Sammy Sosa's big smile and Mark McGwire's powerful swing were a wonderful distraction from the real world in the summer of '98.
It was so much fun keeping track of home runs and the countdown to pass Roger Maris's 61 from 1961 and Babe Ruth's legendary 60 from 1927.
We grew up in a baseball world where 50 was a super season.
The great Harmon Killebrew hit 49 in one season.
The amazing Hank Aaron hit 47.
Triple crown winner Mickey Mantle did hit 56 and 54 in the 1950's.
The Phillies' Mike Schmitdt topped at 48.
The great Willie Mays hit 52 twice in his career.
The A's Reggie Jackson hit 47 in '69 and led the AL with 32 in '73 and 36 in '75.
In the 1970s, there were only a few guys who hit 40!
In other words, 50 home runs was a huge number.
It was so rare that only Willie Mays (52 in '65), George Foster (52 in '77) and Cecil Fielder (50 in '90) did it over a 25 year span!
In other words, only 3 players hit 50 home runs from 1965 to 1990!
Beyond that, two guys hitting 60 home runs in the same season was beyond my imagination.
This is what made the summer of 1998 so exciting.
In 1998, McGuire hit # 62 and hugged the Maris family in a national telecast following Labor Day.
Sosa followed him daily. It went on for the whole month of September. It was wonderful.
On the last day of the season, McGuire hit the unthinkable # 69 and # 70.
It was incredible to watch McGuire and Sosa connect with the fans and bring baseball back from the unpleasant strike of '94.
We needed all of those home runs because the 1998 was a horrible except for baseball.
On the local scene, we had one of the warmest summers ever. We had daily 100 plus temperatures for 29 days. At one point, we reached 108. Even the old timers could not remember such a hot summer.
On the national scene, it was the summer of Monica Lewinski and Bill Clinton. By Labor Day, most of us were hearing about about "oral sex" and White House interns. I did not appreciate that. President Clinton's incredibly reckless behavior led to his impeachment in December!
On the global scene, two US embassies were blown up in Africa. Osama Bin Laden said that it was another battle in the war against the US.
So much for the theory that the terrorists got violent because the US invaded Iraq!
Over at the UN, Saddam Hussein kicked out the inspectors. Pres. Clinton went to the UN Security Council and demanded a reaction. VP Gore called Iraq a "virulent threat".
Nothing happened and Saddam got away with giving the world the finger again.
By the end of '98, Saddam was hitting 12 for 12 (perfect 1.000 batting average) in his defiance and rejection of UN resolutions!
So much for the theory that the UN was ever serious about the matter!
Over in Iraq, Saddam was shooting at US planes enforcing UN resolutions.
So much for the theory that Saddam never attacked the US.
Most of us were very happy that Sosa and McGwire were hitting titanic homeruns. It was a pleasant distraction form the rest of the news.
P.S. Sadly, we learned later that Sosa and McGwire were allegedly involved in the steroids controversy and ended up answering questions from a congressional committee. What a shame. It was a great baseball summer.