Mark McGwire of the Saint Louis Cardinals was right. America did need the spectacle of his pursuit of major-league baseball’s single-season home run record. And much about what they needed culminated in St. Louis’ Busch Stadium on September 8th, when he hit his sixty-second home run this season to brake Roger Maris’ record of sixty-one set in 1961.

…many people ask what importance the breaking of some sports record has on “the real world.”

However, many people ask what importance the breaking of some sports record has on “the real world.”

Prevalent in today’s “real world” are the attitudes that equate cynicism with intelligence, that regard the compromise of rational principles as more “practical” than integrity toward them, that eye achievement with envy, and that enshrine mediocrity and anti-heroism.

While Mark McGwire was purposely pursuing a home-run record this season, what events did Americans find were prominent in the “real” world?

The office of the President of the United States was again being disgraced by a habitual liar. The anti-objectivity endemic in reporting was further revealed as journalists from the *New Republic*, the Boston *Globe*, and CNN fabricated characters, interviews, and incidents for their stories. The vilification of producers such as Bill Gates by bureaucrats and their comparatively mediocre competitors. The smearing of men such as Clarence Thomas as “race traitors” because they uphold individualism above racial collectivism. The popularity of Jerry Springer’s TV show, which highlights uneducated, deprave people verbally and physically abusing each other as a means of settling their disputes. The children murdering other children.

…even though athletics are without life-and-death importance, they are nonetheless among the last frontiers where people of all ages can find a moral and emotional need: hero-worship.

It is difficult for people to avoid being influenced by such prevalent dishonesties, envy, injustices, and violence, which can weigh heavily on that noble vision of man’s nature that many people maintain from their childhood and seek to find in others.

Yet even though athletics are without life-and-death importance, they are nonetheless, at least on their playing grounds, among the last frontiers where people of all ages can find a moral and emotional need: hero-worship.

Mark McGwire began the 1998 season with the goal of hitting fifty home runs. He achieved it and thereby became the only player in major-league history to hit fifty or more in three consecutive seasons. Thereafter he broke the single-season home-run record, one of baseball’s most difficult records to break. Before these achievements he had considered retirement in 1991, when his batting average was a bleak .201, and in 1993 and 1994 he missed virtually both seasons due to injuries.

What prevailed instead was the essence of Mark McGwire’s pursuit: the much needed spectacle of someone who embodies honest, purposeful effort, productivity, achievement and pride; someone to admire.

“Things happen for a reason,” Mark McGwire said last month. “Hard work pays off.”1

He’d also faced the prevalent feet-of-clay seekers, who tried to smear his achievements this season by tying his use of androstenedione, a food supplement, to such equivocal, controversial terms as “performance-enhancing,” “unnatural,” and “drug” — all in an effort to suggest he was cheating in his pursuit of breaking Maris’ home run record. This smear properly faded.

What prevailed instead was the essence of Mark McGwire’s pursuit: the much needed spectacle of someone who embodies honest, purposeful effort, productivity, achievement and pride; someone to admire. Despite all the negativity people often encounter, his pursuit, which was highlighted by many majestic, skyrocketing home runs, and the breaking of Maris’ record provided people with the inspirational fuel of knowing that these rational values are possible in the “real” world, and therefore should be pursued in their own lives. Likewise when Mark McGwire momentarily forgot to step on first base in his boyish excitement from hitting his sixty-second home run this season, it was a triumph for the spirit of youthful innocence over cynicism.

When Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs, McGwire’s home run rival, then came in from right field to give “Big Mac” a congratulatory hug, it was a triumph for the honest acknowledgement of and deference to one’s better competitor over envy and violence.

When Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs, McGwire’s home run rival, then came in from right field to give “Big Mac” a congratulatory hug, it was a triumph for the honest acknowledgement of and deference to one’s better competitor over envy and violence.

When the new single-season home run hitter embraced Roger Maris’ children, telling them that their father was symbolically in his heart, it was a triumph for the graciousness of heroism over anti-heroism.

The people who derived excitement, admiration, and joy in all these events are fundamentally celebrating man at his noblest — that is, man as the antidote to the “real” world’s many practitioners of dishonesty and injustice.

References:
1 Jack Curry, “A Reluctant Home Run Hitter, a Reluctant Hero,” New York Times, September 9, 1998.

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Joseph Kellard

Joseph Kellard is a journalist living in New York. To read more of Mr. Kellard's commentary, visit his website The American Individualist at americanindividualist.blogspot.com.