It took me only three days to find out that people look at me
differently now that I've broken Roger Maris's record. I was
shaking hands with some kids and adults sitting near the field
before our game against Houston at the Astrodome last Friday
night, and I kept hearing some of them shout, "He touched me! He
touched me!" That blew me away. Two months ago nobody said that.
That tells me people have changed their perspective on me, and
it's something I'm going to have to deal with.
This is an article from the Sept. 21, 1998 issue
I hope people don't think, Well, he's a different person; look
what he's done. I'd rather they think, That's just Mark McGwire;
he did something historical, but, hey, he's just like us.
The way people across America have treated me this year, it's
almost as if we broke the record together. People told me, "I can
relate to you." Well, they did because I'm just a normal guy,
because I show emotion and because I care about other people,
especially children. So just because I broke the record, please
don't lose sight of the fact that I am still all those things.
This is what I wish: that when I go home to Southern California
after the season, my life will be the same as what it was before
the record. I want to walk into the same public gym where I've
always worked out, say hello to some friends, get my workout in
and go home. Is that possible? I hope it is.
I know the opportunities for endorsements and appearances are
pouring in. The day after I broke the record my adviser and good
friend, Jim Milner, told me, "There's no way I can handle all of
this." So we had to hire a public-relations firm just to field
all the calls. But I told Jim, "Don't even mention a thing to me
until a week or two after the season." Then I'm going to be very,
very careful about what I consider.
I'm not going to allow any opportunities to take my vacation time
away. I realize you can get caught up in all the commitments, and
the next thing you know you're in spring training. I don't want
that to happen. I want to relax. I want to play some golf. It's
the sport I played first, since I was five years old--my
handicap's 10 now, because I haven't been playing much, but it's
been as low as four. My golf swing actually comes more naturally
to me than my baseball swing.
I really want to enjoy being with my son, Matthew. My birthday is
Oct. 1; I'll be 35. His is three days later; he turns 11. For the
past few years we've taken a vacation together to celebrate our
birthdays. Last year we went to Mexico. This year we're going to
a special place, which I'll keep quiet. I'm very sensitive about
Matthew's being in the public eye. I understand people are going
to look at me differently and place more demands on me. But,
please, leave my son alone. Let him be a child.
Last Thursday was Matthew's first day of school. When Kathy, my
ex-wife, drove him there, she found a crew from a tabloid TV show
waiting for him with cameras rolling. That's not right. It's a
shame, and I hope nothing like that happens again.
It's only been in these past few days after breaking the record
that I've realized the impact I've had on people's lives. I've
received telegrams, letters and phone calls from Pete Rose,
Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Cal Ripken, Jack McDowell, Brett Favre,
Greg Norman, many of my former Oakland teammates and so many
others. Ken Griffey Jr. hired an airplane to pull a banner saying
congratulations when we were in Cincinnati. It's incredible.
See, I knew I had support, but I was so focused on what I was
doing that I didn't realize it affected people the way it did. I
was given a talent to play this game. I have the utmost respect
for everybody who plays it, and to get that back in return, and
to hear what people inside and outside baseball are saying, that
means so much to me. It's unbelievable. So, thank you to
everybody from the bottom of my heart.
But as soon as I reflect on that support, I quickly tell myself,
Hey, I've still got two weeks left in this season. I want to
finish the season strong. The first day in Cincinnati after I
broke the record, I didn't even know where I was. The second day,
I was sort of coming back to earth. Then in Houston, over the
weekend, the Astros just pitched me tough. In the first two games
I saw one good pitch to hit--and fouled it back. But I have no
doubt that in these last two weeks I can get back to where I was
and get locked in again.
A lot of people ask me if I think anyone will make a run at the
record next year. I don't know. I can't answer that until the end
of the season, when I know what the final number is. I do know
that there are five or six guys who will always hit between 40
and 50 home runs, and any one of those guys is capable of getting
to the next level. I've always said the best way to look at it is
you have to average about 10 home runs per month. That's
consistency. But being that consistent is the hardest part.
I hit a little rut in late July and early August. That's not
unusual for me. In past years when I've played a lot, I've gotten
tired about that time and then found a second wind and had strong
Septembers. What happened this year is that I got caught up in
playing every day, because if I did take a day off on the road,
the fans would get upset. I should have been thinking, O.K., what
will help me stay healthy for the whole season?
I think I missed two or three days off that I normally would have
taken, so some fatigue began to set in. I was struggling, and
everybody was asking, "What's wrong with Mark? He hasn't hit a
home run in 29 at bats or something." I got a little edgy. I
said, "What are they worried about? There are things in the world
to worry about other than Mark McGwire trying to hit a homer."
I probably shouldn't have said some of those things at the time.
But then again, I was just being who I am. Other players read
some of that stuff, and in early August guys on other teams came
up to me and said, "Hey, just relax. Enjoy this. Enjoy the ride.
What you're doing is great for the game."
I sat back and thought about it and said, "These guys are right."
Sometimes somebody has to knock you in the head.
Some people think being around Sammy Sosa in Chicago for a series
on Aug. 18 and 19 turned me around. But I made the decision to go
ahead and have fun with this before that Cubs series. I will say
this about Sammy: You can't help but see the way he reacts to the
attention. I think Sammy enjoys it so much because nobody really
talked about him before. All of a sudden he hits 20 jacks in
June, and the next thing you know he's right here. He's one funny
individual. How can you not play off him? It just so happened
that we got together right around the time I was starting to
enjoy it. I changed my mind, and then Sammy was there. He made me
think even more, Hey, this is fun. This is a game we love to
It's weird, but after that the only time I had a feeling that the
media and fans were closing in on me was the first day of a
series, which is when I had to hold a press conference. In some
of my first games after press conferences, I don't think I did
that much. I would be just getting back into the flow, and then
I'd be sort of distracted a little bit by the press conference.
Then for the rest of the series I did pretty well.
Baseball allows the media into the clubhouse up to 45 minutes
before a game. I learned I couldn't even sit in front of my
locker without someone tapping me on the shoulder and asking,
"Got a minute?" So I made it a point to get some quiet time for
myself. I'd find a back room where the media were not allowed,
and I'd sit by myself and collect my thoughts and just get myself
together. It worked. No music. No teammates. I'd just be
relaxing. One of my real good friends, Ali Dickson, taught me how
to do it--sort of meditation exercises. She showed me that this
was a way to get myself grounded again. I call it tunnel vision.
Ali's on the board of directors for my charitable foundation, and
it so happened that I had 59 home runs when she came to St. Louis
on Sept. 3 to help with a public-service announcement I filmed
for the prevention of sexual abuse of children. The next day the
Cardinals began a five-day home stand. That's when my family
started calling, asking for plane reservations and hotel rooms in
St. Louis. I was saying, "You know, guys, I don't know when I'm
going to hit a home run. They've been pitching me pretty good,
even though I've hit a few home runs the last few days. I'm
facing the Reds, and they've pretty much had my number all year,
and then there's the big series against the Cubs. I don't know."
They still wanted to come out anyway, so I had all this added
pressure of trying to do something in front of family and
friends. If you were able to take an X-ray of my insides over the
past two weeks, I'd hate to have seen it. My insides were
churning. Yes, I was feeling nervous and feeling the pressure and
trying to understand that the whole nation was watching. I
thought, They're changing the times of these games for national
television--just to see me.
But the funny thing is, I was only nervous up until the first
pitch. When the game started, I was in the flow of it. All of a
sudden everything was O.K. I felt fine. It didn't matter how many
people were watching. It came down to what I've always done: Get
a pitch to hit, and try to put a good swing on it. That's what
On the morning of Sept. 8--having had a good night's sleep after
hitting my 61st home run on my father's 61st birthday--my stomach
was turning the moment I woke up. I didn't like that feeling. It
was out of character for me to feel that way right at the start
of my day. I chased away that feeling, though, by relying on my
routine. I'm very superstitious. So I went to lunch with my
family and friends at a restaurant I regularly visit, Cardwell's
in Frontenac, Mo. One problem, though: They said they would seat
us at table 13.
The restaurant staff said, "It's O.K., it's the Starlight table."
We thought they were putting us at a different table. So we sat
down, and I said, "Is this table 13?" They said, "Well, yes, but
it's the Starlight table." So I decided, We're already sitting
down. I'm not moving now. We'll just stay here.
Over the last month I've eaten lunch a lot with Pat Kelly, one of
my teammates. Cheese pizza has been really lucky for us. So I
said, "Pat, we've got to have cheese pizza." He said, "You're
right." So we ate cheese pizza and a chicken stir fry.
All I was thinking about while driving to the ballpark that day
was, This is my last day here on this home stand. What a way to
give something back to the fans of St. Louis for the way they've
treated me since coming over here--to get number 62 at home.
The night turned out to be just perfect. Well, almost perfect. If
I could change anything about that night, it would be hitting a
home run that didn't shock me so much when it went out. I had
been so used to hitting balls well out of the park that after I
hit the pitch from the Cubs' Steve Trachsel, I thought, That's
off the wall. I've got to get going.
The next thing I knew, the ball disappeared, and I was in shock,
I was numb. I did it! I had all these things running through my
mind, and I was just floating in outer space. I can't even
remember everything I did. I do remember I saw Matthew and I saw
my teammates, and all of a sudden I was just standing there
acknowledging the crowd when I glanced over and saw the Maris
family. I just took off to their box and hugged them and told
them that their father was in my heart. I hadn't planned it. It
just happened. I knew what they were going through and the
feelings they were feeling.
I was so happy that my mother, father and son all were there. And
it meant so much to me to have Kathy and her husband, Tom, there.
She's seen me go through so many things--all the way back to
college, the minor leagues and my first couple of years in the
big leagues. She's watched me grow as a person and as a baseball
player. She told me some things in private that night that really
touched me. I got very choked up.
Back in 1984, when I was traveling with the U.S. Olympic team and
we were playing in Cooperstown, I went to the Hall of Fame. I
walked in the door, took a step or two, turned around and walked
out. I was a young kid, and I just didn't appreciate history at
the time. I was more interested in getting something to eat in
the pizza joint down the street. Do I regret it? Yes, I regret
it; it's the only time I've ever been there. But that's who I was
at the time. And you know what? Now I have a good reason to go
Before the game in which I hit number 62, I met with two
representatives from the Hall of Fame and told them I would turn
over to them the bat and ball from the record home run. After the
game I said to myself, You know what? What good is it going to do
for me to have the jersey or the batting gloves or even my shoes?
So right after the game I asked someone in the clubhouse, "Where
are the Hall of Fame guys?" Someone ran out and got them, and I
told them, "Listen, guys, you've got everything off my back." I
gave them everything. That's where the history of the game is. It
doesn't belong in my house. It belongs in the Hall of Fame. At
least I know it's safe there.
I've kept nothing for myself so far. I've been like that my whole
life. I've always loved to give things to people and see smiles
on their faces. From home run number 50 on, I gave a hat to
teammate Ray Lankford, shoes to teammates Tom Lampkin and Delino
DeShields and Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight and batting
gloves to Marlins manager Jim Leyland. I gave the jersey I wore
when I hit number 61 to my father. I gave the bat I used to hit
numbers 50 through 55 to Jim Milner, who's been a second father
to me. They both were speechless. You know what? That makes me
feel good because these people have been there for me since Day
So where do I go from here? My next big career goal is to hit 500
home runs. I have 449 now. Somebody said I have a shot at 755,
Hank Aaron's alltime career record. I think that's too far away
for me. I will say this: How high my career total climbs comes
down to my health. If I stay healthy like I have the past few
years and I put up the numbers that I'm capable of, who knows how
many more home runs I'll hit?
Anyway, I'm too focused on finishing this season strong to worry
about the years ahead. I'm not surprised that Sammy tied me at 62
on Sunday. Not for one minute did I ever think this was over. No
way. I've said before there are two weeks left in the season, and
that's a long time. Anything can happen. It's like a horse race,
with the horses jockeying back and forth. What it comes down to
is, who is hotter at the end.
I have a couple of goals that I want to reach this year: I'd love
to bat .300, though I was only at .290 after Sunday and have to
get on my horse to get there. The other goal is closest to my
heart. It's something private between Matthew and myself. On the
day before I left for spring training this year, I asked him,
"Matt, how many homers do you want me to hit this season?" He
told me a number--a number that's within reach.
What is it? I won't tell you. For now it's still a secret between
father and son. But you'll probably be able to tell if I get
there. After that one, I'll have tears in my eyes.
broke the record together."
did I think this was over."