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Monday, September 10, 2001
Big Mac keeps memories alive
By Bob Klapisch
Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: This column originally appeared on ESPN.com on Sept. 9, 1998.

Every day, every home run, practically every at-bat, the nation's crush on Mark McGwire grows. He's loved not just for hitting home runs, but because he's honest and sincere. Because he is fierce, without being a bully. And because Mark McGwire respects the history he's re-writing.

We are a nation with a short attention span, and as McGwire and Sammy Sosa are only days away from eclipsing Roger Maris, it'd be easy to begin deleting the late-Yankee outfielder from our memory banks.

Be honest: how many among us still invokes the memory of Wee Willie Keeler, whose 44-game hitting streak stood until Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 straight. Now Keeler is invisible, and it's entirely possible that Maris will suffer the same fate -- especially as McGwire pushes towards 62 or 65 or even 70 homers.

The legacy of Babe Ruth overshadowed Roger Maris' run to 61 homers.

McGwire could easily hoard America's affection and let Maris vanish. But he hasn't. He won't. In the last few days, Big Mac has made a point of reminding us how an entire nation was opposed to Maris' run to 60 HRs -- even Yankee fans, who wanted Mickey Mantle, and not Maris, to break Babe Ruth's record.

"For Roger to go through what he did, especially in New York City, I don't think people appreciate how hard it was for him," McGwire said. The Cardinals' slugger has even scoffed at the asterisk then-commissioner Ford Frick placed next to Maris' 61st home run.

"Is it Roger's fault that baseball went to 162 games?" McGwire asked pointedly. "It's not his fault."

McGwire also openly professes his respect, even his admiration for Ruth, recognizing the Babe was, in his words, "the most important sports figure in the world at that time. I wish I could go back in time and meet him. I'm sure that when I pass away, I'll be able to meet him and find out what he was like."

These are the reasons it's impossible to root against McGwire. He looks into the camera and, addressing the nation, says, "let's enjoy this." He's carrying an entire sport on his massive shoulders. He's offering therapy for a people weary of presidential scandal and a free-falling Wall Street.

In fact, McGwire has even won the approval of Maris' own family. In anticipation of McGwire's historic moment, they were into St. Louis this weekend, although, sadly, Maris' widow, Patricia, experienced heart palpitation on the flight from Gainesville, Fla., and was admitted to a local hospital.

Maris' four sons, however, were in attendance and confessed to a bond with Big Mac. Without any disrespect towards Sosa, Roger Jr., 39, said that if anyone is to reach 62 homers, it should be McGwire.

"Mark's the guy who's hit 50 homers three years in a row," Maris said. "He's done a lot of good things for baseball. He's really the home run hitter of our era, and I think it'll be a major disappointment for him to be stuck on 60 and not be the guy to break the record. So I'm pulling for Mark."

Bob Klapisch of the Bergen (N.J.) Record is the national baseball writer for ESPN.com.





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