September 27, 1998: Mark McGwire hits his 70th home run of the season

With two blasts on the final day of the 1998 season, Mark McGwire established a new plateau for MLB sluggers by reaching 70 home runs for the season.

The 34-year-old slugger set a torrid pace from the outset of the 1998 campaign, beginning with a grand slam in the Cardinals’ season-opening win. On July 26, he hit his 44th home run, breaking Johnny Mize’s franchise record set in 1940. That proved to be merely a precursor to Roger Maris’s 1961 mark of 61 home runs in a single season. On September 8, McGwire became the new home run king when he hit his 62nd home run of the season.

Of course, with almost three weeks remaining in the season, McGwire wasn’t satisfied. He entered the Cardinals’ season finale against the Expos with 68 home runs.

He started his historic day with a first-inning single. Center fielder Brian Jordan brought home his 91st RBI of the season on a ground ball, and Fernando Tatis led off the second inning with a home run that gave St. Louis a 2-0 lead.

The Expos tied the game in the third as Vladimir Guerrero drove in a run with a single and catcher Michael Barrett added an RBI double.

In the bottom half of the inning, McGwire hit his 69th home run of the season to left field. Not only did the fans at the stadium rise to their feet in celebration, St. Louis fans at the Rams game at the Trans World Dome roared their approval as well. Unfortunately, quarterback Tony Banks and the Rams offense had just lined up for a crucial third-and-9 play. Unable to hear Banks’ signals, St. Louis was flagged for a false start.

“We come up to the line and we can’t hear the quarterback,” tight end Ernie Conwell said. “We can’t hear anything.”[1]

“I figured it had something to do with Mark McGwire,” Banks said. “It’s hard not to be interested in what he’s doing.”[2]

Back at Busch Stadium, Expos shortstop Orlando Cabrera hit a solo home run of his own in the fourth inning to tie the game 3-3. The score remained deadlocked until McGwire proved the difference in the seventh inning.

Carl Pavano, pitching in relief for the Expos, retired the first two batters he faced before Joe McEwing and J.D. Drew hit back-to-back singles to bring McGwire to the plate. On the first pitch he saw, a fastball up in the zone, McGwire launched the ball down the left-field line for a three-run homer.

“It was a matter of me staying within myself and getting a pitch to hit, and it happened,” McGwire said. “J.D. swung at the first pitch, so I said, ‘I might as well be aggressive.’”[3]

As McGwire circled the bases, he slapped hands with first-base coach Dave McKay, gave Expos second baseman Wilton Guerrero a high-five, and shook hands with Cabrera. At third base, he embraced Expos third baseman Shane Andrews and gave third-base coach Rene Lachemann a forearm bash. As McGwire crossed home plate, Barrett shook his hand before McGwire exchanged his gut-punch celebration with Drew and McEwing.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” McGwire said. “It blows me away. I think it’s going to take longer for this whole season to sink in. I can’t wait to get home and look at the tapes and read the magazines and read the newspaper articles and let that sink in about what I did about hitting 62. But reaching the 70 plateau, I think it’s going to take a little bit longer.”[4]

After receiving congratulations from his teammates in the dugout, McGwire climbed the dugout steps for a curtain call before a raucous Busch Stadium crowd.

“Actually, 70 almost felt like 62, with the crowd, the players on the Expos shaking my hand …” McGwire said. “I’m speechless, really.”[5]

McGwire’s final home run of the season proved to be the difference in the 6-3 final score. John Frascatore earned the win in relief and Juan Acevedo earned his 15th save of the season.

Pavano took the loss after allowing McGwire’s 70th home run of the season.

“He’s a massive human being. He’s a big dude,” Pavano said. “He’s so powerful, and he hit a good pitch. I didn’t lay it in there. I was going to go after him. He went right after me and hit a home run. I guess he won.

“I gave up a home run to the best home run hitter in history. If you’re going to give up a home run, it ought to be to him.”[6]

McGwire finished the day 3-for-3 with a walk, two homers, and four RBIs. His line for the season was even more impressive, as he finished the year with a .299 batting average, .470 on-base percentage, and a .752 slugging percentage.

“That is something nobody’s really talked about – I’ve hit a lot of home runs, but I’ve maintained an average and I’m proud of it,” McGwire said.[7]

In addition to his 70 home runs, he finished the year with 147 RBIs and 130 runs scored. He placed second in that season’s NL MVP voting and won the Silver Slugger Award at first base.

“It isn’t just new heights,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “It’s like he’s gone somewhere in the stratosphere. It’s just incredible.”[8]

After the game, McGwire was presented with the St. Louis Award, an honor presented to those who have made an outstanding contribution or brought great distinction to the St. Louis community.[9]

“I think (the record) will stand for a while,” McGwire said. “I know how grueling it is to do what I’ve done this year. Will it be broken someday? Could be. Will I be alive? Possibly. If I’m still playing, I’ll definitely be there, or if I’m not playing, I’ll definitely be there. And if I’m still playing, I’ll ask them to get me out of (the game) and I’ll go there.”[10]

Though it had taken 37 seasons for someone to break Maris’s record, McGwire’s mark lasted just three years before Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001. McGwire was not in attendance.

In 4 ½ seasons in St. Louis, McGwire hit 220 home runs, giving him 583 for his career. McGwire’s career accolades included 12 all-star selections, three Silver Slugger awards, and a Gold Glove in 1990.

In 2010, prior to being hired as the Cardinals’ hitting coach, McGwire admitted that he used steroids at various points in his career, including during the 1990s and the 1998 season.

“I’m sure people will wonder if I could have hit all those home runs had I never taken steroids,” McGwire said. “I had good years when I didn’t take any, and I had bad years when I didn’t take any. I had good years when I took steroids, and I had bad years when I took steroids. But no matter what, I shouldn’t have done it and for that, I’m truly sorry.”[11]

McGwire was inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2017.


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[1] Jeff Gordon, “Rams fans ask: How many days until spring training?” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 28, 1998.

[2] Jeff Gordon, “Rams fans ask: How many days until spring training?” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 28, 1998.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Even Cardinals slugger can’t believe he did it,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 28, 1998.

[4] Mike Eisenbath, “70” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 28, 1998.

[5] Mike Eisenbath, “70” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 28, 1998.

[6] Stu Durando, “No. 70 surprises Montreal hurlers,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 28, 1998.

[7] Rick Hummel, “Even Cardinals slugger can’t believe he did it,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 28, 1998.

[8] Vahe Gregorian, “La Russa can’t find words to describe 70,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 28, 1998.

[9] Mike Eisenbath, “70” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 28, 1998.

[10] Mike Eisenbath, “70” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 28, 1998.

[11] “McGwire apologizes to La Russa, Selig,” ESPN.com, www.espn.com/mlb/news/story?id=4816607.