September 4, 1998
St. Louis Cardinals' Mark McGwire and the Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa are both chasing baseball's most distinguished record, 61 home runs in a season. Elizabeth Farnsworth and guests discuss the home run race.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The big story is, of course, the quest to break Roger Maris's record of 61 homeruns set in 1961. The St. Louis Cardinals' Mark McGwire goes into tonight's game with 59 homers, the Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa with 56. McGwire's playing at home against the Cincinnati Reds. Sosa's playing in Pittsburgh against the Pirates. Here's a look at the two sluggers' most recent slams.
SPORTS ANNOUNCER: Swung -- hit high in the air. Deep toward right? Petagine back! It's gone! He did it! Number 56! (fans cheering wildly) And for the 19th time he's given the Cubs the lead -it's one to nothing. (fans cheering)
SPORTS ANNOUNCER: He's sitting on 58 homeruns.
SPORTS ANNOUNCER: There's the pitch and there it goes! Do you believe that! Once again, Mark McGwire hits a homerun here in South Florida to deep left field! He pumps his fist into the air! In consecutive at-bats McGwire has 59! He pulls to within two of Roger Maris! And the legend grows for the St. Louis Cardinals! (fans cheering)
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And with me now are Jack Buck, who's been announcing St. Louis Cardinal games on KMOX Radio for the last 44 years. He's also done play-by-play for the World Series on CBS Radio since 1983, and is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. And Frank DeFord, a weekly sports commentator for National Public Radio and columnist with Sports Illustrated.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you both for being with us. Jack Buck, what's the mood in St. Louis? This isn't a big story there, or anything, is it?
JACK BUCK, St. Louis Cardinals Sportscaster: People can't wait for it to get dark here. It's 7:10 game time. I'll be going to the ballpark in about half an hour. I hope nobody's taken my parking place. I hope they'll let me get to the stadium. They've kind of changed the rules. Now Major League baseball has taken over, and you need a particular pass to get into the ballpark. Things are different, because we're - making pace and maybe the - number 16 catch Babe Ruth. If he does that, he might as well go ahead and hit 61 and catch Roger Maris at the same time, Frank.
FRANK DeFORD, Sportswriter: Absolutely. Keep him going.
JACK BUCK: It's amazing. You know, I tried to forecast when he would break the record, he hit number 62, and I kind of thought if he passed the middle of September - be about September 24th - that's how far he's usually ahead of my schedule - he's about three weeks ahead of where I thought he was going to do it. I thought he'd one in this series, this series, and this series. Instead, he hit four in two nights down in Florida, and there were gigantic blasts, and he was hitting pitches that were low in a way, down an inn, they weren't grooving the ball for him. You know, he hasn't hit a homerun against Cincinnati all year, and then reluctant to pitch to him. I don't know what their mood is going to be -- have a very good pitcher going tonight in Pete Harnesher, right-hander, and McGwire hits more homeruns against right-handed, and McGwire gets more homeruns against right-handed pitching than he does against left-handed, even though it was a left-handed matter. So we don't know what's going to happen. But it'll be exciting.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Frank DeFord, we don't know about what will happen with Sammy Sosa either. He hasn't done so well against the Pirates, has he?
FRANK DeFORD: I don't know about that, but he's certainly doing well against everybody else, and I think one of the other wonderful things about Sosa is he brings such joy to this. Both of these guys seem to be having just the right attitude about this chase. And I think that's what's made it so exciting, Elizabeth. It's almost a benign kind of athletic competition, because nobody gets hurt when McGwire gets a homerun, except maybe the pitcher. But the Cardinals are out of the race. It's not like Michael Jordan scoring 50 points against somebody. The Cardinals can't hurt anybody. It's just McGwire is piling it up and piling it up, and it's just too wonderful to say.
JACK BUCK: Frank, Elizabeth -
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Frank, sometimes - go ahead.
JACK BUCK: -- is right. Mark McGwire has hit well in Pittsburgh, that Sammy Sosa is not. So we'll see if the Pirate pitchers come after Sosa tonight. He's still in the picture with 56. He has one game less to play than McGwire, but you're right, Frank. We were out of the race in June, when our pitching collapsed. We're going to draw 3,200,000 people in St. Louis this year, and the only reason for that, aside from the announcing, is Mark McGwire. He's the only reason we're going to draw more than 3 million.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And why is it such a big deal, Jack Buck? Explain it for our viewers who are not big baseball fans.
JACK BUCK: Well, take for example the Babe Ruth homerun record. He set that in 1927. That's a long, long time ago. And Roger Maris, who, by the way, ended his career with the Cardinals, set the record in 1961, and that's a long time ago. I think, Elizabeth, with all the problems in the world - and you being in the business you're in know them just as well as I or better than I - with all the problems in the world, this is something healthy, worthwhile, and fun. Our pal, Red Shamey, a Hall of Famer, I think put it best. He said a long time ago - I think he said it in June or July - this is like watching a movie. And it really is. It goes to 40, 42, 45, 50, 52, 55, 59, and the movie's one of the best ones you've ever seen, and the crowd can't wait for him to touch one off. In fact, they boo him, Frank, when he hits a single.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Frank, there's no other record in sports like it, is there?
FRANK DeFORD: No. This is the most legitimate and the most legendary. And, as Jack said, the mere fact that it's Babe Ruth means so much. Anything attached to Ruth - I think it's - the added importance is that McGwire is Ruthian. I mean, he looks like the guy who should break Babe Ruth's record. In a way poor Maris suffered in that he didn't look the part. Well, by God, McGwire looks the part. And it's kind of a joy to homeruns that we don't find anywhere else. You know, I was interested in the Little League final the other day, and we got very excited because the American team, the boys from Toms River won. But what made it even better was that they were hitting homeruns. Everybody loves homeruns, and McGwire is the best at it since the Babe.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Jack Buck, compare this to 1961, when Maris broke the record.
JACK BUCK: Well, Stan Musial was one of my best friends, and he was telling me the other day that when Roger broke that record, Musial and the other big leaguers in the National League were not contacted about the importance of Maris breaking Ruth's record. It was kind of a New York thing, because Maris was playing with the Yankees. And there wasn't the national interest that we have now. But we all know how much communications have exploded in this country. We're going to have 700 members of the press at the ballpark tonight, and they'll get even more in there for Labor Day, and on Tuesday we play a five game home stand starting tonight, more than 700 members of the press are there waiting for one thing. They don't care who wins the game; they don't care if it's the Cardinals or Cincinnati; they don't care how many hits McGwire gets, how many walks he gets. They're waiting for one thing, and that's the homerun. And the beauty of it is when he hits them, everybody has ample time to turn to their neighbor and say, isn't that great and still look up and watch the ball go because he hits them so far.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Frank, there was some controversy about the Maris or that surrounded the Maris record, just like there has been with Mark McGwire too, although a different kind of controversy.
FRANK DeFORD: Well, I think the Maris one was much more substantive because the commissioner, himself, got involved and said, well, now Babe Ruth did it in 154 games and Maris now has a 162-game schedule, so we won't count it; we'll put an asterisk next to it. And that brought on an awful lot of bad feelings. Part of Maris' problem was that people wanted his teammate, Mickey Mantle, to break the record. The Mick was the one who was supposed to be the heir to Babe Ruth. And so it didn't have the same kind of joy to it that this season does. Now there has been a certain - a sort of spoil sport element in that McGwire has been accused of taking a bad substance, not an illegal one, something called Androstenedione, which is approved by the Food & Drug Administration, which is approved by baseball. But because a couple of other entities, like the International Olympic Committee, have banned it - and largely they've banned it because it's a masking agent - you take Androstenedione if you're taking something more serious to cloud the way of finding out about it. Some people said it was unfortunate that he was doing this. But I think it's very difficult to really say it's a controversy when he's taking something that's legal and approved by his own people.
JACK BUCK: Frank, you can look at me. I've been taking that supplement, and look at me. It hasn't helped me a bit.
FRANK DeFORD: One thing about McGwire is that this is the guy who's been hitting homeruns for 12 years. It's not like he's taking some wonder drug and has all of a sudden developed into a homerun hitter.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Jack Buck, what happens to the ball? What happens to the ball that breaks the record?
JACK BUCK: Well, first of all it gets flat because he hits it so hard. What happens to it? The one who gathers the ball in is going to own the baseball, and then the negotiation will commence, and the ball is going to end up in Cooperstown in the Hall of Fame, and the one who's lucky enough to get it may end up with all sorts of memorabilia - autographed bats, autographed balls, and maybe some money. They say it's going to be worth upwards of a $1/4 million. Whoever is going to get that ball is going to have a valuable piece of property. Frank, there's one other aspect to the Maris thing. As you say, they wanted Mantle to break the record and not Maris. When Maris was playing for the Yankees, they had about twelve or fifteen newspapers in New York. Each one had a baseball writer traveling with the team. Each one had to shoot an angle. Each one had to come up with a story. And so a lot of those stories were negative about Maris, and everybody wanted the Babe's record to stand. Even now with McGwire they're saying the ball is alive; it's a Jack Rabbit of a ball and whatever, and the pitching is mediocre. Well, if people want to detract from it and look at the negative aspects of it and fail to enjoy it, that's all right with me. I, for one, am taking great joy in this, as are the 50,000 people who will be at the ballpark each of the next few nights.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Jack Buck, Frank DeFord, thanks very much.
JACK BUCK: Thank you.