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Wednesday, September 9, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mark Mcgwire King Of Swing -- Summer Of 62 -- Mcgwire Takes Possession Of Grandest Of Records, Turns Thoughts To Legacy

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

ST. LOUIS - Mark McGwire already knows how he wants his record to fall.

"I hope my son one day grows up and becomes a baseball player and breaks it," he said.

In this age of burgeoning power and suspect pitching, who knows whether the new home-run standard - whatever it turns out to be - will even make it unscathed through 1999, let alone the time it will take for 10-year-old Matt McGwire to come of age.

In fact, there's not even a guarantee that Mark McGwire will be the home-run champion by this season's end, despite the magnitude of his accomplishment last night, when he blasted home run No. 62 to surpass Roger Maris's single-season record.

Sammy Sosa of the Cubs looms just four home runs back and promised to continue to push McGwire until the end. The Cardinals still have 18 games remaining, while the Cubs have 17 to play.

"Oh, he's going to hold onto it," promised Cardinal outfielder John Mabry. "The way Mark's swinging the bat, if he swings at strikes, he's bound to keep hitting home runs."

The decisive home run, the one the world had been waiting for, was McGwire's shortest of the season, but the one that will live forever.

With his 341-foot line drive in the fourth inning, one that barely had enough height to clear the left-field wall, McGwire gained sole possession of the grandest record in baseball - maybe all of sports - and capped a two-year pursuit of Maris's 1961 mark.

It also moved the home-run record out of New York, where it has resided for nearly eight decades, and back into America's heartland. The Yankees' Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919 to claim the homer mark from Chicago's Ned Williamson, who had hit 27 in 1884.

Ruth broke his own record three times, culminating with 60 in 1927, before losing it to Maris, who was finally nudged aside by McGwire.

"On most of his homers you have enough time to say, `Holy cow, look at that!' " said Mabry. "This one wasn't his usual style. It got out so fast you didn't even have time to say anything. I think he drove the green."

Hotly pursued by Sosa, who fittingly witnessed the record-breaker from right field and even jogged in to give McGwire a celebratory hug, McGwire closed with a flourish. He hit 15 homers in his last 21 games to obliterate Maris's mark in an astonishing 145 games, including one Cardinal tie. Maris hit his 61st in the Yankees' 163rd game.

"It's absolutely incredible," McGwire said. "I am almost speechless. I mean, I have been talking about this since January, and I get to 61, one swing away, and the next thing you know I hit a ball that all of a sudden disappeared on me. I'll tell you what, it was a sweet, sweet run around the bases."

And now, McGwire can relax.

"I don't know how heavy the (St. Louis) Arch is, but the Arch is off my back now," McGwire said, laughing.

The home run made a historical footnote out of Steve Trachsel, the Cub pitcher who gave it up. He will be forever linked with McGwire in the same way that Boston's Tracy Stallard, who yielded Maris's 61st, is still remembered for that pitch.

"I'm hoping they'll be thinking that Steve Trachsel helped the Cubs go to the World Series," said Trachsel, whose record fell to 14-8 after absorbing Chicago's 6-3 defeat. "I think whoever gives up the last one is the guy they'll be talking about."

What he saw, and will see again through perpetuity, was a low fastball that McGwire launched low and hard toward the left-field corner. When it cleared the fence, with just a few feet to spare, bedlam ensued among the 49,987 in attendance at Busch Stadium.

The Baseball Hall of Fame had been fretting about its chances of getting the fateful ball in competition with collectors who were ready to offer millions. But it was hit so low that it didn't even go into the stands. Groundskeeper Tim Forneris retrieved it and gave it McGwire, who promptly turned it over to Cooperstown.

"Divine intervention," beamed Hall of Fame executive Jeff Idelson.

The Hall of Fame also left St. Louis with McGwire's bat, full uniform, hat and spikes, as well as the uniform of Matt McGwire, who served as bat boy, and the scorecard of longtime Cardinal announcer Jack Buck.

"That's totally indicative of Mark McGwire," said Idelson. "We got everything we wanted and more."

McGwire greeted the Maris family in the stands after the home run and again during a postgame ceremony on the field. He received a new trophy, the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award, from Bud Selig, and was presented with a red '62 Corvette from the Cardinals.

McGwire hopped aboard the Corvette for a victory lap around the stadium, slapping palms and waving to the multitudes.

"I think this record puts baseball back on the map as a sport," said McGwire. "It's America's pastime, and look at everybody coming out to the ballparks and all the great players in the game. It's been an exciting year, and it's not over. People have been saying it's bringing the country together. So be it. I'm happy to bring the country together.

On his magical trot around the bases, which McGwire admitted he accomplished in a dream state, he nearly pulled the sports faux pas of the century. In the process of embracing Cardinal first-base coach Dave McKay, McGwire somehow managed to skip right over first base itself. Luckily, McKay noticed the oversight and frantically called McGwire back to touch the bag.

"Honestly, that's the first time I think I've missed," he said. "I'll tell you what, I'll always remember that."

Not much about this day will be forgotten.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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