It made sense that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s lives would never be the same after toppling Major League Baseball’s famous single-season home-run record in 1998. But instead of becoming icons, they became two of the polarizing faces of baseball’s steroid era.
They were on top of the world for a short time, but what quickly followed for each was public turmoil, scandal, steroid accusations and one confession. Gone was the magic of the summer of ‘98 and what it took it place was one of MLB’s long-lasting shames — how fans couldn’t believe what they were seeing with their own eyes.
Sosa has still never admitted he used performance-enhancing drugs. That’s part of the reason his relationship with the Cubs has soured. McGwire eventually admitted he used PEDs, and was brought back into MLB as a coach. But neither sluggers get the ambassador treatment from MLB or their former teams.
With ESPN set to debut “Long Gone Summer,” its 30-for-30 documentary on the home run chase of 1998, on Sunday night here’s a look at the roller coaster ride that followed McGwire and Sosa surpassing 61 homers in a single season and how two larger-than-life sluggers became two of MLB’s most disgraced stars.
Sept. 8, 1998: McGwire hits home run No. 62 against the Cubs and pitcher Steve Trachsel. McGwire finishes the season with 70 homers total.
Sept. 13, 1998: Sosa hits home runs No. 61 and 62 against the Brewers, passing Roger Maris’ record as well. Sosa eventually finishes the season with 66 home runs.
Nov. 19, 1998: Sosa is crowned NL MVP, getting all but two of the first-place votes. Those went to McGwire. While McGwire won the home run race, Sosa led the league with 158 RBIs and helped the Cubs into the postseason. McGwire and Sosa would eventually be named Co-Sportsmen of the Year by Sports Illustrated.
1999 season: While it wasn’t the same thrilling race and doesn’t earn the same amount of nostalgia today, both McGwire and Sosa exceed 61 home runs in the following season. Sosa hits 63 in 1999 while McGwire hits 65.
2000 season: While McGwire, 36, starts to show his age, Sosa continues on a home-run tear that history seems to have largely forgotten about. He hit another 50 home runs in 2000, then 64 in 2001 and 49 in 2002.
2001 season: McGwire and Sosa’s run at history doesn’t prove to last that long. Barry Bonds slugs 73 homers during the 2001 season to break McGwire’s record and set a home-run mark that hasn’t been passed since.
Nov. 11, 2001: Saying that he’s “worn out,” McGwire retires from MLB after hitting .189 with 29 homers. He was 38.
June 3, 2003: Sosa is ejected from a game after an umpire discovers he’s using a corked bat. Sosa says he accidentally used a corked batting practice bat. None of his other bats are found to have corks, but he is still suspended eight games by MLB.
Oct. 3, 2004: Sosa’s tenure with the Cubs ends in controversy. After a disappointing season, he requests to sit out the final game of the season and leaves early. Years later, he says he had permission from manager Dusty Baker to leave early, but it is the beginning of a feud with the Cubs that still hasn’t been resolved.
Feb. 2, 2005: Sosa is traded to the Orioles and plays one season in Baltimore. He only hit 14 homers. He walks away from the game after that season but doesn’t retire.
Feb. 21, 2005: Jose Canseco releases his book, “Juiced,” in which he gives his personal account of steroid use in Major League Baseball. In the book, Canseco says he introduced McGwire to steroids and they injected each other.
March 17, 2005: McGwire and Sosa are summoned to testify before the House Government Reform Committee about the use of steroids in baseball. In total, 11 players testify. Sosa denies using steroids and McGwire tip-toes around the issue. He says: “My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family and myself.”
June 20, 2007: Sosa, who returned to MLB for the 2007 season after not playing in 2006, hits his 600th home run for the Texas Rangers. He clubs a total of 21 homers that season at 38 years old, finishing his career with 609 homers.
Dec. 13, 2007: The Mitchell Report is released — a year-long investigation into steroid use in baseball by former prosecutor and politician George Mitchell. While McGwire and Sosa aren’t the main headline out of The Mitchell Report like Bonds and Roger Clemens are, this still represents a pivotal moment in the public reveal of baseball’s steroid era.
June 3, 2009: Sosa officially retires from MLB, after not playing in 2008 and 2009.
June 16, 2009: The New York Times reports that Sosa is one of 104 players who tested positive for steroids in a 2003 anonymous survey of MLB players, the results of which were under a court seal. At the time there was no penalty for a positive test in MLB.
Oct. 26, 2009: McGwire is hired by the Cardinals to be their hitting coach.
Jan. 11, 2010: McGwire publicly admits to his steroid use for the first time. He says he used them for a decade, including during the 1998 home run chase. McGwire maintains that he used steroids for health purposes and not to build strength. His statement at the time said:
“I used steroids during my playing career and I apologize. I remember trying steroids very briefly in the 1989/1990 off season and then after I was injured in 1993, I used steroids again. I used them on occasion throughout the nineties, including during the 1998 season. I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.
“I’m sure people will wonder if I could have hit all those home runs had I never taken steroids. I had good years when I didn’t take any and I had bad years when I didn’t take any. I had good years when I took steroids and I had bad years when I took steroids. But no matter what, I shouldn’t have done it and for that I’m truly sorry. Baseball is really different now — it’s been cleaned up. The Commissioner and the Players Association implemented testing and they cracked down, and I’m glad they did.”
Nov. 7, 2012: McGwire is hired as the Dodgers hitting coach, a position he would serve in for the next three seasons.
Dec. 2, 2015: McGwire joins the San Diego Padres as their bench coach, essentially the second in command next to manager Andy Green.
Nov. 2, 2016: The Cubs finally win a World Series. It’s a grand occasion for anyone close to the Cubs, but Sosa, one of the organization’s biggest stars, doesn’t make an appearance during the World Series or in its aftermath. It shines a light on the quiet feud that’s been carrying on between the Cubs and Sosa since the end of his time in Chicago.
Jan. 18, 2017: McGwire misses election to Cooperstown on his most recent ballot. He’s part of the Today’s Game Era Committee ballot and earns less than five votes from the 16-member panel. Twelve votes are needed for election.
Jan. 13, 2018: Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, is asked about whether Sosa will be welcomed back by the Cubs anytime soon — almost an annual event at this point. He doesn’t mention Sosa by name but says this about players from the PED era:
“I also believe that players from that era owe us a little bit of honesty, and I kind of feel like the only way to turn this page is to put everything on the table.”
May 2, 2018: Sosa says he would like to return to Wrigley and made amends with the Cubs, but says he’s “at peace” if it doesn’t happen. He says: “If one day I come back to Chicago, I’d come back for the fans. I owe those people something.”
May 2, 2018: In that same interview with NBC Sports, Sosa also addresses his skin tone, which has become a hot topic on the internet. Sosa had been spotted in recent years with much lighter skin than his playing day.
Sosa previously said he used a skin cream that bleached his skin. But in this interview, he also says this to the people who made memes and jokes online about him:
“Those people, they sometimes criticize me, they don’t know me, they don’t put food on my table and they don’t pay my bills.”
Oct 24, 2018: McGwire steps down as Padres bench coach, saying he wants to spend more time with his family.
Jan. 21, 2020: Sosa earns 13.9 percent of the vote during the most recent BBWAA Hall of Fame election. He remains a long way away from the 75 percent needed for Cooperstown.
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