St. Louis Cardinals: 25 disclosures about Mark McGwire

2 Sep 1998: Mark McGwire #25 of the St. Louis Cardinals during practice before the game against the Florida Marlins at the Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida. The Cardinals defeated the Marlins 14-4.
2 Sep 1998: Mark McGwire #25 of the St. Louis Cardinals during practice before the game against the Florida Marlins at the Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida. The Cardinals defeated the Marlins 14-4. /

There’s more to Mark McGwire than the home run chase documented in ‘Long Gone Summer.’ What are 25 other things about the St. Louis Cardinals’ legend?

“Long Gone Summer,” ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary about the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase of 1998, contains several revelations about the former St. Louis Cardinals slugger. Here are 25 facts and observations, from a variety of sources, about No. 25:

No. 1: Without contacts, Mac struggled to see.I have the worst eyes you could possibly have,” McGwire said, quoted by Ron Rains in Mark McGwire: Home Run Hero (1998). “No lie. Without contacts or glasses, I can’t even see the big E on the eye chart.”

No. 2: He was initially a pitcher at USC. Mac wasn’t the first towering Trojan to go from pitcher to power hitter. In 1968, the 6-6 Dave Kingman posted an 11-4 record and a 1.38 ERA for USC, then played outfield in 1969. Kingman would hit  442 home runs in his 16 major-league seasons.

No. 3: Critics have called Mac a ‘glorified Dave Kingman.’ This was no compliment: Kingman was a .236 career hitter and a rotten fielder who was described as “moody, sullen and controversial.” It was also a case of false equivalency based, perhaps, on both players being tall, ex-Trojan power hitters. Kingman had just a .780 career OPS. Mac had a .982 career OPS. That’s a huge difference.

No. 4: He broke into the bigs as a third baseman. McGwire started 15 games, all at third, as a September call-up of the A’s in 1986 but moved to first the next season.

No. 5: Mac didn’t just break the rookie HR record in 1987. He obliterated it. The Indians’ Al Rosen had the previous record with 37 home runs in 1950. McGwire hit 49. The Yankees’ Aaron Judge set a new record with 52 in 2017.

No. 6: His rookie nickname: ‘Marco Solo.’ Because he hit a lot of solo homers.

No. 7: Young Mac thought Canseco might set the HR record one day. McGwire and teammate José Canseco were known as the “Bash Brothers. In 1988, Canseco hit 42 home runs to 32 for McGwire, who said, “If either of us ever hits 60 homers, it will be José. He’s just so strong.”

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No. 8. His brother Dan was a first-round QB selection. Dan McGwire, a 6-8, 240-pound quarterback from San Diego State, was the 16th overall pick, by the Seattle Seahawks, in the 1991 NFL draft. He was taken 17 spots before the Atlanta Falcons selected Brett Favre.

No. 9. He hit bottom with the A’s in 1991. McGwire, 27, hit a career-low .201 with just a .714 OPS. “Children who played at a playground near McGwire’s home actually began jeering him instead of cheering, yelling ‘you stink’ when they recognized him,” Rains wrote in Mark McGwire: Home Run Hero.

No. 10. A brother helped him bulk up in the offseason. “I got all over him one day and told him he was real skinny,” brother J.J. McGwire, a weight trainer, told him. McGwire put on 20 pounds and had a comeback season in ’92, hitting 42 homers with 104 RBI and a league-leading .585 slugging percentage.

No. 11. Jose Canseco wrote that he and McGwire would inject each other with ’roids. In 2005’s Juiced, Canseco claimed that the two of them would squeeze into stalls in the men’s room of the Oakland clubhouse and inject steroids into one another’s buttocks. McGwire has denied this.

No. 12. He wanted his best A’s friend to wear his No. 25. Jason Giambi took over at first base and moved into Mac’s old locker after McGwire was traded to the Cardinals in July of 1997, but refused to wear his friend’s old number. `No, I don’t think anybody should ever wear your number again for the Oakland A’s,” Giambi told McGwire.

No. 13. Giambi called Mac first after winning 2000 AL MVP. “I wanted to thank him first before anybody else because what he meant to me and my career,” Giambi told the Associated Press. “He was so excited for me. We have such a special friendship. He is everything from a mentor to a big brother and everything else.” Giambi admitted to past use of steroids in 2007.

No. 14. Some were less than thrilled when the Cards traded for him. In “Long Gone Summer,” it’s revealed that Bernie Miklasz of the Post-Dispatch disliked the July 1997 deal that sent three prospects to the A’s for McGwire. A pending free agent, the first baseman was expected to sign with a California team after the summer.

No. 15. But Mac fell in love with Cardinal Nation. McGwire was blown away by the enthusiasm of St. Louis fans. “This is too good to be true,” McGwire recalled thinking in “Long Gone Summer.”

No. 16. Mac got ’98 All-Star votes; Sosa didn’t. It should be no surprise that McGwire was the NL’s top vote-getter for the 1998 All-Star Game, but it’s hard to believe that Sosa, with 33 homers at the break, finished sixth among NL outfielders.

No. 17. Sosa tied Mac in HRs 12 times in 1998 but never officially passed him. Technically, Sosa took the HR lead with his 48th during an Aug. 19 Cubs-Cardinals game, but Mac hit his 48th three innings later and his 49th in the 10th inning of an 8-6 St. Louis victory.

No. 18. Mac’s first Cards ejection unhinged the crowd. On Aug. 29, 1998, McGwire was tossed by umpire Sam Holbrook in the first inning after arguing a called third strike vs. the Atlanta Braves. Enraged fans hurled objects on the field and the game was halted for 10 minutes. It was McGwire’s first ejection as a Cardinal. Mac apologized after the game, saying, “I crossed the line, I own up to it.”

No. 19. Mac and Sosa didn’t really talk in ’98. They teamed up for press conferences and had a special on-field moment when Mac hit his record-breaking 62nd homer vs. the Cubs on Sept. 8 and Sosa came in from right field for a bear hug with his Cardinals rival. But the two spent no off-camera time together.

No. 20. Mac’s youngest brother wrote a book that upset the slugger. In 2010, Jay McGwire, six years younger than his baseball-star sibling, wrote a book titled, Mark and Me: Mark McGwire and the Truth Behind Baseball’s Worst-Kept Secret. The elder McGwire described himself as “sad” about the book, which described the brother’s use of performance-enhancing drugs, and said, “I don’t plan on ever seeing him again.”

No. 21. An ex-teammate disputes Mac’s claim that PEDs didn’t boost his power. Former Oakland A’s third baseman Carney Lansford told the Oakland Tribune in 2010, “Nobody hits 70 home runs without using some kind of substance like that. Look, 61 home runs was the record for all those years for a reason. When you’re talking 70, now you’re getting close to one every other game and that’s just silly. Obviously, the record is tainted. It can’t not be.”

No. 22. Mac and Mabry changed places twice. In 1997, McGwire replaced John Mabry as the Cardinals’ first baseman. In 2012, Mabry replaced McGwire as the Cardinals’ primary hitting coach.

No. 23. McGwire is estranged from the other Bash Brother. Canseco has apologized to McGwire about comments he made in Juiced and afterward but Mac isn’t having it. “It’s too late,” he told ESPN Los Angeles in 2014. “I don’t care to ever speak to him again … what he did was wrong.”

No. 24. Mac has never received more than 23.7 percent of the votes needed to become a Hall of Famer. It takes 75 percent to be inducted into Cooperstown. Sosa peaked with 13.9 percent of the vote in 2020.

No. 25. 35 Cardinals have worn No. 25. The list includes McGwire, Mort Cooper, Julian Javier, George Hendrick, and a current Redbird, Dexter Fowler.

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‘Long Gone Summer’ had its strengths and weaknesses, but one thing is for sure: Big Mac is a huge part of the history of the St. Louis Cardinals and learning about how much he did for the team in the late ’90s is never a bad thing.