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As Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa made their run at Roger Maris’ single-season home run record in 1998, Big Mac thought he faced a higher level of scrutiny as the year unfolded.
The most recent installment in ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, Long Gone Summer, focused on the ’98 home run race, which pitted McGwire and Sosa in a head-to-head battle. During the documentary, McGwire said, “All the pressure was on me.”
The former St. Louis Cardinals slugger also recounted how he had once described himself as a “caged animal,” which didn’t go over well at the time.
McGwire was the first to best Maris’ mark when he hit his 62nd homer on Sept. 8, 1998.
He and Sosa finished with 70 and 66 home runs, respectively. McGwire’s record stood for only three years, as Barry Bonds hit 73 homers in 2001.
The added pressure McGwire felt was likely a product of his track record. He was the Rookie of the Year in 1987 when he led MLB with 49 homers, which was the most ever for a first-year player until Aaron Judge had 52 in 2017.
McGwire had also slammed 58 dingers in 1997, when he split the season between St. Louis and the Oakland Athletics.
Sosa, on the other hand, was more of a fresh face on the national stage. The Chicago Cubs right fielder had never hit more than 40 home runs over a season and was an All-Star once—McGwire had nine All-Star appearances under his belt—prior to 1998.
For most of that campaign, Sosa was the underdog in the home run race too.
Of course, the narrative around 1998 shifted in the ensuing years as that season got subsumed by the larger steroid era.