Say what you will about Sammy Sosa, but there is no denying the excitement his home run race with Mark McGwire engendered during the summer of 1998.
Finally, after nearly four decades, it looked like we were going to have not just one serious challenger to Roger Maris’ single-season home run record of 61 … but two.
And, of course, that’s just the way it played out — Big Mac took the crown with 70 dingers, while Sammy chased him all the way to finish at “just” 66. Of course, Sosa’s season was more monstrous in other ways, including Majors-leading totals in runs scored, RBI, and total bases.
It was enough to cop the National League MVP award, and Sosa would go back to the 60-homer well in 1999 and 2001, the only dude to pull off the feat three times.
All these years later, we know things we didn’t know then, and we think things we didn’t think then, all of which has left McGwire and Sosa as something of baseball pariahs. Sosa, especially.
But what hasn’t changed are the memories of that season — those seasons — when Sammy would connect, then hop sideways as he watched his batted ball fly into the nether regions of whatever park he was bashing in that day.
And, when you see that image in your mind, what is Sosa wearing?
Cubbies pinstripes, for sure. But also that gray Cubs road jersey, right? And also also the blue alternate jersey? The one with the red, white, and blue team logo on the left-hand side of the chest?
We saw an awful lot of that tog during those summers, too.
For hardcore collectors, that alt uniform might have looked familiar strapped there across Sosa’s torso. Hadn’t we seen something similar before? Like more than a decade earlier?
Find 1987 ProCards Sammy Sosa on eBay (affiliate link)
Find 1987 ProCards Sammy Sosa on Amazon (affiliate link)
Well, sort of.
Sosa’s very first baseball card was a 1987 ProCards issue that showed him as a member of the Single-A Gastonia Rangers. Sammy was just 18 years old at the time and in his second season of pro ball after the Texas Rangers signed him as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 1985.
And that Gastonia uniform sure looks familiar — blue field with red, white, and blue accents. Hmmm ….
It would take Sosa a few years to make it to the north side of Chicago, of course, first stopping in Arlington for a season, and then the south side of the Windy City (White Sox) for parts of three summers.
But when Sammy landed with the Cubs in 1992, and especially when he started swatting big flies over the next few seasons, it was Cubbies blue that forever became the slugger’s color, for better or for worse.
And, at the very beginning, Gastonia blue sort of predicted the marriage … at least if you squint your eyes and let the baseball gods do the rest.
Hobby Holiday Hots
Want to relive some of that magic of 1998 with a real piece of that summer? Check out this eBay listing …
It’s Mark McGwire’s 64th home run ball, all grizzled and gnarly by the mash, and by the ages. What a stocking stuffer that would be!
Check out the full listing here (affiliate link)