Chicago Cubs History: Sammy Sosa sets team single-season HR record
By Duane Pesice
On September 4, 1998, Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa, en route to NL MVP honors and his club’s first postseason appearance in nine years, set a new team record for most home runs in a single season, passing Hack Wilson‘s 1930 total of 56 with a titanic clout into the left-field bleachers. It was still summer as far as Sammy and Cubs fans were concerned.
Sosa went on to hammer another nine home runs in September, making his total a tidy 66, which wasn’t enough to lead the league, as Mark McGwire hit 70, but it was enough that his record will probably stand for a while. Perhaps 68 years? Only time will tell.
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Was it due to Flintstones vitamins? Was it anabolic? We will probably never get at the truth but it’s a titanic feat no matter how it’s sliced, part of the home run race that brought Major League Baseball back from the brink of extinction, after an ill-advised work stoppage in 1994 made people realize that there were other things to do during the spring and summer.
Behind the curtains still were the specters of steroid abuse and management’s tacit encouragement of said abuse – with the bittersweet finale of Sosa’s Cubs career still six years away.
It was a summer to celebrate like a rock star, like a member of Rare Earth or the Three Dog Night, and dance to the music, whether Sosa salsa or McGwire MOR. Wrigley was rockin’ every day, and Harry Caray led the seventh-inning stretch with slightly inebriated aplomb. It was a good time to be a Cub fan, if not a Bud man.
And Slammin’ Sammy, with his perpetual smile and ‘Look What I Did!’ Home Run Hop, was right in the middle of it all.
Like Hack Wilson, Sammy Sosa played a key role for the Chicago Cubs
Hack Wilson was likewise part of Cubs postseason teams. He only played another year for the Chicago squad, as he was traded to Brooklyn, where his career, sadly, continued on its downward spiral, fueled by alcohol abuse. He only played two more full seasons.
But Joe McCarthy’s 1930 club won 90 games, with five future Hall-of-Famers on the roster (Wilson, Gabby Hartnett, High Pockets Kelly, Kiki Cuyler, Rogers Hornsby). Not enough to overcome the Cardinals, who won 92 regular season contests before dropping the World Series four games to two to the Philadelphia Athletics, who the Cubs had lost to the year before – Hornsby’s MVP year. Jimmie Foxx and Al Simmons’ club was tough to beat. Not unlike the 1998 Yankees, who swept the Padres and didn’t look winded doing it.
There’s no shame in losing to such a club at such a time.
And there’s really no shame in enjoying memories of the Summer of Sammy, no matter how people want to spin it. It was a great time and allowed the sport to continue and evolve into what it is today.
One of these days, Sosa might even appear at the Friendly Confines. Some egos will need adjusting first. I don’t think Sammy Sosa owes me anything. He already gave at the office.