Baseball Ink

Baseball The Way It Was Meant To Be

McGwire 17 HR Behind Mantle

by Raymond Mileur

St. Louis—I sat behind home plate that Sunday and watched Mark McGwire hit a monster bash well into the left-field upper deck. This was Big Mac's second home run of the day—the 536th of his career—and it tied him with Mickey Mantle for the eighth spot on the all-time home run list. I didn't realize it until I got home after the game.

Somehow, I missed the story.

I grew up a Mickey Mantle fan. In 1964 I rooted for the Yankees against my now-favorite St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards beat the Yanks in seven games, but Mickey remained "the greatest." An excerpt from All My Octobers, the former New York Times Bestseller by Mickey Mantle and Mickey Herskowitz, sums it all up:

"To all Americans, Mickey Mantle epitomizes the Golden Age of American Sport: He is the quintessential hero of a time when much was right with the world, and nothing was ever wrong with the Yankees."

Mickey was an athletic phenomenon in the greatest dynasty baseball has ever seen: the days when he and his Yankee teammates made it to twelve World Series in just fourteen years. However, as the reporters scrambled to McGwire's locker after the game that Sunday, the focus was again on the home runs. Lost was the fact the Cardinals were losing games that they should have been winning, losing 8 of their last 11 games and they were lucky to get out of town without being swept by the Dodgers at home. All focus was on the fact that the Cardinal slugger had just passed Jimmie Foxx and tied Mickey Mantle in the same day in career home runs.

"But like I've said before, it's all not really going to sink in until I retire," McGwire said. "I'm passing Hall of Famers, but I have got a lot left in me."

The press and the fans have McGwire chasing Mike Schmidt for Number 7 on the list (just 12 more homers) and then onto Reggie Jackson's 563 (27 to go). Then comes Harmon Killebrew at 573 and Frank Robinson's 586. By the end of this season it is conceivable that Big Mac will only trail Willie Mays, Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron. As for McGwire, he is just playing baseball.

So I missed the story that day—for at least for awhile. Or perhaps everyone else missed it.

You see, Mark McGwire is in St. Louis to win a Championship and a World Series ring. He plays baseball, and he knows the home runs will come, but he would give up all the home runs in the future if it would help the Cardinals win it all now.

The real story is that McGwire is not playing against Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt, Reggie Jackson, Harmon Killebrew or the rest of the members on the home run list. He is playing against the Astros, Reds, Pirates, Cubs, Brewers and the rest of the National League for a pennant and return to the World Series.

The Mickey Mantle home run record Big Mac would like to break is Mantle's mark of 18 World Series home runs. McGwire has one homer in three World Series appearances with the Oakland A's. Perhaps he'll get his chance to close the gap this season.

McGwire turns 37 this October and shows no signs of slowing down. In 1998 when he hit 70 homers, Mac homered once every 7.3 at-bats. This year he is hitting one every 5.9 at-bats. It is conceivable that if the Cardinals can pull it together, McGwire could have a chance to break Mickey Mantle's coveted World Series home run record with just to three trips to the October classic. It could be possible if each Series goes the full seven games.

But he has to get there first.

We are witnessing history as we watch this great slugger—he is the best there is and perhaps ever was—but a few more trips to the post-season would close out a Hall of Fame career in style.

A World Championship, not another home run record—that's the story.

I'll see you at the ballpark, and God bless Mark McGwire and Mickey Mantle.