Why we should remember the Summer of '98 fondly

So today is the 10th anniversary of Mark McGwire's 62nd home run and if you're like me, you just said "Really? Already? I had no idea? What the? What year is this again?," upon reading that.

But the anniversary is a true fact, as is the reality that it's not being celebrated much. Really. You can do an Internet news search and find little in the way of tributes or original copy. Most of it is wire generated "This Day In History"-type stuff, as if the Summer of Mac & Sammy was a routine event, like the release date of a blockbuster film or the death of some foreign political figure and not a months-long event that defined an entire summer for many Americans.

There are two notable exceptions: Mac's hometown St. Louis Post-Dispatch put together a pretty good "Then and Now" section, including a rare interview with McGwire in which he finally decides to talk about the past and this essay, by my colleague, Jeff Passan.

Here's the thing I like about Jeff's piece: When you first read it, you expect it to be another typical rant against steroids and how we can no longer trust our own mothers because baseball had a rather large drug problem in the '90s. While he makes valid points on how Mac and Sammy eventually changed the way we look at baseball — for better or for worse — Jeff doesn't begrudge or deny us the fond memories we have of that summer, as other, more hyperactive columnists might.

His view lies in concert with my own and it's the reason I'm looking as today as a happy day. Do I like the fact that baseball has/had a steroid problem? No, not really. But am I going to turn toward the bottle to dull the pain caused by the fact someone else decided to destroy their future health by sticking a needle in you-know-where? Of course not.

See, I made the decision a few years ago that I wasn't going to let all the steroid mess taint any of the feelings I had toward the game. I had a helluva good time that summer and if the end result was obtained through artificial means — though not illegally as MLB's rules at the time stated — then that was on their conscience, not mine.

Why would I hesitate to look back at the one August game I attended between the Cardinals and Cubs at Wrigley Field — a game where Mac hit two, Sammy hit one and also where my 19-year-old self bought 400-level tickets for my $10 apiece and then beer with my new fake ID for myself and my date? (That game probably remains the best I've ever spent at Wrigley.)

Why would I let it spoil all the days I spent listening to Cubs' games on the radio as I made my tedious rounds during a boring summer warehouse delivery job or the excited discussions I had about them with my kid sister once I got home?

Why would I let the ongoing Mac-Sammy scoreboard I had on my dorm room door — a source of consternation for my Brewer fan roommate — become a thought to wring my hands over instead of a reason to remember and smile?

The answers to all of the above is that there's simply no good reason to. We all use baseball as a way to pass the time, as a way to build memories, as a way to maintain our relationships. The actual feats achieved along the way are mere mile markers, passed by talented human beings who become emblematic of our shared experience. While we admire them, laud them and make them rich beyond what most of us can imagine, it's still the fans' game.

And so that's why I chose to mark today not by thinking about that circus on Capitol Hill or the ongoing Roger Clemens' saga, but about the personal experiences I had during the few months that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa launched balls into the stratosphere and we collectively watched with amazement.

As always, it was about us.

Not them.

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