Monday, September 8, 2008

10 Years Ago Today - The Pinnacle of Major League Baseball

By Tony Mazur

It's still hard to believe 1998 was ten years ago.

On September 8th, 1998, baseball history was made. At 8:18 p.m. EST, St. Louis Cardinals' slugger Mark McGwire ripped a line drive over the left field fence at the old Busch Stadium off Cubs' RHP Steve Trachsel, giving him the single-season home run record at 62. McGwire would end the '98 season with 70 long balls, and has since been surpassed by Barry Bonds a mere three years later.

The nineties brought forth many changes to the game of baseball. In 1991, Chicago's Comiskey Park II (now U.S. Cellular Field) broke the trend of the multipurpose stadiums and began the wave of the traditional baseball facilities.

Then comes 1994. What was a promising year for players like Frank Thomas, Matt Williams, and Tony Gwynn, and teams like the Chicago White Sox and Montreal Expos, it all came to an abrupt end in mid August.

Outside of Cleveland and New York, Major League Baseball needed a godsend. What a better way to get folks to the ballpark then by piling up a ton of offense.

Welcome back to 1998. A time when Britney was still a virgin, Jamal Anderson was doing the "Dirty Bird", and Bill Clinton was trying to figure out how to remove stains from a blouse.

We all remember the McGwire-Sosa race to Roger Maris's 61, but we forget about the entire season. Four players (McGwire, Sosa, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Greg Vaughn) hit over 50 home runs, and a whopping 13 players hit over 40. Ready for more? How about 33 players hitting over 30! 33! And some of these players weren't household names, even at the time (Jeromy Burnitz, Dean Palmer, Ray Lankford, Henry Rodriguez).

Come on back to 2007. Prince Fielder was one shy of his father's record of 51 homers in 1991, but he was the only player in the Majors to have at least 50. Ryan Howard and Adam Dunn both had at least 40. 16 players hit between 30-36 dingers in 2007, which is still a lot, but no where close to what is now known as the "Steroid Era".

This comes back down to the issue of performance-enhancing drugs. Whether or not McGwire, Bonds, or Sosa were taking 'roids, people were glued to their television sets. I know I was.

We're in the midst of pennant races in both the American and National Leagues, and all I hear from ESPN, Fox Sports, and even sportstalkCLEVELAND, is the mediocre week in the NFL and NCAA football. I haven't heard anything about the Dodgers stealing first place from Arizona, and I haven't heard about the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on the verge of clinching the AL West this week. Nor did I hear anything about Cliff Lee winning his 21st game of the year.

Nope, it's all about the poor excuse of a football game from both the Browns and the Buckeyes.

In 1998, Major League Baseball had the spotlight. Water cooler discussions and recess gatherings all had to do with last night's baseball game.

The question is, what really drove the casual fan away from baseball? Was it the juiced-up players, or was it just lack of interest? It seems comparable to the NBA following the strike and Jordan's second retirement.

So when we look back on that magical night ten years ago in St. Louis, Missouri, let us try to fix this broken game. I love what is going on in the game of baseball today. Let's try to bring back the casual viewer, and not shun him/her for "not being a true fan".

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