In the late 90s-early 2000’s, you may have seen posters of the Iron Giant, Hot Wheels, or Pamela Anderson hanging on the bedroom walls of prepubescent boys. I had this:
Mark McGwire. Aside from my Dad, this guy was my HERO. He may as well just have been America’s Dad in the late 90’s. This guy was an absolute ELECTRIC FACTORY. The home runs he would hit were outrageous and he was putting at least one out almost every single night. Did he use steroids? Of course. Did he drink milk? Probably. But this blog is not about what he fueled his body with. You can go read about that in one of the million articles about it.
This blog is about the fact that on this day in 1999, McGwire hit homerun #500, at age 35, with seemingly no end in sight. He became the fastest player in the history of MLB to reach that mark, a record that still stands today.
I know as a kid I didn’t really know what “retirement” was and at this point, I thought Mark would go on to play until he was dead and hit about 2,000 home runs. This blog is about the fact he only went on to hit 83 more homers in the last 239 games of his career after this point. Isn’t that insane? Take a look at this:
In 239 Games From May 11, 1998 – August 5, 1999: 101 HR (989 PA)
In 239 Games From August 6, 1999 – October 7, 2001*: 83 HR (895 PA)
* McGwire’s Last Reg. Season Game
Let’s unpack these stats real quick. In nearly the same amount of plate appearances, he only hit 18 less homers. That’s really not bad at all. But checking the second row of dates, we notice that these games & plate appearances are spread out through practically 2.5 years worth of baseball. McGwire actually played in 40% more of his teams’ total games in that first 239 stretch than he did in the days and seasons to follow August 5th, 1999, which indicates his huge fall off.
McGwire would go on to launch 32 & 29 respectively in the final 2 seasons of his career. On paper, it seems like he didn’t drop off that much. Those are great seasons for a player from that era and even today. But for Mark, it was a huge fall from grace. Injuries began to plague his career and in hindsight, it seems the effects of the juice really began to wear on his body, and it was tough for kids like me to see our hero leave the game not long after shattering record after record.
But today, we take a look at that majestic 500th homerun and think about what could have been. Could he have reached 600? 700? Who knows. I’m sure Mark didn’t think he only had 83 left in the tank.
My word of advice: Drink your milk, kids.