A Race to Remember Mark McGwire & Sammy Sosa

Posted by Custom Throwback Jerseys on 16th Sep 2022

Ah, balmy summer days, the smell of freshly-cut grass, and the thwack of the bat connecting with the ball. Major League Baseball is steeped in rich history, which is why it’s been America’s favorite pastime for over 150 years.

When it comes to baseball, there is a ton of history to learn and appreciate, courtesy of the thousands of unhittable pitchers and clutch hitters who have played the sport. But, some events were so majestic that they single-handedly became the catalyst that changed the game forever.

The Summer of 1998 was one such period, the likes of which fans had never seen and will probably never see again. Of course, it was the year where two of the sport’s best sluggers, St. Louis Cardinals’ first baseman Mark McGwire and Chicago Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa made history.

How? You ask.

For decades, the 61 single-season home runs by Roger Maris (in 1961) cemented his name as one of the all-time greatest. Many men tried, few even came close, but none could break Maris’ record. It was, according to many - an unbreakable record that is, until Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa started to hit dingers effortlessly during the 1998 Major League Baseball season.

Mark McGwire entered the 1998 Season with exceedingly high expectations, having displayed his unparalleled eye-hand coordination by hitting 58 home runs the prior year. On the other hand, Sosa, while being a bonafide five-tool ballplayer, didn’t rack up the same staggering totals at the plate. Together, the unlikely pair would battle each other for the coveted single-season home run record spot and captivate an entire nation.

As one of Major League Baseball’s top power hitters, Mark McGwire’s professional career began in the Oakland A’s organization, where he belted 49 impressive home runs during his 1987 rookie MLB season. The 33-year-old hit a total of 363 home runs and drove in 941 RBIs during his tenure in Oakland, winning the much deserved Gold Glove Award in 1990, amongst a slew of others. But, it wasn’t until he caught the attention of the Cardinals’ general manager, Walt Jocketty, that his career really took off into the stratosphere. Thus, began the Mark McGwire era.

At the time, McGwire was quoted as needing the change and the challenge, and there was plenty of it in the form of the Dominican Republic-born Sammy Sosa. Nobody played a month of baseball like Sosa in June of '98. But, at the plate, McGwire, not exactly a five-tool player, was a force of nature nonetheless. Standing at 6 feet five inches and weighing 245 pounds, he was an imposing figure in the batters box for any pitcher.

While Ken Griffey Jr. and McGwire were neck and neck in home runs the year before, McGwire in 1998 was faced with a worthy opponent in Sammy Sosa, especially after Sosa, out of nowhere, hit an amazing 20 homers in June, overshadowing Griffey, who finished with a meager 56 home runs in 1998. While Sosa always looked anxious in the batter’s box, he did have the distinction of sending the baseball screaming into the sky more times than most players in the history of the sport. In 1998, Sosa would find himself battling not just his toe-tapping left foot (which seemed to have a mind of its own) but one of the most prolific home-run hitters in baseball history Mark McGwire.

The whole summer was surreal, and fans held their breath as the two battled to break Maris’ record and, in doing so, created one of the truly greatest baseball memories for millions of fans around the world. Every swing of the bat by these two legends was history being made, and the fans could feel it.

The rivalry between the Cubs and the Cardinals seemed almost appropriate that the two teams would slug it out, leaving fans glued to every moment of the home run race. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were at the top of their game. The game was alive, with fans eager to watch these two stars during Batting Practice. It seemed the entire nation was sucked into the carnival, and even other programs would cut away whenever Big Mac or Sammy would be at the bat. It re-invigorated the interest of the nation at an almost presidential level. Like a red carpet event, every pitch to Sosa or McGwire was non-stop flashbulbs, thanks to the many photographers between the home plate and first base.

McGwire and Sosa were neck and neck for most of the season. Heck, Sosa even reached number 66 first, but McGwire ended up out dueling Sosa, finishing his campaign with a record 70 home runs. For many, what Mac and Sosa achieved in 98 was a big deal, especially since hitting a home run at a major league level is considered the most difficult task in all sports. But, also because what the duo achieved that season is also credited as saving baseball after the 1994 players’ strike, and helped bring fans back to the sport. Hitting wise, there was never, and probably will never be anything quite like it.

Long before the specter of instant replay, designated hitters and relievers of every stripe, Big Mac and Slammin Sammy gave fans an electrifying performance and a reason to latch on to the long ball again. Man, what a ride!

Ranking 11th all-time in home runs (583), McGwire still holds a career record for at-bats per home run ratio (10.6). While Slammin Sammy Sosa still remains in the hearts of baseball fans as a Chicago Cub and a major character in this unforgettable chapter of American history that had catapulted baseball to the prominence it still enjoys today.

Whether you still remember watching the game from behind first base in the lower stands or at home on TV, if you have a Cardinals’ pennant you picked up after the game still hanging on your bedroom closet door, then why not complete the collection? Head on to Custom Throwback Jerseys to find all the throwback jerseys that matter, including throwback jerseys of two of the most prolific home run hitters in baseball history, The Cardinals’ Big Mac and Cubs slugger ‘Slammin’ Sammy Sosa.