As quality MLB blogger Kevin Kaduk points out, today is the 10th Anniversary of Home Run #62, off the bat of Mark McGwire against the Cubs' Steve Trachsel. That sure seems like a lot of years ago for something that just seemed to happen the other day, in my medicated, pudding-filled little mind. BALCO and Barry Bonds and George Mitchell and Jose Canseco have twisted the knobs of history, so that particular sinking liner that just cleared the left field wall in the toilet bowl in the 'Loo has an entirely different meaning from what it did when it first happened. The Steroids Aftermath has forever tarnished the image of the Great Homer Chase of '98, and far be it for me to tell you to think otherwise.
I knew something stunk at the time, honestly I did. One can go out to the archives of the venerable old Cubs Coven on Yahoo! Groups if you care to verify my thoughts about the subject. Now, yeah, I was completely pointing in the wrong direction. I've never been one to be accused of being detail oriented. Why should I be bothered with accuracy? All I knew was, something felt odd to me. I just guessed wrong.
Sure, people knew about steroids back then, and in fact, the famous "Andro" bottle sighting in Mac's locker was in 1998, as was Sammy Sosa's "rebuttal" that all HE ever took was Flintstones vitamins. I mean, hey, I've been eating my share of Fred and Dinos for years (because I like the taste) and my biceps and thighs haven't swollen to twice their original size. It was just the typical smarmy, self-righteous asshole kind of thing Sammy said back then.
These truths were self evident at the time:
- the home run chase WAS pretty exciting. At the time, remember, 61 homers was a MAJOR record that was widely believed to be unbreakable
- you always prepare for what you could possibly imagine to be the worst form of media circus surrounding the chase; and they managed to yet again FAR exceed the worst I could imagine
- I was actually genuinely excited for Mac and Ken Griffey, Jr. at the time. I also can honestly say that the notion of steroids giving anyone an unfair advantage didn't enter my thinking often
- I was not excited that Sosa was part of it, however. Not only because I felt he was taking away from a far more important story - the 1998 Cubs, but because I hated the poser since the day he started playing with the Sux back in 1990.
I was very adamant and also very creative in the different ways I expressed my hatred for the thick pud at the time. It is very likely that I accused him of being on steroids, not because I was so much against steroids, just because it seemed like a mean thing to say about someone, and as such, was just one part of my repetriore.
From the getgo, in 1990, I remember him as a selfish, me-first baby who swung from his ass on every pitch, who tried to throw the ball 500 mph towards home plate on every opportunity from his outfield position, and who would attempt stolen bases on all occasions, regardless of the game situation. Even as a mere rookie, who hadn't accomplished a thing in the league, he acted out worse than Deion Sanders and Ocho Cinco ever could imagine.
When Larry Himes, a self-important prick I never could stand in his own right, brought over the chumbwamba to us, and showed him favoritism that he did not show to Honest-To-God Hall-Of-Famers on the same roster as Greg Maddux and Ryne Sandberg, it stuck in my craw like a wayward shell from a ninth-rate seafood buffet. Himes was willing to live and die with Sosa; he would blab to all that would listen that Sosa was the Real Deal; that he would make history in baseball.
Oh, he sure did, Larry. He sure enough did. I'm sure he's probably wrenched his own shoulder several times under the weight of World Series rings he wears. Sosa has made all sorts of history, most of it bad. Himes, go shove a cactus up your ass.
Sosa rang up a 30-30 season in 1996 by running at all costs late in a lost season, and celebrated NOT just by commissioning a 30-30 gold medallion be made for him, but by buying a SHOPPING MALL back home in the Dominican Republic and renaming it the "30-30 Mall". Hm. Wonder how many bad wig shops, nail salons, and nutritional supplement stores hung their shingle there? Wonder if I could go get a pair of aqua patent leather stilleto heels along with the matching polystyrene necklace there? A class act, all the way around, from day one. Sammy Sosa. The ultimate stats guy, who always "got his".
So it was somewhat unsurprising that he managed to wedge himself in the ultimate statistical circle-jerk, the Great Home Run Derby of 1998. The big argument I had at the time with the Pollyanna Cub Fans (of which certain Goatriders were at the time) was that, yeah, he was putting up huge stats, and yeah, he was pumping and pimping his own name anywhere and everywhere. But his homrons DID result in runs posted on the Cubs' side of the ledger, and his 160 ribeyes that year probably won us 20 games BY THEMSELVES. Therefore, according to the Kool-Aid Klub, Sammy WAS a team player and a Man to be Worshipped.
Every time he won a game, though, with his jacks, I felt like I had sold my soul. The Edmonds crap we're dealing with now? Hard candy, nothingstuff compared to the conflict in my heart I felt at the time. Was it hypocritical to exult in the glory of the superhuman exploits of a man who I had hated since the very day he came to town? I thought so. I KNEW so, and today, we all know that I was correct.
We all know this now because his production dropped like a hot potato, because he corked his bats, because he left us in disgrace, because he forgot how to speak English before Congress, and because (although he has never tested postively) he almost certainly enhanced his own performance with PEDs. Would he have? Hell, Sosa would drink radioactive bathwater for a home run crown. Could he have? Nah, all of us lose $40k wrapped in towels all the time.
But I must admit, none of that occured to me at the time. Once or twice, I might have accused him of being all swoled up, but I also accused him of pretty much everything I could think of, from petty larceny to aggravated child pornography. I hated his dumb ass because he was a fake, a phony, a flim-flan man, a con artist of the lowest order, a selfish me-first boom-box playing prima donna. That's why I could not really enjoy the Great Race of '98.
But it is naive to think that the MLB did not benefit greatly from 1998. After the 1994-5 lockout shennanigans, many people turned their backs on the game, and were only brought back by (what we thought would be) a once-in-a-lifetime homer chase. I honestly cannot say that I was one of those people, but I cannot deny that I felt like I was watching history 10 years ago tonight, when McGwire lifted up his beefy son and bumped chests with Sosa. I figured, whatever number they put up at the end of '98 would stand up for decades, just like Ruth's 60 and Maris' 61. I honestly did.