Tuesday, September 8, 1998, Busch Stadium, Season Loge Reserve, section 250, row 10, seat 11. I was there, when former St.Louis Cardinals' slugger, Mark McGwire hit home run number "62", surpassing the single season home run record, Roger Maris had set at "61" in 1961.
It was so surreal in later innings, when the mighty Big Mac came to bat and the scoreboard showed in giant numbers his 62 home runs. Was I dreaming, it can't be, no one was going to ever break Roger Maris' home run record, it just couldn't happen.
McGwire went on to hit 70 home runs before the 1998 season was over. After 37 years the great home run record fell and a new one was set. Seventy home runs, that winter I recall thinking, now there is a record no one will ever break.
Then cameBarry Bonds, just three seasons later. In his entire career, Bonds had never hit more than 49 home runs in a season. He was already 37 years old, about 10 years passed a baseball player's prime playing age.
Bonds was in the middle of a pennant race, unlike McGwire in 1998, with the Cardinals out of contention, Big Mac saw pitches that Barry Bonds wasn't going to get to see.
I thought McGwire's record was going to stand for at least another 37 years.
It's not that Barry really didn't get to see a lot of pitches, it's just that most of them were out of the strike zone. Bonds walked an amazing 177 times.
That's a lot of walking. Let's see, it's 90 feet to first base. You take that and times it by 177 walks and that equals 17523 feet. Holy Cow, that's 3.3 miles! I don't think I walked that far, that year.
It happen, just three years, after Mark McGwire had hit 70 home runs, Barry Bonds hit 73, another record broken.
On a wall in my office, is a home plate with an image ofHall of Famer, Cal Ripken and the number 2131, representing the day Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's record of consecutive games played. Gehrig's record was another one, that was never going to be broken.
Among the other sacred records, there'sHank Aaron's 755 home runs, that broke Babe Ruth's once unbreakable record of 714 home runs. Ty Cobb's 4190 base hits, a record broken in my lifetime by Pete Rose' 4256 base hits, and you can go on and on, as record tend to fall on a daily basis.
They say all records are made to be broken. That is, except this one, Mickey Mantle's 18 World Series Home Runs.
Mickey Mantle, the mere mention of his name takes me back to a time of innocence when our heroes were perfect. Mantle was my first baseball hero, though somewhat past his prime in the first World Series I can remember watching and understanding in 1964, the Mick could do no wrong.
You couldn't grow up in the baby boom generation and not be a Mickey Mantle fan. Writer Maury Allen said in his book "Memories of Mick", "I know that if he is not the best the game has ever seen, he was certainly the most loved."
A series of injuries beginning with stepping in a drain at Yankee field to avoid colliding with the Yankee Clipper Joe DiMaggio and a lifestyle of hard-partying prevented Mickey from becoming without a doubt the best baseball player ever.
From 1951 thru 1968, the Mick, led theNew York Yankees to a dozen pennants and seven World Championships. On the way to collecting those championship rings, the greatest switch hitter ever, hit 536 home runs, 18 World Series home runs (a record that will never be broken), appeared in 20 All-Star games and won the Triple Crown.
To Americans, Mickey Mantle epitomizes the Golden Age of baseball, what was once the great American past time.
Why won't this record be broken?
It comes down to World Series at-bats and the current state of the game today.
If we are to consider, if and when this record must be broken, as some would suggest, all records must be broken, we must take a look at the contenders and their chances to surpass the 18 home run mark.
In order to break the record you have to get to the World Series, herein lies the biggest obstacle. Getting there.
A look at the World Series over the past 10 years should give us insight into those potential opportunities.
From 1995 through 2005 the following teams made appearances in the World Series;
From the American League;
New York Yankees, (6 times) - 2003, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996
Cleveland Indians, (2 times) - 1997, 1995
Chicago White Sox, - 2005
Boston Red Sox, - 2004
Anaheim Angels, - 2002
Toronto Blue Jays, - 1993
From the National League;
Atlanta Braves, (3 times) - 1999, 1996, 1995
Florida Marlins, (2 times) - 2003, 1997
Houston Astros, 2005
St. Louise Cardinals, 2004
San Francisco Giants, 2002
Arizona Diamondbacks, 2001
San Diego Padres, 1998
Philadelphia Phillies, 1993
It would appear, that if you were in pursuit of Mantle's home run record, you would have the best shot by playing for the New York Yankees or the Atlanta Braves.
The question is, who is in the record books with World Series home runs, that poses a threat to Mantle's home run record?
Before he retired, David Justice played for the Yankees, Braves and Cleveland in six World Series. He has hit four World Serie home runs, which puts him among the leaders, but you can't hit home runs when you don't play.Tina Martinez, the Cardinals' former first baseman and former New York Yankee made it to five World Series, and has hit a total of three home runs in the fall classic. I don't see 15 more coming from him. Derek Jeter, the Yankee shortstop has five World Series under his belt and the slugging shortstop has a total of three home runs. At this rate he would have to appear in about 20 more World Series. Even George Steinbrenner, can't buy that many championships. Chipper Jones of the Braves has hit one home run in the three World Series he played in. He isn't a threat to the record.
In the 2002 World Series, Barry Bonds tied a record held byBabe Ruth, by hitting four home runs in one World Series. This was Barry's first appearance in the Fall Classic. Bonds would have to appear at least three more times in the World Series and tie his and the Babe's record each time, to get close to Mantle. It isn't going to happen.
Barry Bonds, at the age of 41 continues to amaze us with his play. With 708 home runs already, he'll likely pass Babe Ruth this year as on the all time Home Run leader board.
In spite of Barry Bond's assault on other records, the World Series Home Run Record is still safe in the hands of Micky Mantle. The chances of the Giants getting back to the World Series three or four more times, before Barry has to retire, is astronomical.
Who else then, even has a chance?
Here's an alphabetical list of the most celebrated sluggers of our time and the number of World Series home runs in their career;
|Player||2006 Team||Career WS HRs|
|Jeff Bagwell||Houston - maybe||0|
|Homer Bush||Great Name wasn't enough||just kidding|
|Todd Helton||Colorado - this air isn't going to help much||0|
|David Justice||Retired - appeared in enough World Series "6"||4|
|Tino Martinez||Free Agent||3|
|Rafael Palmeiro||Free Agent||0|
|Sammy Sosa||Free Agent||0|
|Jim Thome||White Sox||3|
|Bernie Williams||Yankees - 6 World Series||5|
Can you see it? Is there someone here going to make it back to the World Series, four, five or six or even more times to even have a shot at hitting 19 World Series Home Runs?
I can't and I have my good glasses on.
Not only is getting the at bats critical, cause you can't win if you don't play (subliminal ad from the Illinois lottery) but you have to play for a team that can get you to the post season.
Warning sluggers, if you are a great slugger chances are you won't be going to the post season, not this season or the next.
Let's take a look back over the past 10 years and the post season.
Between the five greatest sluggers of our time, among the active players, they have one World Series appearance among them, Barry Bonds with the Giants in 2002.
I have this theory I developed when the Cardinals brought McGwire to St. Louis. While I enjoyed the slugfest as much as anyone, the Cardinals were not going to win a World Championship with McGwire at first. The presence of such a player changes the mindset of a manager and a team, I'll explain someday in another article, I call it the Super Star factor.
Baseball is a team sport, and while it is a collection of individual effort it remains a team sport.
While teams go after the great sluggers, once they got them, they are limited financially, in their ability to build a team to compliment the Super Star. It's the state of the game, most teams can't pay one player $10, $15 or even $25 million dollars and surround him with much talent.
It takes a team to win a World Championship, something the Yankees have apparently found the formula for, without a McGwire, Sosa or Bonds.
Given all the home runs during the regular season and the home run records broken recently, hitters, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, and the rest, still covet the appearances in the World Series and a World Championship ring.
The World Series home run record would be the record, most players would cherished most.
Mickey Mantle holds the record, that the others covet and it appears, he'll keep on holding it. As it should be, he was my first hero, and you know some things don't have to change.
That's the way it is, I'll see you at the ballpark soon.