3 Things you didn’t know about Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa HR chase

The Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa stands with St. Louis Cardinal's first baseman Mark McGwire between pitches after Sosa singled in the second inning 28 May, 1999, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. It was the first time the pair had played each other since last year's home run race. The Cubs won 6-3 with help from a home run from Sosa. AFP PHOTO/John ZICH (Photo by JOHN ZICH / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOHN ZICH/AFP via Getty Images)
The Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa stands with St. Louis Cardinal's first baseman Mark McGwire between pitches after Sosa singled in the second inning 28 May, 1999, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. It was the first time the pair had played each other since last year's home run race. The Cubs won 6-3 with help from a home run from Sosa. AFP PHOTO/John ZICH (Photo by JOHN ZICH / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOHN ZICH/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Two truths to look for about the HR chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

Tonight, ESPN is set to air the highly anticipated 30 for 30 documentary on the 1998 home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. In honor of the film, aptly titled “Long Gone Summer,” we have compiled three things you may not have known about the whole affair.

In the interest of… fun(?)… I’ve decided to break these facts up using the popular game, two truths and a lie.

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Truth – Many expected Roger Maris’s record to fall in 1998

Heading into the 1998 season, some were expecting Roger Maris‘s 37-year-old record to finally be broken. In fact, Sports Illustrated’s 1998 season preview issue even featured Mark McGwire with the headline: “Get Ready for a Slugfest “ and a subheading that read, “Why Maris’s record and a lot of others could fall.”

For two consecutive seasons before 1998, McGwire had posted home run numbers the likes of which the game has arguably never seen. In fact, in 1996, in just 130 games McGwire hit 52 home runs. In the same number of games in 1961, Maris hit 51.

52 homers over 130 games work out to a pace of 65 home runs over a 162 game season.

Then, in 1997, McGwire finished the season with 58 home runs in 156 games. 24 of those homers came after being traded from the Oakland Athletics to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he played the remaining 51 games of the season.

Just imagine if he had played all of 1997 in St. Louis…

Truth – The 1998 HR chase was actually a 3-man race

Though people expected a HR chase,  it wasn’t “Slammin'” Sammy Sosa people thought would challenge McGwire, it was Ken Griffey Jr.

You see, similar to McGwire, entering the 1998 MLB season, “The Kid” had two consecutive seasons of increased power. In 1996, Griffey hit 49 home runs in 140 games; and in ’97, he hit 56 in 157.

Was it out of the realm of possibility that he could hit 62 dingers in a season? Absolutely not, and when the 1998 season finally started, McGwire and Griffey went toe-to-toe. Both finished with 11 home runs at the end of April, while poor Sammy was just an afterthought with just 6 homers to his name.

Then, in May “Big Mac” separated himself, hitting another 16 homers to Griffey’s 8. The race now heavily favors McGwire who has 27 homers vs Griffey’s 19. Sammy still trailed with just 13 home runs total…

That is until June. This is when Sammy Sosa officially entered the race and captured the attention of the baseball world.

In June of 1998, Sammy hit 20 homers, extending his total to 33 on the season. McGwire added 10 to his total which is now 37 and Griffey added another 14, extending his total to 33.

It was now officially a 3-man race.

By the end of July, McGwire led with 45, followed by Sosa 42, and then Griffey 41. All were officially on pace to hit 62 or more HR.

However, by the end of August, McGwire and Sammy looked to be favorites to accomplish the feat. Both were tied with 55 home runs while Griffey trailed with 47.

In the end, McGwire finished with 70, Sammy with 66, and Griffey with 56.

And now, a lie – The HR chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did NOT save baseball.

After the record fell, many credited it with saving baseball. The fact of the matter is, however, after the strike-shortened 1994 season which saw the World Series canceled for the first time ever, baseball didn’t reach 1993-level attendance for the rest of the ’90s.

Here’s the proof:

  • Attendance dropped 20% in 1995 and then…
  • Grew 6% in 1996,
  • Grew another 5% in 1997
  • And another 4% in 1998 – the year of the HR chase.
  • In 1999, numbers actually declined.

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So, as you watch ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary tonight, look for these facts and more! Leave us a comment with what interesting things uncovered.