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Mac, Sosa And The Year In Sports

When people look back at the 1998 year in sports it won't take a rocket scientist to figure out what the biggest story of the year was. It will forever be known as simply.... "The Chase."

In fact if it wasn't for an intern by the name of Monica, the great home-run chase wouldn't just be the sports story of the year, it would be "THE" story of the year.

Everyone -- from the two players directly involved -- to people who had never seen a baseball game in their life -- were caught up in it.

The newspapers had graphic charts on a daily basis. The Internet had up-to-the-second updates. It was the lead to almost every sports highlight show throughout the summer whether there was a home run or not.

And finally if that is not enough -- it did what no one thought was possible -- it saved the game of baseball after the game nearly destroyed itself four years ago with a strike.

It all started on March, 31, 1998 on Opening Day in St. Louis when Mark McGwire belted his first homer -- a grand slam no less -- against the Dodgers.

And it didn't end until the season's final day on September 27, 1998. In St. Louis -- where else? -- Big Mac blasted Nos. 69 and 70 against the Expos to close the curtain on the most breathtaking race you will probably ever see.

Though it started and ended with the massive McGwire swatting baseballs into the outer reaches of Busch Stadium, just about every city and stadium got a taste of it.

It was a traveling circus of flying baseballs.

Mark McGwire
Big Mac and his record-breaking 70 HRs were the highlight of 1998's year in sports. (AP)

Ken Griffey Jr. -- the game's finest all-around player -- was involved early before going into his usual month-long slump. Still, the sweet-swinging center fielder ended up with 56 homers for the second consecutive season.

From the day spring training started, everyone expected Griffey and McGwire to be the ones assaulting history

What nobody expected was for Sammy Sosa to be involved.

Who could have? The free-swinging right fielder's previous career high for home runs in a season was 40.

So what was he doing swatting 20 homers in June? Throwing his bat into the chase, that's what.

It's hard to pinpoint a reason Sosa, the soft-spoken man from the Dominican Republic, unexpectedly joined McGwire in pursuit of Maris. It's just good that he did.

Sammy Sosa
Sammy Sosa hit his 66th home run on September 25, 1998. (AP)

Nobody ever likes to see a one-horse race. And thanks to NL MVP Sosa -- who finished with 66 -- this one had more twists than any country road. It also had two of the classiest guys you will ever see genuinely rooting for the other to keep up.

So as Sosa and McGwire spent July and August chasing Maris and Ruth -- and trying to keep up with each other -- it was fitting that fate brought them together with the Cubs at St. Louis on Tuesday, September 7, 1998.

That was the night McGwire smashed record-setting No. 62. It was a low line drive that cleared the fence by maybe an inch. As McGwire awkwardly sprinted around the bases in the pure joy of the moment, Sosa came sprinting in from right field.

The two men shared a hearty embrace as fireworks boomed into the St. Louis night.

They were celebrating not just McGwire's shot into history, but also the revival of a game that seemed doomed just four years before when a strike cancelled the World Series.

They were celebrating not just the story of the year in baseball. But arguably the sports story of an entire generation.

Here are other occurrences that helped make 1998 the most intriguing sports year in recent memory.

New York Yankees 125-50

As the nation was caught up in the individualism of the home run, the Yankees kept their focus on playing as a team in the most literal sense. By the time their magical season had culminated with a World Series sweep against the San Diego Padres, Joe Torre's team had etched itself as not only the best Yankee team ever, but arguably the best team in history, period.

The everyday lineup had the look of an All-Star team

The Yankees won their 24th World Series championship on October 21, 1998.
with Chuck Knoblauch, Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez and a No. 9 hitter named Scott Brosius who merely hit .300, drove in 98 runs and was named MVP of the World Series by the time it was all over.

The pitching staff was loaded. David Wells had a career year, highlighted by a perfect game in May. David Cone bounced back from two injury-plagued seasons to have his first 20-win season in a decade. Andy Pettitte struggled and still won 16 games, including the World Series clincher. Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez defected from Cuba and gave the Yankees a shot in the arm.

David Wells pitched just the 13th perfect game in MLB history on May 17, 1998.

He notched what was arguably the team's biggest victory in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Indians. The Yankees had actually trailed the series 2-1 heading into that game.

By the time El Duque finished stifling the Tribe, the Bronx Bombers were feeling like world beaters again. In fact, they didn't lose the rest of the way. Including the playoffs, they were an astounding 125-50.

But perhaps the most remarkable thing of all in this age of free agency and high salary demands is that the entire team -- aside from a couple of spare parts -- will return next season. Williams, the team's best all-around player, was retained even though nobody thought he would be. And deals were etched quickly to keep Cone and Brosius in pinstripes.

To show how magical the year truly was for the Yanks, consider that Joe DiMaggio is still alive. The Yankee Clipper and living legend was considered on the verge of death several times in November and December after battling pneumonia and lung cancer. But he fought like a true Yankee and hopes to throw out the first ball again next season.

Kerry With A 'K', And Lots Of Them

The first hint 1998 was going to be a season for the ages came May 6, 1998 at Wrigley Field. That was the day 20-year-old Kerry Wood took the mound for the Cubs and struck out 20 Houston Astros, equaling Roger Clemens' all-time record.

Kerry Woods tied a MLB record with 20 K's on May, 6 1998.

Like Clemens, Wood is from Texas and throws nasty heat. He seemed on the verge of having the most dominant rookie season of any pitcher since Doc Gooden in 1984. But injuries halted Wood's progress. Still, he was the Rookie of the Year, and his impact on the season was lasting. He has the stuff and the mentality legens are made of. It seems only a matter of whether he can stay healthy.

Classy Cal Ends 'Iron Man' Streak

How do you end a streak by which your very legend is defined by? How about going up to your manager hours before a nationally televised Sunday night game in September and telling your manager "it's time."

That is just Cal Ripken Jr.'s way.

Cal Ripken ended his 'Iron Man' streak of 2,632 consecutive games on September 20, 1998.

And that is how the Baltimore Orioles lifer ended his seemingly unbreakable consecutive games streak at 2,632. The man didn't take a day off for more than 15 years. He spent his first "sick day" in a decade and a half signing autographs and hanging out with the Orioles relief pitchers in the bullpen. By the end of nine innings, he was itching to get back into the lineup.

It's doubtful manager Ray Miller will have a lineup card without Ripken's name on it again any time soon.

Jordan, Bulls Repeat 3-Peat

Oh, yes... let's not forget that baseball wasn't the only sport this year! Before the ugly NBA lockout began, the end of the 1997-98 basketball season had a fairytale ending to a glorious career for 'His Airness', Michael Jordan. On June 14, 1998 is when Jordan stole the ball in the final moments of Game 6 of the NBA finals, dribble down court and hit the game-winning shot with just 5.2 seconds left to give Chicago a 87-86 victory over the Utah Jazz and the Bulls sixth NBA championship of the '90s.

Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson won their sixth NBA title of the '90s on June 14, 1998.

And if that really was Jordan's swan song, what a way to end the career of the greatest player of all time, winning his sixth NBA Finals MVP award.

We of course have to wait for the lockout to end for it to become official but let me say it right now... Jordan has played his final game. Michael your not even gone yet and we miss you already.

O'Meara Wins Masters, British Open

If 1997 was the year of Tiger Woods in the golf world, then 1998 had to be the year of Mark O'Meara.

Mark O'Meara won his second major of the year on July 19, 1998.

The 41-year-old O'Meara, who used to be known as the greatest player never to win a major, won two majors in 1998 with the Masters and the British Open crowns.

He was the first player since Nick Faldo in 1990 and the oldest player ever to win two majors in the same year and capped off the year by being named the PGA Tour's Player of the Year.

Detroit Repeats As Stanley Cup Champs

In hockey, the Detroit Red Wings became the first team since the 1992 Pittsburgh Penguins to repeat as Stanley Cup champions with a four-game sweep of the Washington Capitals on June 16, 1998.

The Detroit Red Wings won their second consecutive Stanley Cup on June 16, 1998.

Doug Brown scored two goals and goalie Chris Osgood finished a spectacular series with 30 saves as Detroit beat Washington 4-1 to cap the four-game sweep.

The win gave Scotty Bowman a record-tying eighth Stanley Cup as coach but the victory was dedicated to defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakonov, who suffered head injuries in an automobile accident just six days following Detroit's 1997 Stanley Cup win.

Kentucky Wins NCAA Title

In college basketball, the Kentucky Wildcats won their second NCAA championship in three years with a 78-69 victory over Utah on March 30, 1998.

Kentucky won their 2nd NCAA title in three years on March 30, 1998.

Scott Padgett scored 17 points and Jeff Sheppard added 16 points en route to winning the most outstanding player award as the Wildcats overcame the largest halftime deficit -- 10 points -- in a championship game.

It was Kentucky's third straight year in the finals, having lost to Arizona in 1997, but it was the first with new coach Tubby Smith.

Elway, Broncos Win Super Bowl XXXII

And finally it was nearly a year ago now when John Eway led the Denver Broncos to their first Super Bowl title in four tries with a 31-24 victory over Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXII.

John Elway and the Denver Broncos won Super Bowl XXXII on January 25, 1998.

Terrell Davis was named the Super Bowl MVP after running for 157 yards and three touchdowns but it was a 37-year-old quarterback by the name of John Elway that touched the hearts of millions of fans across the nation. It was also the first AFC victory since the Raiders, then in Los Angeles, beat Washington in 1984.

This year it looks like Denver and 38-year-old John Elway are shooting for a repeat... but that will have to wait for 1999. So until then... Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from CBS.