Category: Derek

One Pitch

What does it take to go from sitting in the stands watching a game to on the field as part of the game? A lot of time and energy. Working a game as an umpire means spending hours studying the rules and mechanics, getting physically fit to meet the demands of calling a game, and suiting up with all the proper safety equipment before stepping on the field.

What does it take to go from umpiring a game to sitting in the stands? One pitch. I received this painful reminder Saturday afternoon. I was the home plate umpire for a 17U game. In the top of the 5th inning, the pitcher threw a fastball chest high, the left handed batter swung and fouled the pitch back. This minor redirection meant the baseball slammed into the right side of my throat. I do not know if I was slightly out of position in my stance, if my chest protector had slid down, or how the ball missed my mask, I wear the hockey style mask, and throat guard. All I know is I never want to experience that pain again.

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Derek working behind the plate before getting hit in the throat later in the game. (The Winning Run/ SCL)

As luck would have it my parents and wife were watching my call the game, they  were sitting 20 feet away. They said I dropped like I had been shot. I remember getting hit and I remember landing on the ground, I do not remember falling. After what seemed like forever, but was probably only a few seconds I was moving around collecting myself. I was trying to determine if I was hurt or injured. I sat up and started to move around. A coach waiting to play the next game came on the field to examine me. He is an ICU doctor. He said I was ok, but if my head started to hurt or if my neck swelled I needed to go to the Emergency Room immediately. I felt well enough to continue, so after reassuring my wife and parents and we continued the game.

At the end of the half inning my head started hurting and I was having difficulty turning my head. Clearly I had no business on a baseball field. The coach/ doctor checked me out again and said I needed to head directly to the Emergency Room. After several hours at the Emergency Room, the doctor said I am fine beyond some swelling and bruising. Relieved I avoided serious injury, I thought about how easily it could have turned out very differently.

The best I can describe getting hit in the throat with a fouled off fastball is imagine you are in a serious car crash but only to your throat. My entire right right is still sore from the impact. My throat is swollen, I still cannot full turn my head side to side. It is difficult to find a comfortable position to sit or lay down. I sound like I have been a heavy smoker for the last 50 years.

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Jesse working behind the plate at Georgia Gwinnett College. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

I asked my wife and parents individually if I turned my head at all before the ball hit me. They all said I did not move. Flinching is dangerous when you are umpiring behind the plate. If you are moving around you are opening yourself up to pain and injury. Even in some magical world where I knew the pitch was coming for my throat after it touched the bat, there is not enough time for me to move.

Even when you do everything correctly, there is no guarantee you will leave the field uninjured. It may be a baseball or a bat or a non-contact injury that ends your career. No one stays on the field forever. One pitch can hasten your leaving the field for the last time only return as a spectator. Cherish every moment, good and bad, you are on the field. You never know when you step off the field for the last time.

DJ

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Lonely Night in Gotham

It seems like only yesterday the Mets were poised to have a scary starting rotation for years to come. A rotation rivaling the Braves’ rotation in the 1990’s which had three Hall of Fame pitchers coming at you night after night. The future of the Amazings had Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, and Jacob deGrom. This rotation would dominate the division and baseball for years to come. Yeah…about that. The Dark Knight was banished from Gotham and is now pitching for the Cincinnati Reds, and even the Reds are beginning to discuss trading high on Matt Harvey before he crashes again. Noah Syndergaard has not pitched since before Memorial Day due to injury. Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler are having forgettable seasons and rumors are swirling about one or both leaving Queens. Neither would yield a huge return, but the Mets may be more concerned about getting something before their trade value becomes nothing. This leaves only Jacob deGrom on the mound for the Mets.

Even as Jacob deGrom is producing a career year, the Mets are wasting the work of their best pitcher. The Mets are terrible this year, may be time for a rebuild in Queens, even when deGrom is lights out. deGrom is leading all of baseball in ERA, FIP, and ERA+. Regardless what you think about FIP and ERA+, leading MLB in ERA, with a 1.79 ERA is no small feat. In 18 starts this season, deGrom has pitched 115 ⅓ innings, allowing 23 Earned Runs, with 142 strikeouts against only 29 walks. He also has a 0.988 WHIP. He has gone at least seven innings in 11 starts. Yet despite his brilliance, deGrom has a 5-4 record and the Mets are 7-11 when deGrom starts. No team is successful when they struggle to win with their best pitcher on the mound.

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Jacob deGrom has had to grin and bear it this year as he watches his great starts wasted by the Mets. (Michael Reaves/ Getty Images)

The Mets have scored 69 runs, 3.83 per game, in games deGrom starts. However, they have given up 70 runs, 3.88 per game. The bullpen is letting the team down, having allowed 46 runs in deGrom starts. Any close game deGrom leaves the bullpen is struggling to hold the lead or keep the game close for the offense. deGrom is 2-2 at Citi Field and 3-2 on the road. The Mets are currently 35-51 and in 4th place in the National League East, ahead of only the disaster in Miami in the standings. Not a great return for the pitching deGrom is delivering every fifth day.

The Amazings cannot expect deGrom to continue putting up these numbers with nothing to show for it. The Mets need to rebuild around deGrom or find a trade while he is hot. A pitcher like deGrom should bring back a slew of prospects that could turn the franchise around. deGrom does not reach free agency until 2021, he would be more than a trade deadline rental. Regardless what the team does, the Mets should not waste deGrom’s brilliance. The Mets are ridiculed for their decision-making, such as Bobby Bonilla and the Wilpons, but at some point the team needs to either act like a small market team that happens to play in New York or responsibility act like a big market team. Stop giving big contracts players at the back-end of their prime like Jason Bay, 4 years $66 million, and Yoenis Cespedes, 4 years $110 million. Spread the money around, spend money on the bullpen, spend money on developing a retaining guys like you did with David Wright, and hope they can avoid injury. Yes, Jacob deGrom is having an amazing season wasted by the Mets, but this is the latest symptom of the Mets inability to capitalize on the talent they draft and develop. The team needs to focus on putting a winning team on the field. Winning baseball will attract the fans and media attention and make New York a two team town.

DJ

Baseball is as America is

Baseball is America’s pastime. It is also a reflection of America. Anyone can rise to the top of the game. It doesn’t matter where you come from, only your ability on the field. You can be born the son of a saloon keeper in the Pigtown section of Baltimore, Maryland and grow up to become Babe Ruth. You can be born to poor African-American parents in Mobile, Alabama and grow up to break Babe Ruth’s home run record and establish yourself as Hank Aaron, the Home Run King. You can grow up in Commerce, Oklahoma and become Mickey Mantle, arguably the greatest switch hitter of all time. You can be the son of Italian immigrants and grow up in The Hill, St. Louis, Missouri and become Yogi Berra, one of the greatest catchers of all time. You can grow up in beautiful San Diego and become the greatest hitter of all time, as Ted Williams did. You can be a kid living in The Bronx, listening to the radio, wishing you were at the game and grow up to be Vin Scully, the greatest broadcaster ever.

Baseball can give people so much, yet it also has a shameful past. The exclusion of African-American players is indefensible. It will forever be a stain on the game. The resulting Negro Leagues are the truest American response to injustice. When faced with hatred and ignorance, players created their own leagues. Baseball in the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues was never perfect. However, African-Americans fought for their rightful place as equals in America with every pitch, hit, catch, and throw. The Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, Missouri continues to ensure this history, good and bad, is not forgotten.

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Baseball is a reflection of what is good in America, but it can also reflect what is not good in America. (www.si.com)

Baseball, like America, is a melting pot. People from all over the world come here to play the game. Ichiro crossed the Pacific and become a legend in Japan and America. One of the greatest right handed hitter of all time, Miguel Cabrera, left his native Venezuela to leave opposing players and fans in awe at his skills with a bat. Peter Moylan had a second chance at baseball after working as a pharmaceutical salesman in his native Australia. Gift Ngoepe continues to create a path for other African born players, as the South African became the first African born player to appear in a Major League game. Baseball and America takes players from everywhere in the world as Ed Porray proved, he was born at sea.

America is a true melting pot. We are not a perfect nation. We have done horrible things to our own people, from the Native Americans to African-Americans to religious minorities to the LGBTQ community. We fight and argue for what we think is right, just like in baseball. The rules that govern how we play the game and live together need updating from time to time. Change is never easy, but it is necessary. We are stronger together when we are willing to judge people by their abilities on the field and in life, and not on preconceived ideas based upon where they are from, what language they speak, or what god they worship. The wonderful thing about being an American is there is no mold to follow. Only a select few of us, when you trace your family back, are from here. Instead of telling our teammates and fellow Americans to conform, why not listen to them and learn from them to make yourself better, and by extension our team and country better.

Happy Independence Day!

DJ

Into The Fire

The romanticized version of baseball has the players as the boys of summer. Playing a children’s game on an immaculate diamond in perfect weather. In reality, those boys of summer are sweating under the hot midday sun. The umpires are feeling the heat even more than the players, literally and figuratively. Amateur baseball is almost never played in a stadium, usually it is just a diamond, some fencing, and not much else. Once summer hits in earnest, the sun begins to cook the diamond and those on it.

Umpiring during the summer can be exhausting. The games begin to blur together, especially if you work a weekend tournament. Three, four, five, or even six games in a day takes a mental tole on you in the best conditions. Switching out with a partner to break up working games behind the plate or in the field does help maintain your mental focus, but regardless of position the time on the field wears on you. Adding to the stress and strain are parents and coaches who sometimes forget baseball is just a game. One of the first things you learn when you begin umpiring is if you take everything people say about a call you made to heart you will not make it as an umpire. Studying the rule book, proper mechanics, proper angles, and hustle are an umpires best friend. Taking all of these challenges then adding 100 degree heat can make the best umpires question themselves.

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On almost every close call umpires are making at least half the people ate a game unhappy.  (Alan Mothner /Associated Press)

It is a hot summer day, then put on plate shoes, pants, ball bags, a chest protector, and a mask. This is a recipe to make it look like you went swimming. Personally I wear the hockey mask which gives me better protection around my entire head, but what I gain in protection I lose in air flow. The hockey masks breathes fairly well, but at a certain point sweat begins to pour down your face. My chest protector has a band across the chest, which pushes it away from my body slightly. This allows better airflow, and keeps me cooler. While the band helps prevent heat rash, it does not mean I am cool, only I am cooking not being broiled. My shin guards and plate shoes fit snugly against my legs and feet. As you would imagine what I gain in protection I lose in coolness. I also wear a cup, I will never step on a baseball field without on. Getting hit in the cup is painful enough, I have no desire to experience what it is like getting hit there without a cup. Every piece of equipment is necessary to protect me. I would never work behind the plate without all of it on. A single missed pitch by the catcher or foul ball are not worth the extra coolness.

Umpires move on every pitch. This constant motion, especially in the heat, wears you down. Squatting behind the plate and in the field to watch the pitch. Moving from behind the plate, down the first base line to watch for a pulled foot at first, or moving out to gain a better angle on a fly ball to the outfield. Running with the runner around the bases to ensure they touch each base and to be in a good position to make an accurate call regardless of the base. Umpires are constantly moving and they do not retreat to a dugout between innings. Finding any amount of shade, no matter how small is an oasis on a desert diamond. The fight to stay hydrated and eat enough to maintain your physical health is vital if an umpire is going to survive a long hot weekend.

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Night games can be a saving grace. Jesse might still be hot, but at least the sun is no longer beating down on him. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

Umpiring in the heat is no joke. If you do not take care of yourself before and during the games, you can quickly find yourself in big trouble. Dehydration and sunburn are painful reminders that you were not prepared for the conditions. Any endeavor which requires long stretches of focus and physical exertion quickly teach you to take care of yourself. You did not get enough sleep last night? Great, you will be missing pitches and hearing about it from coaches and fans. You have been eating a garbage diet? You probably will not withstand the physical toll multiple games in a day takes on you. You were not hydrated to start the day and/or you have not continued to hydrate in the heat? Your muscles will cry for mercy, your mental focus will escape you, and once you have dug yourself a hole it is nearly impossible to get out while on the field.

Few people begin umpiring for the money. It is a nice side job, but doing it for the money will quickly show, as money is not always the best motivator to improve. Every baseball game has three teams; the home team, the visiting team, and the umpires. I do not mean the umpires are trying to win or make calls against a team. Each team has a job to do; the home and visiting team are trying to score the most runs before the end of the game, the umpires are working to ensure the game is played according to the rules of baseball. When an umpire does not properly prepare for a game they are letting their partner down. Yes, the heat can get to anyone, no matter how well prepared they are. This does happen. However, everyone should do their best to be ready for what awaits them on the diamond. The pressure cooker that is umpiring only gets more intense as the temperature rises.

DJ

Here Comes The Pain!!!

People naturally try to avoid things they know will cause them pain. You only touch a hot stove once to understand it is not something you want to experience again. Getting hit by a baseball is not something people enjoy, it hurts. Baseballs can leave nasty bruises and broken bones if they hit a person just so. A batter’s natural reaction is to jump out of the way of the baseball when they believe the pitch is going to hit them. This is part of the reason most people have difficulty hitting a curveball. Your mind is telling you of the impending danger, yet you also know you need to hit the ball. The vast majority of people are never able to conquer this fear, stay in the box, and drive a curveball.

Baseball is a hard game played by hard people. It takes a toll on your body. Among those who are able to withstand the fear induced by curveballs is an even more select group, these players are those who turn getting hit by a pitch into an art form and a weapon. A run counts the same if you hit a home run or if you get hit by a pitch and then come around to score. These brave souls sacrifice their bodies to get on base. They are sacrificing themselves for the good of the team.

The official rule governing the hit by pitch (HBP), 5.05(b)(2), states:

“(b) The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when:

(2) He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (A) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (B) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball.”

It is the second part of the rule, “The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball”, which often leads to heated debates about whether a batter attempted to avoid being hit by the pitch. Ultimately it is a judgement call by the umpire. This has lead to some players becoming creative in an attempt to be hit by the pitch. Some players are not afraid to be hit by a pitch and will subtly go out of their way to get hit.

The hit by pitch king is Hughie Jennings. He was hit by a pitch 287 times during his career. Jennings led the National League in HBP five consecutive seasons, 1894-1898. He was hit 51 times during the 1896 season, which remains the single season record. Jennings followed up his record setting season by being hit 46 times in 1897 and 1898, which are still the third and fourth highest single season HBP totals. Career record require longevity, Jennings played in the majors in 18 seasons, his last was in 1918 at the age of 49. However, he appeared in six or fewer games during his final six seasons, during which he had only one HBP. Jennings averaged 36 HBP per 162 games. All those bruises from being hit raised Jennings’ career OBP from .357 to .391. Was it all worth it? It is hard to judge but Jennings is forever enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. You be the judge.

The art of the HBP was not a weapon only during the dead ball era, it is alive and well today. Baseball could be in its Golden Age of the HBP. Eight of the top 20 in the career HBP rankings have played in Major League Baseball since 2002. The art and weaponization of the HBP was championed by Craig Biggio and today continues to be carried on by Chase Utley and Anthony Rizzo.

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Chase Utley will take a pitch to the shoulder if it means getting on base. (Jenny Goldstick and Gemma Kaneko/ MLB.com)

Craig Biggio made a career out of doing whatever was necessary to win a baseball game. He willingness to transition from catching to the outfield to second base to help the team with his defense skills wherever they were needed on the diamond. When it came to the offensive side of Biggio’s game he understood his job was to get on base ahead of teammates like Jeff Bagwell. Driving the ball and hustling out of the box or using his elbow guard, and the rest of his body, to reach first base did not matter to Biggio. During his 20 year Major League career, Biggio was hit 285 times, just two behind the all time record. He led the National League five times in HBP. He was hit by a pitch 16 times per every 162 games played during his career. This durability and toughness are what helped Biggio be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The same sort of durability and toughness Biggio displayed throughout his Hall of Fame career is seen in Chase Utley. Utley is playing his 16th Major League season and has been hit by a pitch 200 times. He is the active leader in HBP, he ranks eighth all time, and first all time among left handed batters. Utley’s willingness to use hit body to get on base has seen him lead the National League three times in this painful category. Averaging 17 hit by pitches per 162 games played, Utley has put together a career that will get him some serious consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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It hurts, but Anthony Rizzo uses hit body to get on base. (www.sportsonearth.com)

The old guard of players like Biggio and Utley have shown the younger generation of players the value of using their body to reach first base. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is positioning himself to make a legitimate run at the upper echelons of the record book. In his eighth Major League season, Rizzo has already been hit by 106 pitches, which ties him with Barry Bonds for 74th all time. He is currently ranked 22nd all time for left handed batters. Rizzo could threaten to break into the top 50 all time by the end of this season. He is averaging 18 hit by pitches per 162 games played, and as he enters his prime Rizzo is demonstrating his durability and toughness. Rizzo will turn 29 in August, he should have many more seasons of practicing this painful art ahead of him.

There is an art to getting hit by a pitch. Sometimes it is unavoidable, other times a batter attempts to avoid a fastball to the head. Some players willingly stick a leg or shoulder out on a hanging curveball to reach first base. No one enjoys unnecessary pain. However, baseball is a hard game played by hard people, at every levels. The willingness to endure pain to help the team win is a skill few possess. There are a select few who are willing and able be hit by a pitch if it means helping the team. Rizzo and the next generation of HBP artists need to remember one thing. Whatever you do, do not rub it.

DJ

They Called Me God

Every umpire, regardless how long they have been calling games, wants every call to be correct. Perfection is the unattainable goal. Knowing the rules is only half the battle, umpires must enforce the rules, often quickly, otherwise a baseball game can descend into a night at the fights. Hall of Fame umpire Doug Harvey might be as close to a perfect umpire that baseball has ever seen. He quoted rules by verse like a theologian. It is little wonder he earned the nickname God. In his book, They Called Me God, written with Peter Golenbock, Harvey recounts his path to and his long tenure in the major leagues. The ups and downs along the way, both on and off the field.

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Doug Harvey was born to be an umpire, no one ever doubted that. (The Doug Harvey Collection)

Harvey, like so many umpires, fell in love with the game and umpiring was a way to stay in the sport long after his playing abilities ran out. His ability to call baseball, and basketball, games at the highest level left no doubt about his abilities. The Called Me God reads like a best practices handbook for all umpires, but especially those early in their careers that are working hard to improve. Harvey not only talks about making the time to study the rule book, but he also shows how those long hours of studying the rule book over and over again makes you a better umpire. The ability to cite rules, such as the balk rule or the legality of the third to first move enabled Harvey to handle a manager who was trying to argue that Harvey made a mistake. Once Harvey turned the tables on the manager few ever questioned his authority again. Harvey’s dedication to his craft meant players and managers had little choice but to give him the respect he demanded. Doug Harvey also expected professionalism from everyone on the field and he exuded professionalism. Harvey earned the nickname God from his near infallible judgement on the field, his mastery of the rule book, which caused few people to question his calls; plus the draining of a flooded dugout essentially parting the waters helped too.

The Called Me God is an easy read for everyone. There is excellent information and insight for those who umpire, yet the information is accessible to everyone who loves the game of baseball. Reading the rule book is necessary to understand how to properly umpire a game, but Harvey wrote a case book that takes you out of the rule book and onto the field for real life application. It is this honest story telling that engages the reader and draws them in, leaving them wanting to know more. Harvey tells the good with the bad, he does not sugar coat the toll umpiring takes on the individual physically and emotionally, as well as their family. The long hours at the ball field, the late nights followed by the early mornings push people to exhaustion before they even step onto the field to be judge and jury. Umpiring is demanding, and for those who dedicate themselves to the craft the game of baseball will provide them with love and memories for a lifetime. If umpiring has taught me anything it is how little I know about the game of baseball. So who better to learn about calling the game than God himself?

DJ

The Summer of 1998: 20 Years Later

It has been 20 years since the dawn of the 1998 baseball season. The season would see one of the great teams of all time as the Yankees marched towards the World Series, meanwhile Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing the single season home run record. Knowing what we know now about many of the players who helped revive baseball that summer does diminish some of the fondness. However as Mark McGwire famously said before Congress, “I am not here to talk about the past.”

The 1994 players strike severely damaged baseball. The cancellation of the World Series and the delayed start of the 1995 season saw fans turn their backs on the game. Arguing who is blame, the players or the owners, for this dark time in baseball is for another day, what mattered then was how would the game win back the fans it lost. Some fans still see 1994 as the death of baseball, don’t believe me check out this Facebook group which has more than 22,000 members. Right or wrong baseball needed a season to get its fans back.

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Cal Ripken Jr. gave baseball a moment it needed to draw fans back to the game. (REUTERS/ Gary Hershorn/Files)

Baseball got a much needed boost when Cal Ripken Jr. played his 2,131st consecutive game, passing Lou Gehrig for most consecutive games played on September 6, 1995. This was a moment baseball desperately needed showing the good of the game. It was however, a moment. Baseball needed more than one night of glory, it needed a season of suspense and wonderment.

The 1998 New York Yankees are one of the greatest teams ever assembled. The Boston Red Sox won 92 games, yet finished 22 games behind the Yankees in the division. The Yankees finished the season 114-48. The Bronx Bombers had eight players with at least 17 home runs, five players with at least 84 RBI, and eight players with 21 or more doubles. The Yankees hit .288 as a team. On the mound, all five Yankee starters had at least 12 wins, a team ERA of 3.82, with the starters averaging 6 ⅔ inning per start, plus Mariano Rivera nailing down 36 saves out of the bullpen. In the Playoffs, the Yankees swept the Texas Rangers in the American League Divisional Series three games to none, allowing only one run. In the American League Championship Series, the Yankees dispatched the Cleveland Indians in six games. In the World Series, New York swept the San Diego Padres in four games. The 98 win Padres were no match for the Yankees. The biggest team in baseball helped put the game back into people’s lives as they rolled through the season and playoffs. Yankee dominance helped, but the primary attraction was in the National League.

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There was little drama as the Yankees swept the World Series. (Jeff Haynes/ AFP/ Getty Images)

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa later became the poster children for what was wrong with baseball, but in the summer of 1998 they were what made baseball relevant again for much of the country. Divisional rivals on two of the most prominent teams in the sport, McGwire and Sosa embarked on a home run race that captured the attention of the country. When Roger Maris broke the single season home run record held by Babe Ruth, there was backlash. People felt Ruth’s record should be left alone. When Maris ultimately hit home run number 61 in 1961 he did it in game 162, which many believe meant his record deserved an asterisk as he took more games than Ruth’s 154 game schedule in 1927. If McGwire, Sosa, or some other slugger could hit 60 home runs fewer than 154 games they would hold the record.

McGwire hit 11 home runs by the end of April, only to hit 16 in May to bring his season total to 27 as the calendar turned to June. On May 22nd, Sosa had only 9 home runs against McGwire’s 24. Over the next six weeks Sosa got red hot, hitting 24 home runs. Heading into the All Star Break, McGwire lead Sosa 37 home runs to 33. The race for 62 was on. McGwire hit his 50th home run of the season on August 20th, Sosa followed with his 50th three days later on August 23rd. However in between a whirlwind began on August 22nd regarding McGwire’s use of Androstenedione. McGwire maintained his use of Andro was legal and it did not give him any added benefits on the field. This is perhaps the clearest beginning of the steroid era entering public knowledge. The use of Andro did little to distract the public from the frenzy of the home run chase. September 8th saw McGwire hit his shortest home run of the season, 341 feet, just clearing the left field wall in Busch Stadium. McGwire and the Cardinals were hosting Sosa and the Cubs that night. After initially missing first base in the midst of his joy, quickly retreating to touch the missed base, McGwire rounded the bases to officially set the new single season home run mark at 62. Sosa would tie McGwire at 62 home runs on September 13th. As the 1998 season wound down the question turned to how high McGwire and Sosa would push the home run record. For the only time all season Sosa took the lead on September 25th, when he hit his 66th and final home run of the season. McGwire would finish with a flurry, hitting five home runs in the last three games of the season to finish with 70 home runs.

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The home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa helped revive baseball one home run at a time. (AP Photo/ Beth A. Keiser)

There was no doubt both McGwire and Sosa broke the single season home run record, Ruth’s and Maris’. Sosa would be named the National League Most Valuable Player, while McGwire got his name in the record books. The summer of chasing Ruth and Maris brought baseball the excitement back it lost in the 1994 players strike. The chase between McGwire and Sosa, coupled with the total dominance of the Yankees gave baseball the season it needed to win back fans and rebuild trust.

20 years have passed since the summer of 1998. We have learned so much about the men who played that summer. Far too many had their abilities aided by steroids and other performance enhancers. The steroid era was on full display, we just did not know it yet. The revival of baseball was both helped and hurt by the steroid era, many players have since fallen from grace. The game continues to grow and much of the magic I remember as a kid has returned. The summer of 1998 helped revive baseball, and yet my most vivid memory from that summer is having no interest in any of it. 1998 was my last season playing organized baseball. I had a coach who took the fun out of the game. He would scream and yell when the players, myself included, did not get a hit. He changed my batting stance over and over again. I came to dread going to baseball practice and games. The joy of playing baseball was gone. A year or so later I wanted to play for a travel team, but I was late to the tryout we did not get out of the car. This is how my baseball career ended. I am under no illusion I was good enough to play professionally, maybe not even in high school. However, one person ruined baseball, it took years for my love of the game to return. I hope he still remembers how great those handful of victories were for our Spring 11/12U rec league team 20 years ago.

DJ