ST. LOUIS – Friday marks 25 years since Mark McGwire slugged his way into the MLB record books.

On Sept. 8, 1998, McGwire crushed his 62nd home run of the season, passing a long-standing MLB record of 61 home runs in a season held by Roger Maris.

The milestone night culminated a season-long battle between McGwire, Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa and Seattle Mariners outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. in a stretch dubbed by baseball enthusiasts as the 1998 MLB home run record chase or the “Summer of Swat.”

Big Mac won the hearts of baseball fans locally, nationally and worldwide as he came closer to the record, and he set the stage well to break it in Hollywood fashion. Home run No. 62 happened…

  • In front of one of the season’s largest crowds at Busch Memorial Stadium (43,688 fans)
  • With McGwire’s family cheering him on in front-row seats
  • On a national FOX Sports broadcast that peaked at 43.1 million viewers
  • One night after the Labor Day holiday
  • On the final night of a homestand before a week-long roadtrip
  • In the Cardinals’ final head-to-head game of 1998 against the Cubs and Sosa

It’s not often that all of those elements work together. Some signature moments in Cardinals history, like Albert Pujols’ 700th home run last year, aren’t even lucky enough to unfold in front of a home crowd. McGwire, after building up anticipation over five months, had a clear path to baseball glory, and he never looked back.

In the fourth inning, the Cardinals trailed 2-0 against the Cubs. McGwire was set to face Steve Trachsel for the second time that night. Trachsel threw a sinker. McGwire took a hack. And in a matter of seconds, jubilation.

Contrary to many of his towering big flies, McGwire settled for a hard-hit line drive. He needed some luck with distance and fair territory. He got it.

“Down the left field line! Is it enough? GONE!” said Joe Buck in the national broadcast.

“Swing! A shot into the corner. It might make it. There it is, folks! Sixty-two. It just got over the left field wall,” said Mike Shannon on the Cardinals radio broadcast.

Thunderous cheers rocked Busch Stadium. A huge smile lit up McGwire’s face. And he shared the excitement so quickly with first base coach Dave McKay that he almost missed first base.

“Touch first, Mark. You are the new single-season home run king!” said Buck.

“And we have a new home run champion!” said Shannon.

Then came a nearly 10-minute celebration in the middle of the game. McGwire rounded the bases and shook hands with each of the Cubs infielders. As he rounded for home, the entire Cardinals squad huddled around home plate to congratulate him with hugs and high-fives.

After that, McGwire made sure to embrace the moment with his family. One of his son’s had the chance to join the Cardinals on the field and was lifted into the air. McGwire rushed toward the fans to hug more family members and Richard Maris, whose dad previously held the single-season MLB home run record.

** FILE ** St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire hugs Richard Maris, son of the late baseball great Roger Maris, after hitting his record-breaking 62nd home run of the season off Chicago Cubs pitcher Steve Trachsel during the fourth inning in St. Louis in this Sept. 8, 1998 photo. (AP Photo/Eric Draper)

During it all, Sosa came running in from right field to join in on the fun. McGwire too lifted him in the air while Sosa patted his back, and both shared laughs. Before too long, McGwire gave the fans another treat with a quick speech.

“Thank you to all my family, everybody, my son, Chicago Cubs, Sammy Sosa. Unbelievable,” said McGwire in the speech. “Thank you, St. Louis.”

The home run was a solo shot, cutting the Cardinals’ deficit to 2-1 at the time. St. Louis rallied back with a five-run sixth inning and eventually prevailed with a 6-3 victory on McGwire’s big night.

Sosa kept battling with McGwire for the home run lead, even after the record was initially broken. The two went back-and-forth several times and the lead changed several times throughout the summer. Sosa even briefly overtook McGwire, 66-65, in mid-September.

McGwire embraced the competition and would eventually finish the 1998 season with 70 home runs. It was a short-lived record that was surpassed just three years later when Barry Bonds when he slugged 73 in 2001.

McGwire retired after the 2001 season amid injuries and the emergence of then-young star Albert Pujols. He ended his career with 583 home runs over 16 seasons.

In present day, there are many mixed feelings about McGwire’s record-breaking run.

Optimists might say it was a key part of reviving Major League Baseball just a few years after the league went on strike, building hope and excitement from fans that might have felt tensions.

Some baseball purists, however, will never get over the steroid scandal linked to the record run and many hitters from McGwire’s era. The Mitchell Report, an independent investigation into performance-enhancing drugs, did not name McGwire to any drugs upon its initial release in 2007. McGwire also skated around questions about steroid use in Congressional hearings.

In 2010, as McGwire first prepared to take on a coaching role with the Cardinals, he admitted to steroid use throughout his career, including the 1998 season.

Even with McGwire’s confession, baseball fans may have a tainted memory of his chase for the home run record. The main argument being, steroids gave him a competitive edge and allowed him to cheat toward a record rather than earn it through pure abilities. It’s a very valid argument.

That said, the home run chase came with plenty of thrills, set the bar high for present and future sluggers, and proved how inspiring it can be to reach baseball’s toughest milestones.

The home run chase itself is well-documented in MLB’s 1998 VHS tape “Race for the Record” and ESPN’s 30-for-30 feature titled “Long Gone Summer.”