-of-the-millennium. He hit a record number of homers as a rookie, 49. In six of his seventeen 17 seasons in the big leagues he hit more than 40 homers. He hit fifty home runs an unprecedented three seasons in a row, breaking another of Babe Ruth's records. Rounding out the picture, McGwire is apparently a genuinely nice person. He is devoted to his son and has donated millions of his own money to a foundation dedicated to helping abused children.
Born in 1963 in Pomona, California, Mark McGwire was raised in a big, brawny, sports loving family. Mark and his four brothers, each of whom ended up over six feet tall and weighing over 200 pounds, grew up playing baseball, football, golf, soccer and other sports. Mark's brother Dan played football at the University of Iowa, and professionally with the Seattle Seahawks and Miami Dolphins. Their father, John, was a dentist who was also a well-liked Little League coach. Mark would later describe his childhood as typically middle class, and himself as a normal child who liked sports and had to work hard to be good at them.
Mark's first involvement with organized sports was Little League baseball. Despite his modesty, it was obvious from the start that Mark McGwire was an especially talented baseball player. In his first Little League at-bat, when he was just eight, he hit a home run off a pitcher who was four years older. Two years later he set his first home run record, 13 in one season in the Claremont Little League. He was also-like Babe Ruth sixty years earlier-a gifted pitcher, the best pitcher on his team, in fact. As a high school player, he could throw at nearly 90-miles-per hour, faster than many major league pitchers. His high school performance attracted the attention of major league scouts, and when he graduated in 1981, the Montreal Expos claimed him in the expansion draft. McGwire chose instead to accept a baseball scholarship from the University of Southern California (USC).
|1963||Born to John and Ginger McGwire in Pomona California|
|1981||Accepts baseball scholarship from the University of Southern California (USC)|
|1982-84||Sets new USC home run record|
|1984||Plays on gold medal-winning U.S. Men's Baseball team in Summer Olympics in Los Angeles|
|1984||Signs with Oakland As|
|1990||Becomes first player to hit 30 or more homers in first four seasons|
|1996||Hits 52 homers, 113 RBIs, and a batting average of .312, hits his 300th home run|
|1996||Becomes 14th player in major league history to hit 50 or more home runs in one season|
|1997||Traded to St. Louis Cardinals|
|1998||Hits 70 home runs, a new major league single-season record|
Potent College Player
As a freshman pitcher for the USC Trojans, McGwire compiled a 4-4 record with a 3.04 earned-run-average. Despite his growing prowess on the mound, his USC coaches regretted that as a pitcher McGwire's potent bat was only in the line-up every four days. When his freshman year ended, he played in Alaska with the Anchorage Glacier Pilots and began playing first base. His next year at USC, McGwire hit 19 home runs, a new school record. He led the school in earned runs and pitching victories as well. In his third and as it turned out last year at USC, he gave up pitching completely. Free to hit in every game, he compiled an average of .387, slammed 32 homers, a new record, and was named an All-American. In 1984 McGwire was selected for the U.S. baseball team that competed in the Los Angeles Olympics. It was the first time baseball was part of the Games and the United States took home the gold medal. The same year, McGwire married his girlfriend, Kathy Hughes, one of the Trojans ballgirls. They had one child, Matthew, before divorcing in the early 1990s.
After his team's Olympic success, McGwire was picked by the Oakland As in the first round of the college draft. McGwire hit with confidence and power in two years in the A's farm system, collecting 24 homers, 109 RBIs and an average of .298. He joined Oakland's big league club for some games at the end of the 1986 season, hitting his first home run on his second day in the majors. He got off to a slow start in 1987 but stuck with the A's until late April when he caught fire. Between April 20 and early July he went on a rampage hitting 33 homers. He was the first rookie ever to hit more than 30 before the All-Star game and richly deserved his spot on the American League All-Star team that year.
The Stuff of Legend
It was inevitable that reporters started comparing McGwire, the newest home run phenom, to the home run legends, Babe Ruth and Roger Maris. The unrelenting media attention irked McGwire, who valued his privacy. He felt added pressure to produce at the plate too and his home run production fell off in the second half of the season. Nonetheless at the start of the A's last game, he had hit 49 homers, the most-by far-ever hit by a rookie. It bespeaks McGwire's character that he chose to miss that last game and gave up the chance at 50 home runs to be present at the birth of his first child. He was the unanimous choice for 1987 American League Rookie of the Year, only the second in baseball history so voted. The next few years belonged to McGwire. Between 1988 and 1990, McGwire hit 104 home runs and 302 RBIs, leading the A's to three straight American League pennants, and a world championship in the earthquake-wracked 1989 Bay Bridge World Series with the San Francisco Giants.
The year 1991 saw a downturn in McGwire's batting fortunes. By then American League pitchers had adjusted to him but, as he later admitted, he had not readjusted to them in return. McGwire suddenly lost his stroke; his average and home run production plummeted. A recurring back injury and the break-up of his marriage just made hitting more difficult. He hit a meager-for him-22 home runs with a .202 batting average that year. McGwire bounced back in 1992, however, hitting 42 homers and collecting 104 RBIs, earning him Comeback Player of the Year honors from United Press International. Although he continued to be plagued by injuries through the middle 1990s, the homers continued to jump off his bat: 39 in 1995 and 52 in 1996, the latter the most hit by an American Leaguer since Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961.
In 1997, the A's were but a shadow of the team that won four pennants at the beginning of the decade. McGwire was the last of the team's great players and his contract was coming up for renewal. Trade rumors abounded. Oakland was reluctant to pay the millions McGwire would demand as a free agent; moreover, McGwire was anxious to play for a contending ball club again. On July 31, 1997, he was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals. Despite the switch to a new league, with different pitchers and ball parks, McGwire finished 1997 with 58 home runs. Still he left fans speculating if he would have broken Maris' home run record if he had stayed with Oakland.
Breaks Roger Maris's Record
In 1998 McGwire made it all happen. The second half of the season amounted to a daily countdown of home runs hit by McGwire and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs, both of whom were chasing Roger Maris' hallowed record of 61. They traded off the lead through the last months of the season. McGwire won the race on September 7, 1998, when he hit his 61st round tripper. A day later, ironically at Wrigley Field, Sammy Sosa's home field, McGwire became the first player in major league history to hit 62 homers in one season. Unlike Maris, there would be no asterisk next to McGwire's record. He needed nearly 100 fewer at-bats to hit his 62 than Ruth did to hit 60. Maris, by contrast, needed 50 atbats more. McGwire ended 1998 with a total of 70, a new record. He broke another of Ruth's records at the same time, as the first player to hit 50 home runs or more three seasons in a row.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1984||Named All-American by the American Association of College Baseball Coaches|
|1984||Sporting News College Player of the Year|
|1987||American League Rookie of the Year|
|1987||Sporting News Rookie of the Year|
|1987-92, 1995-97||American League All-Star team|
|1990||Rawlings Gold Glove Award, first base|
|1992||UPI Comeback Player of the Year|
|1992, 1996, 1998||Sporting News Silver Slugger team, first baseman|
|1998||Associated Press Player of the Year|
|1998||Baseball America's Major League Player of the Year|
|1998-2000||National League All-Star team|
Where Is He Now?
Mark McGwire lives in Orange County, California, close to his son, his ex-wife, and other family. He devotes his time to the Mark McGwire Foundation for Children, an organization dedicated to helping abused children. McGwire founded the foundation and has funded it with millions of dollars of his own money. In 2002 he began working with the National Kidney Foundation as well. Although he is still relatively young by baseball standards, he has said there is no chance he will ever come out of retirement and play the game again.
McGwire's last two years in baseball saw his home run numbers decline dramatically. Hobbled by a knee injury, he hit only 32 homers in 2000 and 29 in 2001. Such numbers only disappointed and frustrated McGwire. In November 2001, he announced his retirement from baseball. Not even an offer of $30 million to extend his contract with the Cardinals could make him change his mind. "After considerable discussion with those closest to me, I have decided not to sign the extension, as I am unable to perform at a level equal to the salary the organization would be paying me," he told the Houston Chronicle.
Mark McGwire is a virtual shoe-in for Baseball's Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2007. His 583 homers were fifth on the all-time list when he left baseball. McGwire also boasted a career 1414 runs batted in and 1167 runs scored. More than merely a sports star, Mark McGwire proved himself an individual of the highest integrity as well, best exemplified by his outstanding efforts on behalf of abused children, work that led the Sporting News to name him their Sportsman of the Year in 1997. Hopefully such achievements will live in memory as long as McGwire's slugging pyrotechnics.
Address: Mark McGwire Foundation for Children, c/o Jim Milner, 6615 E. Pacific Coast Highway, Suite 260, Long Beach, CA 90803.
|OAK: Oakland Athletics; StL: St. Louis Cardinals.|
SELECTED WRITINGS BY MCGWIRE:
"Where Do I Go from Here?" Sports Illustrated. September 21, 1998.
Antonen, Mel. "Athletics' McGwire Powerless to Explain Sudden Turnaround." USA Today, April 27, 1992.
Boswell, Thomas. "The Mighty McGwire Is Marisesque." Washington Post, May 19, 1992.
Bush, David. "A Day With McGwire." San Francisco Chronicle, March 8, 1990.
Chass, Murray. "Chasing Records, Game by Game; Maris's Mark Remains Elusive." The New York Times, June 18, 1989.
Elderkin, Phil. "Mark My Words: McGwire Could be the Next Babe." The Christian Science Monitor, August 6, 1987.
Friend, Tom. "43 Booming Shots, And Still Swinging." New York Times, August 19, 1996.
Martinez, Michael. "After a Change of Seasons, McGwire's Fortunes Have Turned Golden." New York Times, May 15, 1992.
Maske, Mark. "The Bash is Back in McGwire." Washington Post, June 13, 1995.
"McGwire Says He's Outta Here—Cards Slugger Announces Retirement." Houston Chronicle November 12, 2001.
Perkins, Dave. "McGwire Truly Making His Mark Homer Pace Rivals Maris, Ruth Though 'I don't try to hit them'." Toronto Star, July 13, 1987.
Reilly, Rick. "The Good Father." Sports Illustrated. September 7, 1998.
Stein, Joel. "Long Live the King." Time. September 21, 1998.
Verducci, Tom. "The Greatest Season Ever." Sports Illustrated. October 5, 1998.
Sketch by Gerald E. Brennan