WGN News Now remembers Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa’s pursuit of Major League Baseball’s home run record 25 years ago in the summer of 1998 as Larry Hawley looks back on the moment with then Daily Herald beat writer Bruce Miles.
CHICAGO — One of the greatest sluggers in Cubs’ history is celebrating the silver anniversary of his most memorable summer in Major League Baseball.
Sammy Sosa created plenty of memories in 1998, one that many are reflecting on 25 years later, including arguably its most memorable moment at the “Friendly Confines.”
It was back in the summer of 1998 that the Cubs’ outfielder went head-to-head with Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire in pursuit of Roger Maris’ MLB record for home runs in a season. That was 61, which was set in 1961 by the Yankees outfielder, but the pair did so well that they would eventually be chasing each other.
By mid-September, each had caught and passed Maris and were in direct competition with each other until the final week of the season. Along the way, McGwire and Sosa became close friends, sellout crowds greeted them wherever they went, and baseball history was made.
Sosa would actually grab the lead briefly on September 25 with a homer against the Astros in Houston, but McGwire would tie him up in St. Louis about an hour later against the Expos. The first baseman turned up the power the final two games of the season, hitting four home runs to win the competition 70-66.
Over the years, of course, fans have looked at this moment through the lens of the steroid era. McGwire admitted to using them in 2010 while suspicion has always surrounded Sosa, yet he’s never admitted to it.
While fans and pundits grapple with how to view the chase, there is no denying arguably it’s greatest moment, which is the subject of this #WGNTBT.
On September 13, 1998, Sosa entered the series finale against the Brewers at Wrigley Field trailing McGwire 62-60, with the Cardinals’ slugger breaking Maris’ record against the Cubs earlier that week on September 7.
But Sosa would have an answer in front of a packed house both inside and outside the ballpark, with fans on Waveland Avenue hoping for a historic souvenir. Indeed they would get that opportunity.
Sosa would hit his 61st homer off Bronswell Patrick in the fifth inning, hitting it onto Waveland Avenue, on a day made for offense. In the ninth inning, with the Cubs down by two runs, the outfielder passed Maris and tied McGwire with a blast way out of Wrigley Field and onto the street off Brewers’ pitcher Eric Plunk.
As scores of people chased the ball on Waveland Avenue, Sosa was greeted by a resounding ovation from the crowd. It lasted for several minutes as the game was stopped, with the outfielder taking not one but two curtain calls as fans roared in appreciation of the historic moment.
The Cubs would go on to win the game thanks to a Gary Gaetti RBI single after the 62nd homer and then Mark Grace’s walk-off in the tenth, just ahead of another potential Sosa at-bat.
Yet after the first baseman came home, it was Sosa who was carried off the field and into the dugout, ending what was a most memorable day in a historic summer, 25 years ago.
WGN News Now looked back at the chase this week and talked with Bruce Miles, then the beat reporter at the Daily Herald, about the home run chase and that game at Wrigley Field. You can watch his discussion with Larry Hawley in the video above.
Miles has also written a book on the history of the Cubs called “The Franchise” with current Cubs’ ESPN beat writer Jesse Rogers.