Sammy Sosa finally lead the National League in home runs during the 2000 season. In a surprising twist, he only hit 50 home runs that season, which was his lowest total in three seasons. His 1998 and 1999 seasons were two of the greatest statistical offensive showings in baseball history. Either of his home run totals for 1998 or 1999 would have set the single season record if not for the exploits of Mark McGwire.
McGwire hit 70 home runs in 1998, which shattered the historic record of 61 home runs in 1961 by Roger Maris. McGwire and Sosa were honored as saviors of the game during the 1998 season. They bashed home runs at prolific rates and appealed to their respective fan bases. McGwire was a no-nonsense first baseman, a massive Irish slugger who seemed to be from a different era in baseball. Fans in St. Louis embraced the slugger who preferred to let his bat do the talking.
The happy-go-lucky nature that Sosa displayed during the 1998 season played well amid the party atmosphere of Chicago’s Northside. The Chicago Cubs were baseball’s “lovable losers”, and Cubs fans were happy to have anything to grab onto. They clasped on to Sosa and “Slammin’ Sammie” did not disappoint. He hit prolific shots that often landed on Waveland Ave. outside of Wrigley Field.
When McGwire hit his 62nd home run of the season to pass Maris, the Cardinals were playing the Cubs in St. Louis. The pair embraced and celebrated the moment together. Baseball had seemingly entered a new era on the backs of very different sluggers who starred on two of baseball’s most popular franchises. The home run race brought out fans in great numbers and seemed to heal the wounds of the 1994 baseball strike. But it was the home run numbers that would soon be called into question, and baseball fans no longer remember the 1998 season fondly.