Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Put Big Mac in the HOF
Think back to 1994, specifically, August 1994. Baseball stopped. No World Series, no .400 average for Tony Gwynn, no playoffs in Montreal, no World Series for the Braves to lose in. Baseball ceased. Now, think to early September 1995. Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s “Iron man” record. Baseball modestly creeped back into national consciousness. Now, refer to the infamous and still referenced commercial featuring Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and their catchphrase “Chicks Dig the Longball.” What player most epitomized America’s infatuation with the longball in the late 90s? Certainly there’s only one answer to that: Big Mac, Mark McGwire.
The summer of 1998 was baseball’s resurgence. McGwire and Sosa captivated the country, cliché as it sounds. Only two games have been on FOX in primetime outside of the playoffs: Big Mac’s 62nd homer game and the first Sox-Yanks game in April, 2004. The chase to Maris was more “Wag the Dog” effective than anything President Clinton could’ve otherwise used to get the country’s attention off the whole Lewinsky thing. BIG MAC BROUGHT BASEBALL BACK. Look, we may have very well been duped (in fact, we likely were), but there is no Game of Shadows-esque rundown of McGwire’s doping schedule as there is Barry Bonds that tears him down and proves beyond doubt that he was a doper, and hence a cheater. Rather there is merely the scared testimony of a human in a suit before Congress one day 20 months ago.
But, in the end, so what if he did do steroids? Barry Bonds has been a cancer on the game; a plague everyone seems to just be waiting out before he goes away for good. He’s also considered a pretty huge jerk. None of these same things could ever have been said about McGwire before that fateful St. Patrick’s Day in 2005. Bonds may be a loving doting father for all any of us knows, but come on, McGwire and his son Matt were all over the news and pictures in 1998. People loved the guy, and baseball suddenly had that charm back on it for the first time since the strike occurred. Add into the mix the sunny Dominican slugger, Sammy Sosa, and this was a marketer’s dream.
However, in a way that Sosa continuously sullied his good deeds as his career wound down (the cork incident, injuries, infighting while with the Cubs, issues with the O’s), Big Mac retired gracefully once his bat speed and career were obviously over. Maybe there was a reason for this, but it’s possible the guy actually knew he was done (why this was the case may also be up for debate, of course). He hasn’t exactly been an ambassador for the game since retirement, and again, for all any of us can speculate, there may be a reason for that, but what isn’t up for speculation is that for one magic summer, this man was what brought eyes back to baseball and put people in seats. No one would even care about the hearings in Washington or that Jose Canseco wrote a book and is now up for election too if Big Mac hadn’t spent his 1998 summer sending balls all over parks with his son and a smile. Say what you will about how he may have done it, but you can’t tell me he didn’t make you care about baseball again and that you don’t still feel the way you did in 1993.