Cubs Classics: Sammy Sosa crushes home runs No. 61, 62
A beautiful fall Sunday at Wrigley Field was the background for history that Chicago Cubs icon Sammy Sosa made on Sept. 13th, 1998.
Sitting on 60 home runs, Sosa trailed St. Louis slugger Mark McGwire by two homers as the North Siders were deep into a run for their first wild card appearance in club history.
The historic home run battle between McGwire and Sosa was said to bring fans back into the game for the first time since the strike/lockout of 1994. That season would end without a playoff tier or World Series champion for the first time in baseball history, dating back to 1904.
Fans were slow to return to the game after the new CBA was agreed upon on March 31, 1995. Lower attendances were significant after-effects of the impact of the World Series loss. After the two home run hitters took off that season, the imagination of baseball fans piqued. Sosa hit a record 20 home runs in June of ’98 — that still stands as the record for most in one month. He went on to hit 66 home runs and was named NL MVP despite McGwire’s 70 home runs.
With baseball coming back in full force, McGwire hit his record-setting 61st and 62 home runs against the Cubs the previous Tuesday (Sept. 9) at old Busch Stadium in St Louis off of Cub pitchers Mike Morgan and Steve Trachsel, respectively.
That broke the record set by Roger Maris in 1961. The previous record of 60 by Babe Ruth had stood as the unbeatable number for 34 seasons before Maris broke it in game 162 of that 1961 season.
The Sosa game featured a back-and-forth battle between the Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers before Mark Grace won it with a walk-off homer in the 10th inning. The final was 11-10 and it kept the Cubs one game ahead of the New York Mets in the Wild-Card race. (The Cubs went on to beat the San Francisco Giants in Game 163 to earn a postseason berth.)
In the 5th inning, Sosa hit No. 61, tying him with Maris and moving ahead of Ruth for the second-most home runs in a single season in baseball history. Bronswell Patrick’s 0-1 pitch was driven onto Waveland Ave., where a fan caught it and later wanted to negotiate with Sosa for the historic baseball.
Trailing by two runs in the 9th inning, Sosa hit his record-tying 62nd home run off right-hander Eric Plunk in the same vicinity of the 61st homer. The Cubs right fielder received three ovations lasting six minutes by the Wrigley faithful. Both long balls were estimated at some 480 feet before there were Statcast numbers. After the Grace homer, the Cub first baseman and Sosa were carried off the field by their teammates.
Sept. 13, 1998 was one of the great games and days in Cub history, but would later be looked at differently. McGwire admitted using steroids 10 years later. The Sosa aura would take a serious hit when a corked bat that he was using was found after he cracked it in a 2003 game. He was suspended for eight games. Though never reprimanded by MLB, the consensus was Sosa had used performance-enhancing drugs during his big home run seasons. A disgruntled Sosa also walked out on the team before the last day of the 2004 season.
Sosa was traded to Baltimore in 2005 and has never returned to Wrigley Field since he walked away that fateful September day of 2004. The energy and legacy of Sosa will always be a part of Cub lore as will his 545 home runs, the most in the team’s history.
“I have to say what I did is for the people of America, for my wife, my kids and the people I have around me, my team. It was an emotional moment,” Sosa said on that memorable day.
The Dominican superstar was sometimes the only reason to watch Cubs baseball for the 13 seasons he wore their uniform. The end of his Cubs career never really fit with the essence of his impact on the franchise and upon the fans who idolized him.
Bruce Levine is a contributor to Marquee Sports Network and a baseball analyst for 670 The Score.