15 Years Ago this Month: Slammin’ Sammy makes history

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Despite what we now know about PED usage, the 1998 season will forever be remembered as one of the most exciting in major league history, as two heavyweights “saved the game” by engaging in a titanic home run battle for the ages.

Fifteen years ago, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire slugged it out to see who would surpass Roger Maris to become the game’s single-season home run champ. While the Cardinals first baseman ultimately was the first to celebrate home run No. 62, June was all about Sosa.

The Cubs slugger blasted balls out of major league parks one after another, compiling an MLB-record 20 home runs in the month. Over the 30-day stretch, he recorded four multi-homer games, including a three round-trip affair against the Brewers on June 15.

Detroit infielder Rudy York set the record, hitting 18 home runs in August 1937. Sosa surpassed that total on June 25 and added No. 20 in his final plate appearance of the month.

“It was a great time for baseball, especially if you lived in the Chicago area,” said current Cubs outfielder Scott Hairston, who was a high schooler living in Naperville, Ill., at the time. “I remember coming to those games, when Sammy was hitting all those home runs. It was fun to see.”

Though McGwire’s 70 home runs earned him the title of home run king (until Barry Bonds blew past him in 2001), Sosa was crowned the NL MVP, hitting .308/.377/.647 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 66 home runs and a league-best 158 RBI. The Cubs went on to win a one-game playoff against the Giants to advance to the postseason.

—Phil Barnes

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