September 8, 1998: McGwire breaks Maris’s home run record with No. 62

One day after he hit his 61st home run of the season on his father’s 61st birthday, Mark McGwire’s shortest home run of the season launched him into the record books.

On September 8, 1998, McGwire hit his 62nd home run of the season, breaking Roger Maris’s 1961 record with a 341-foot homer off Cubs pitcher Steve Trachsel.

Since the beginning of September, McGwire had been racing toward the home run record, hitting two solo home runs in a September 1 win against the Marlins, then two more homers in the series finale. On September 5, he added a two-run home run against the Reds, and on September 7 he tied Maris’s record.

The September 8 game against the Cubs marked the Cardinals’ final game at Busch Stadium before they left town for a five-game swing to Cincinnati and Houston.

“Yesterday, doing what I did for my father, hitting my 61st home run on his 61st birthday, I thought what a perfect way to end the home stand, by hitting my 62nd home run for the city of St. Louis and all the great fans,” McGwire said. “I really and truly wanted to do it here.”[1]

While all eyes were on McGwire as he stood on the cusp of baseball’s most storied record, it was Chicago that took the early lead, as Mark Grace and Gary Gaetti each hit RBI singles off Kent Mercker in the first inning.

Trachsel, who was pursuing his 15th win of the season, held the Cardinals’ lineup in check the first time through the order, as McGwire grounded out to shortstop in his first-inning at-bat.

After Trachsel retired Delino DeShields and Fernando Tatis to begin the fourth, McGwire jumped on the first pitch he saw, hitting a line drive that just cleared the left-field wall.

“It didn’t have any elevation to it,” Trachsel said. “As strong as he is, it just carried out.”[2]

Cameras flashed throughout the stadium as McGwire hugged first base coach Dave McKay and had to be reminded to touch first base.

“When I hit the ball, I thought it was a line drive and I thought it was going to hit the wall and the next thing I knew, it disappeared,” McGwire said. “I had to go back and touch (first base). I can honestly say that’s the first time I ever had to go back and do that.”[3]

McGwire got a hand slap from Grace and handshakes from Cubs second baseman Mickey Morandini and shortstop Jose Hernandez. Gaetti, a former teammate with the Cardinals, received a hug, while third-base coach Rene Lachemann smashed forearms with McGwire in much the way McGwire did in his Athletics days alongside Jose Canseco.

As he rounded third, McGwire pointed to his parents in the stands, then tapped his heart and pointed to the sky. When he crossed home plate, he hugged Cubs catcher Scott Servais and once again gave cleanup hitter Ray Lankford a celebratory, mimed stomach-punch. Then he celebrated by lifting his son Matthew, the Cardinals’ batboy, high into the air.

“I was numb,” McGwire said. “I thought, ‘I still have to play the game. Oh my God, I can’t believe this.’ It’s such an incredible feeling. I can’t believe I did it.”[4]

McGwire had more hugs to hand out. One for Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa, who had pushed McGwire with his own home run chase throughout the summer. More for the Maris family, which included Roger Maris’s four sons and daughter.

Prior to the game, McGwire and Sosa both got to swing the bat Maris used to hit his 61st home run, which had been brought to the game by Hall of Fame officials.

“Now I can honestly say my bat’s going right next to his and I’m damn proud of it,” McGwire said.[5]

Even as the stadium continued to cheer and his teammates congratulated him, McGwire was given a microphone to address the Busch Stadium crowd.

“I dedicate this home run to the whole city of St. Louis and all the fans here,” McGwire said. “Thank you for all your support. It’s unbelievable. All my family, everybody, my son, Chicago Cubs, Sammy Sosa – unbelievable.”[6]

It was an emotional moment for several Cardinals legends. Radio broadcaster Mike Shannon, who played alongside Maris during his Cardinals days, wept at the sight of his best friend’s record being broken. Jack Buck called it the biggest thrill he had enjoyed in his 44 years covering Cardinals games.

“This was the most monumental home run in the history of the game,” he said. “It’s bigger than any postseason home run. I was happy that Mike got to call it. It’s the first time I ever saw him cry.”[7]

Stan Musial, who hit 475 homers for his career, including a high of 36 in 1949, said it was special to see McGwire hit No. 62 in St. Louis.

“That’s a lot of home runs,” he said. “It really is, and he’s going to hit more. And you know what the nicest thing is? We’re going to have him for two or three more years.”[8]

When play resumed, Trachsel, who threw warm-up pitches throughout the celebration, struck out Lankford to end the inning.

In the sixth, the Cardinals’ top prospect, J.D. Drew, made his big-league debut as a pinch-hitter for Mercker. Trachsel struck him out looking, but walked the next batter, Eli Marrero. DeShields singled and Marrero scored on an error, and after McGwire was intentionally walked, Lankford and Ron Gant hit back-to-back home runs to give the Cardinals a lightning-quick 6-2 lead.

The Cubs added a run in the eighth, but four Cardinals relievers combined to cover the final three innings of the 6-3 win. Mercker earned his 10th win of the season while Juan Acevedo collected his seventh save.

McGwire finished the season with 70 home runs and a .299/.470/.752 batting line. He followed that performance with 65 home runs in 1999.

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

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]


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[1] Mike Eisenbath, “Jubilation,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 9, 1998.

[2] Jeff Gordon, “Trachsel: ‘It’s just a home run,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 9, 1998.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Mac’s the man,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 9, 1998.

[4] Mike Eisenbath, “Jubilation,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 9, 1998.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Mac’s the man,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 9, 1998.

[6] Mike Eisenbath, “Jubilation,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 9, 1998.

[7] Tom Wheatley, “Even for greats, an incredible sight to see,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 9, 1998.

[8] Tom Wheatley, “Even for greats, an incredible sight to see,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 9, 1998.

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

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