When I was a kid, Roger Maris’ 61 home runs in a single season seemed like an unbreakable record. Even getting to 50 was nearly unheard of, and nobody even came close to 61 until the mid 1990s. But then Ken Griffey Jr. came close a couple of times, and Mark McGwire seemed to threaten the number with some hot starts to a season.
And then in 1998 it all came crashing down. McGwire was there, as usual, but Sammy Sosa came into the picture as well, and the two seemed to drive each other to new heights. And when McGwire finally broke the record on 9/8/98 with a line drive that just cleared the fence in St. Louis, the unbreakable record had finally fallen.
I was teaching when the 1998 home run chase was going on, and in my classroom I had a picture of Mark McGwire, and some red construction paper, and his home run count posted in large black numbers. And on the other side of the room, I had a picture of Sammy Sosa, and some blue construction paper, and his home run count, also posted in large black numbers. It was my side-by-side tally board, and updating it was something I looked forward to doing every day. Both players were in uncharted territory, home run-wise, so I was doing my humble little bit to get in on the fun.
But Sosa and McGwire, and then Barry Bonds, began a four-year assault on Maris’ record. Bonds broke it once, McGwire twice, and Sosa three times. And then the party was over. McGwire admitted steroids use, Sosa was reported to have failed a drug test in 2003, and Bonds, well, if you believe his story about flaxseed I have some really good season tickets in that nice ballpark out in San Francisco available to sell you.
But it was all revealed as a mirage, and in the 12 seasons since 2001, nobody has come close to hitting 62 homers in one season. That’s just fine with me. Like a field that sometimes goes unplanted in order to refresh the soil, 62 homers has had enough time to go back to being an impressive, and even an improbable, amount of home runs for a single season.
And so, with this, the 62nd post I’ve written in this space in January of 2013, I’m willing to declare that Maris’ record has been restored, at least in my eyes. Let a player make a run at 61 home runs again, and it will be as if that four-year home run explosion from 1998 to 2001 never happened in the first place. And what better way to rebuke baseball’s Steroid Era than to ct as though it never existed in the first place?