August 8, 1997: Mark McGwire hits his first Cardinals home run in his Busch Stadium debut

Cardinals fans welcomed Mark McGwire with a standing ovation prior to his first at-bat at Busch Stadium. In his second at-bat, McGwire returned the favor, blasting a 441-foot home run for his first home run wearing the birds on the bat.

McGwire’s was the second of back-to-back home runs as the Cardinals defeated the Phillies 6-1 on August 8, 1997.

The Cardinals acquired McGwire from the A’s in exchange for Eric Ludwick, T.J. Mathews, and Blake Stein at the trade deadline on July 31, and since that time McGwire had played in Philadelphia, New York, and Atlanta. The start of the Phillies series marked the beginning of a nine-game homestand and McGwire’s first opportunity to play in front of the Redbird faithful.

McGwire had gone just 2-for-25 in his first seven games for the Cardinals, dropping his batting average from .284 at the time of the trade to .271. Nonetheless, the 38,300 Cardinals fans in attendance greeted McGwire with a standing ovation when he stepped into the batter’s box for his first Busch Stadium at-bat.

“Overwhelming,” McGwire said. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard a crowd so loud in a regular-season game.”[1]

With runners on first and second, McGwire swung at the first pitch from Phillies starter Mark Leiter and popped up to shallow right field. With McGwire retired, Delino DeShields and Ron Gant pulled off a double steal, and both runners scored when Gary Gaetti smashed a ground ball past rookie third baseman Scott Rolen and into left field. The play was ruled an error on Rolen.

“I know it was scored an error, but that ball was smoked,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.[2]

Ray Lankford, a late addition to the lineup after suffering a hamstring injury more than a week earlier, hit a solo home run in the third inning before McGwire stepped to the plate for his second at-bat. This time, the big man hit a line-drive home run off the left-field foul pole, ending his streak of 71 at-bats without a home run.

“It had been a while,” McGwire said. “It just felt good to hit a ball squarely.”[3]

“It was beautiful,” Cardinals starting pitcher Donovan Osborne said. “It’s amazing to watch that guy hit. It’s nice to see.”[4]

The crowd continued to cheer until McGwire climbed the dugout steps for a curtain call.

“Believe me, I will never forget this night,” McGwire said. This was a feeling I’ve never experienced.”[5]

“They’re pretty impressive fans,” Phillies manager Terry Francona said. “I’m not talking as someone trying to beat the Cardinals. I’m talking as someone who likes baseball.”[6]

The Phillies scored an unearned run in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Mike Lieberthal. It was Philadelphia’s only run of the game as Osborne allowed just three hits over seven innings. He struck out six without walking any.

Just five days earlier, the Phillies had jumped on Osborne with eight earned runs in three innings.

“The difference between this game and the last one for me was that nothing I threw last time was working and everything I threw this time was,” Osborne said.[7]

Curtis King and John Frascatore each pitched a scoreless inning to complement Osborne’s best performance of the season.

In the eighth inning, the Cardinals added a pair of insurance runs off reliever Reggie Harris. David Bell brought a run home with an infield single and rookie Scarborough Green, another Cardinal making his Busch Stadium debut, added an RBI single into center field. Green was a graduate of Lafayette High School in Wildwood, Mo., the same high school that produced David Freese, Ryan Howard, and Luke Voit.

Gant, Lankford, Mike Difelice, and Bell each had two hits apiece for the Cardinals, who finished with 12 for the day.

Leiter took the loss for Philadelphia, allowing two earned runs over seven innings.

The game sparked McGwire for the rest of the year, as he hit 24 homers and drove in 42 runs in his 51 games with the Cardinals that season.

On September 16, inspired by the reception he had received in St. Louis, McGwire signed a three-year, $28 million contract with an $11 million option for a fourth year.[8] Just hours after the deal was announced, McGwire hit his 52nd home run of the season, a 517-foot blast that tied him with Ken Griffey Jr. for the major league lead.

McGwire cemented his place in history with his 70-home run season in 1998, which set a new Major League Baseball single-season home run record. In 2010, prior to being hired as the Cardinals’ hitting coach, McGwire admitted that he used steroids at various points in his career, including during the 1990s and the 1998 season.

“I’m sure people will wonder if I could have hit all those home runs had I never taken steroids,” McGwire said. “I had good years when I didn’t take any, and I had bad years when I didn’t take any. I had good years when I took steroids, and I had bad years when I took steroids. But no matter what, I shouldn’t have done it and for that I’m truly sorry.”[9]

In 4 ½ seasons in St. Louis, McGwire hit 220 home runs, giving him 583 for his career. Over the course of his career, he was named to the all-star game 12 times, won three Silver Slugger awards, and won a Gold Glove in 1990.


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[1] Mike Eisenbath, “Cards Roll In McGwire’s Home(r)coming,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 9, 1997.

[2] Mike Eisenbath, “Cards Roll In McGwire’s Home(r)coming,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 9, 1997.

[3] Jim Salisbury, “McGwire helps muscle St. Louis past the Phillies,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 9, 1997.

[4] Mike Eisenbath, “Cards Roll In McGwire’s Home(r)coming,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 9, 1997.

[5] Jim Salisbury, “McGwire helps muscle St. Louis past the Phillies,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 9, 1997.

[6] Jim Salisbury, “McGwire helps muscle St. Louis past the Phillies,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 9, 1997.

[7] Mike Eisenbath, “Cards Roll In McGwire’s Home(r)coming,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 9, 1997.

[8] Rick Hummel, “‘I’m Proud To Be A Cardinal,’ McGwire Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 17, 1997.

[9] “McGwire apologizes to La Russa, Selig,” ESPN.com, www.espn.com/mlb/news/story?id=4816607.

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