Baseball played for the glory of the great 1998 home run chase. For all the media attention that the chase for the single season home run record brought the game, the shaming of the players involved in the raise earned the game a terrible black eye. Baseball had always been tied to its numbers. The statistical heritage in baseball was more important than in other sports. A .300 hitter has been considered the benchmark of excellence for decades, and home run numbers had been fairly consistent since the end of the Dead Ball Era.
The game changed in the late 1990s. Power numbers went off the charts and conventional baseball wisdom out the window. Home runs became the core of baseball offense, and almost every position on the field was expected to generate power. The faces of the power explosion were Mark McGwire and Sammie Sosa. In 1998 and 1999 they shattered records for home runs in single seasons and helped to generate interest in baseball through their long ball exploits.
Fans adored the pair and Major League Baseball marketed them as the reason to come out the old ball park. Years later and in front of a congressional panel, baseball paid for embracing the sluggers.
During a congressional inquiry into performance enhancing drugs in sports both McGwire and Sosa were called to answer questions. McGwire gave an embarrassing stammering performance where he said the he, “Don’t want to talk about the past.” Sosa, who had spent more than 20 years in the United States at this point feigned that he did not understand the questions and spoke in broken Spanglish.
McGwire later admitted to steroid use. Sosa never did, but his name showed up on the Mitchell Report as someone who tested positive. The numbers that baseball historians treasured for so long had become tainted by something that could not be fixed with a simple asterisk.