Mark McGwire : biography
The "new look" McGwire hit 42 homers and batted .268 in 1992, with an outstanding OPS+ of 175 (the highest of his career to that point), and put on a home run hitting show at the Home Run Derby during the 1992 All-Star break. His performance propelled the A’s to the American League West Division title in 1992, their fourth in five seasons. The A’s lost in the playoffs to the eventual World Series champion, the Toronto Blue Jays.
Foot injuries limited McGwire to a total of 74 games in 1993 and 1994, and just 9 home runs in each of the two seasons. He played just 104 games in 1995, but his proportional totals were much improved: 39 home runs in 317 at-bats. In 1996, McGwire belted a major league leading 52 homers in 423 at-bats. He also hit a career high .312 average, and led the league in both slugging percentage and on base percentage.
St. Louis Cardinals and the HR record chase (1997–2001)
On July 31, having already amassed 34 home runs to this point in the 1997 season, McGwire was traded from the Oakland Athletics to the St. Louis Cardinals, being the third member in just two seasons to go from Oakland to St. Louis (after Tony La Russa and Dennis Eckersley). He led the majors with 58 home runs in 1997. In the last year of his contract, there was speculation that McGwire would play for the Cardinals only for the remainder of the season, then seek a long-term deal, possibly in Southern California, where he still lives. However, McGwire signed a contract to stay in St. Louis instead. It is also believed that McGwire later encouraged Jim Edmonds, another Southern California resident who was traded to St. Louis, to forgo free agency and sign a contract with the Cardinals in 2000.
As the 1998 season progressed, it became clear that McGwire, Ken Griffey Jr., and Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa were all on track to break Roger Maris’ single-season home run record. The race to break the record first attracted media attention as the home run leader changed often throughout the season. On August 19, Sosa hit his 48th home run to move ahead of McGwire. However, later that day McGwire hit his 48th and 49th home runs to regain the lead.
On September 8, 1998, McGwire hit a pitch by the Cubs’ Steve Trachsel over the left field wall for his record-breaking 62nd home run, setting off huge celebrations at Busch Stadium. The fact that the game was against the Cubs meant that Sosa was able to congratulate McGwire personally on his achievement. Members of Roger Maris’ family were also present at the game. The ball was freely, albeit controversially, given to McGwire in a ceremony on the field by the stadium worker who found it.
McGwire finished the 1998 season with 70 home runs (including five in his last three games), four ahead of Sosa’s 66, a record that was broken three seasons later in 2001 by Barry Bonds with 73.
McGwire was honored with the inaugural Babe Ruth Home Run Award for leading MLB in home runs. Although McGwire had the prestige of the home run record, Sammy Sosa (who had fewer HR but more RBI and stolen bases) won the 1998 NL MVP award, as his contributions helped propel the Cubs to the playoffs (the Cardinals in 1998 finished third in the NL Central). Many credited the Sosa-McGwire home run chase in 1998 with "saving baseball," by both bringing in new, younger fans and bringing back old fans soured by the 1994 Major League Baseball strike .
In 1999, McGwire hit 65 home runs and drove in a league-leading 147 runs while only having 145 hits, the highest RBI-per-hit tally for a season in baseball history. Sammy Sosa, hitting 63 home runs, again closely trailed McGwire.
Statistically in 2000 and 2001, McGwire’s numbers declined relative to previous years as McGwire struggled to avoid injury (32 HR in 89 games, and 29 HR in 97 games, respectively).
McGwire ended his career with 583 home runs, which was then fifth-most in history. He led Major League Baseball in home runs five times. He hit 50 or more home runs four seasons in a row (1996–1999), leading Major League Baseball in homers all four seasons, and also shared the MLB lead in home runs in 1987, his rookie year, when he set the Major League record for home runs by a rookie with 49. McGwire had the fewest career triples (6) of any player with 5,000 or more at-bats.