McGwire or Sosa — does it really matter?

By The Columbia Chronicle

Michael O’Brien

Staff Writer

In the end, the magical 1998 baseball season will be summed up by one number – 70. Mark McGwire’s unimaginable total of home runs will become the most famous number in a game that’s in love with numbers.

However, one question remains: Will 70 home runs be enough to earn McGwire his first Most Valuable Player Award? In 1961, smashing Babe Ruth’s single season home run record and finishing with 62 home runs was enough for Roger Maris to earn the MVP award. McGwire’s chance of winning the award will depend on two factors — productivity and popularity. These days, the MVP award is based on popularity as much as on statistics.

Standing between Mark McGwire and the Most Valuable Player award is the Chicago Cubs’ Sammy Sosa. Sosa was once referred to as “Roberto Clemente without a brain,” due to his penchant for forgetting the number of outs and launching throws over the backstop. At the end of the 1997 season, Cubs manager Jim Riggleman publicly scolded Sosa, calling him a “selfish player.” Sosa turned it all around in 1998. He kept pace in the home run race with McGwire for most of the season, led his team into post-season play, and most importantly, charmed the nation with his goofy-grin and broken English.

The intense media pressure of the home run chase got to McGwire several times this season, most notably when he told reporters they should stop bugging him and “worry about their families.” McGwire didn’t seem to realize that not only did the reporters feed their families by asking him questions, but they would also eventually be voting for the MVP award. McGwire’s occasional bad attitude may hurt his chances.

After slugging 20 home runs in June, Sosa joined McGwire in the spotlight. He relished every moment of it, treating the media as if they were members of his right field bleacher worshipers. Sosa seemed to look forward to the daily press conferences, always proclaiming his love of America and his belief that McGwire was “the man.”

By September, McGwire and Sosa had developed a friendship. Sosa’s humor and easygoing nature brought out the best in McGwire – he looked happier and seemed more personable, more relaxed. They held press conferences together and publicly rooted for each other. When McGwire hit his 62nd home run, Sosa was there with a wide grin on his face, hugging and congratulating his friend. It was a joy to watch two rivals show that much respect for each other and for the game of baseball.

Statistically, Sosa’s season was superior to McGwire’s in every category except for home runs. Sosa’s season also had a significant impact on the success of his team — the Cubs went from being a last place 93-loss team to a second place 90-win team.

Some of the intangibles are in McGwire’s favor. The number 70 may hypnotize the MVP voters with its sheer magnitude. McGwire holds the sexiest record in all of sports, and that may be enough to win the award.

In the long run, it’s not that important who wins the MVP award. In one season, Sosa and McGwire have erased many of baseball’s problems. The strike is long forgotten. No one is talking about co trash talking, no bravado. This season, baseball had something to be proud of. Two men, an American and a Dominican, reminded the world what sports are really about – friendship, sportsmanship and the celebration of man’s abilities. Sosa and McGwire accomplished some remarkable feats this season; they gave baseball fans a thrilling summer and they gave the world a perfect example of how we should conduct ourselves in sports and in life.