ESPN stirred some memories last night with the airing of “Long Gone Summer,” the 1998 home run battle between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire. It was the quest to top Roger Maris’ 61 home-run season in 1961. The record had stood for 28 years, once Maris had “outdone” The Babe. I was part of a Cubs season ticket group of nine owners that conducted a draft at the beginning of the season to determine who would get which tickets for what games. I happened to pick 9/13/1998 and set-aside four of what turned out to be the most precious tickets I’ve ever purchased.
On that day my 77-year old father, my 24-year old son, and my best friend all joined me at Wrigley Field. They were special seats in a row by themselves near the Cubs’ dugout, guarded at each end by two elderly female ushers. One I remember for sure was named Louise. Their job was to keep people from walking in front of us, thinking that our wide space was an aisle. The 9 special seats were actually added in the middle of what was once an aisle way when the Ryne Sandburg record contract in the early 1992 spurred the team to add revenue by expanding seating capacity. This was allegedly how they paid a portion of his 4-year $27.4 million deal. Nonetheless, we always called them the “Ryne Sandburg” seats and oddly met him down in that area when he accidentally kicked-over my friend’s beer earlier that year on Opening Day. (See Post #283). Louise would occasionally allow celebrities coming off the field to pass in front of us. This is why the beer incident occurred.
Fast forward to September 13th, as the baseball season was coming to an end. Before the game started we had lunch at the Stadium Club, a perk for VIP Season Ticket Holders. They actually served the same hot dogs as the concession stands but on Cubs china at three times the cost. I remember thinking, “wouldn’t it be something if Sammy hit numbers 61 and 62 today.” McGuire had already topped the Maris record at Busch Stadium 5 days before. Sosa had hit his 60th the day before, setting up the historical drama we were about to witness. Wrigley Field was abuzz as we took our seats, spotting Ryne Sandburg and his family a couple of rows in front of us. The 61st came in the 5th inning, lifting us out of our seats. The Cubs were up 8-3 on the Brewers. Sam-mee, Sam-mee! The fans littered the field and caused a long delay.
Sosa struck out in the 7th and came to bat for the final time in the bottom of the ninth down by 2. 480-feet later, he had tied McGuire at 62. There were hugs all around, as we watched the commotion. To make the day even better, Mark Grace homered in the bottom of the 10th for the “W.” Three generations of family and a best friend make the game even more memorable. “Cubs Win! Cubs Win! Holy Cow!”
Nine years later, my wife bought a commemorative brick following a 12-3 victory over the Cardinals. She was at that game with me along with my son and 9-month old grandson. It’s too bad my dad couldn’t be with us to make it four generations. Instead, the brick reads “3 Generations – Mike, Adam, Gavyn.” Dad died in 2014 at 93, just missing the 2016 World Series run. My wife and I were there, thinking of him. So many great memories of Wrigley Field, but none can top Sosa vs. McGuire.