Cardinals: National Hero


Cardinals: National Hero

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National Hero 
Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals, and his 62nd Homerun

A famous song from the 1960’s entreats: “Where have you gone Joe Dimaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” The question found an answer in the fall of 1998 during one of the most exciting home run races since Roger Maris cracked number 61 and bested immortal Babe Ruth’s long-standing record of 60 home runs in a season. What we were privileged to witness was a spectacle that matched the power hitting of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Mark “Big Mac” McGwire and the balanced finesse and strength of the Chicago Cubs’ Sammy Sosa.

As the world knows by now, McGwire eventually won the race and the coveted title with 70 home runs, while Sosa punished opposing pitchers with a “meager” 66 round-trippers. But this contest was much more than two men swinging for the fences. It was a national event. It wooed the indifferent as well as the world’s sports fanatics. It captivated water-cooler conversations in the busy world of business. In America, where the stench of controversial high-powered politics had become the rule of the day, the McGwire-Sosa duel was like a breeze of cool fresh air. And while the Americans’ emotions suffered their usual vacillations because of a rocky Wall Street or a terrorist’s bombing abroad, they soared at the news of the latest assault on the home run record. In essence, pure unadulterated class ruled. No jerks here. There was none of the unprofessional, egotistical conduct we have learned to expect from the big names. McGwire and Sosa were two gentlemen with lofty goals hemmed in by unbelievable pressure. But where others have succumbed, they succeeded. They made the pressure cooker home run derby look like Little League in Taiwan as home run records fell daily like dominoes.

Two records stand out, though. First they both surpassed the “Sultans of Swat”, Babe Ruth and Roger Maris. Second, both sluggers chalked one up for the National League since their performances marked the first time the league could claim the title for the most home runs. Everything considered, this remarkable display of athletic prowess was intertwined with all things that make for national drama. It was a spectator’s dream. It had color, power, excitement, and was, without question, just plain fun to watch. And now America’s Sports Artist, Rick Rush, has deftly painted those lingering images that capture out imaginations. And he has done it from a first-hand, eye-witness perspective since he was there among the Busch Stadium throng that wildly celebrated McGwire’s home run shot number 62.

Surrounding Big Mac’s prodigious swing are scenes that complete the story: a jubilant McGwire triumphantly lifts his little boy after crossing home plate; the big screen image of a loving hug for the Maris family; the victory banner at the top of the stadium displaying the magic number; the scoreboard at Busch Stadium pegging the historic location; looking on, McGwire’s former field boss at Oakland, Tony LaRussa, who helped pave McGwire’s way to St. Louis; the day and time the baseball world stood still, Tuesday, Sepr. 8, 1998, at 8:18pm; and lastly, the image that ties it all together, Old Glory proudly unfurled over a momentous accomplishment unmatched in America since a young and courageous hockey team turned the world on its ear by doing the unthinkable in beating a far superior Russian team in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Undeniably, Mark McGwire has etched his name among the greatest of the baseball legends. His record of 70 home runs in a season may stand forever. And, undeniably, Rick Rush’s “National Hero” is a work that is destined to become an art collector’s nostalgic treasure taken from a chapter in an American storybook.