The 1998 season was one that some say saved baseball. It started on opening day when Mark McGwire hit a grand slam off Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Ramon Martinez. Baseball was looking for something to excite the fans and bring them back to the game. McGwire had the fans thinking of Roger Maris' record from opening day. McGwire homered in the first four games of the 1998 season. The only player to ever accomplish this feat in the past was Willie Mays. By the All-Star break McGwire had tied Reggie Jackson's mark for the most homers going into the All-Star break at 37.
By the end of June, Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa tied McGwire for the lead in home runs and the home run chase for Maris' 61 was on. The friendly competition and both sluggers pulling for each other captivated the nation. By August, the home run lead would be so close that the leader would often switch back and forth on the same day.
On Sept. 7-8 in games against Sosa and the Chicago Cubs, McGwire tied and then broke Maris' 37-year-old record. Yet, the home run lead was still not decided. With three weeks left in the season, McGwire seemed to hold a comfortable lead but on the last Friday of the regular season, Sosa hit his 66th blast to regain the lead. It turned out to be just a 47-minute lead as McGwire tied him with 66 later that same day.
Sosa went homerless in his last two games and finished the season with an astounding 66 home runs. McGwire hit four home runs in his last two games with a home run in his last at bat to finish the season as the all-time single season home run king with 70 home runs (Barry Bonds broke the mark in 2001 with 73 home runs).
The 1998 season was much like the 1961 season. McGwire and Sosa chased the same record that Maris and Mickey Mantle chased back in 1961. At the time of the memorable chase the strike of 1994 brought on waning fan interest and baseball seemed to lack the excitement and action of the ever increasing popularity of football and basketball. The chase captivated sports fans world wide and helped restore baseball's popularity in America.
McGwire played on the 1984 USA Olympic baseball team. He was later drafted in 1984 in the first round by the Oakland A's. He was brought up to the big leagues on Aug. 20, 1986. In his rookie year of 1987, he set an American League record for rookies with 49 homers. His 49 home runs also set a new A's team record topping Reggie Jackson's old mark of 47. McGwire also led the majors in slugging percentage (.618) and RBIs with 118.
In his prime, McGwire was perhaps the closest our generation would ever come to a glimpse of what it was like to see Babe Ruth play. He hit a home run every 9.42 at bats, edging out Ruth for the highest home run ratio in Major League history. And like Ruth, McGwire had started out as a pitcher. In 1982, he posted a 4-4 record at USC with a 3.04 ERA and went 3-1 with 2.78 ERA in 1983. In fact, if it wasn't for his assistant coach Greg Vaughn noticing his power during batting practice, McGwire may have been a Major League pitcher instead of the prolific home run hitter he became.
Mark McGwire retired with 583 lifetime home runs. His achievements on and off the field and his humble nature and his respect for the game make his baseball cards, memorabilia and signature highly sought after by fans, collectors and historians. But because of this demand his signature has become a favorite of forgers.
Throughout the past decade McGwire's signature has been fairly consistent. However in the late 1980s through the early 1990s, McGwire's signature was constantly evolving. Today, the basic form still remains but in a far more streamlined version.
Prior to his major league career, McGwire's signature had more distinguishable letters, as "Mark" was spelled out completely. Also, the "c" in "McGwire" was detached from the "G." In addition, the "G" was separated from the remaining part of his last name. Around 1986, the first noticeable variations started to appear. The "M" in "Mark" began to appear with a small loop in it and the "k" transformed into a tall loop, much like a cursive "l." Other changes included the "c" in the "McGwire" part of the signature became linked just above the "G" to the left.
In 1987 the "k" in Mark slowly began to develop into an upside-down teardrop shape. Also, the "G" in McGwire had a long tail with heavy pressure on the downward stroke. The only major variation in 1988 was the tail on the "G" in McGwire became shorter and more oval shaped.
By 1989, the "r" in "Mark" had completely disappeared. The "c" in McGwire now sits directly above the "G." Moreover, the tail on the "G" started to have a straight downward stroke. By 1990 (Examples 9, 10) the tail on the "G" was becoming more triangular in appearance (See examples 3,7,8).
Gradually, the loop in the "M" and the big looping "k" in "Mark" became wider and more pronounced. Also, the tail of the "G" in "McGwire" began to look like a very distinct triangle (See examples 1,9,10).
At some point in the early '90s, McGwire developed a shorter version of his signature, commonly called the "Short Sig." It basically looks like a lowercase "m" and a capital "G" running together, but the actual letters in this version are "M, k, M, & G." In the late '90s he developed a combination version of his "full" and "short" signatures. The only real difference between the "full" and "combo" signatures is in the "combo" the "M" in "Mark" is lowercase (See example 4).
Occasionally McGwire would add an inscription to his end of his signature. When he was playing with Oakland he rarely added "#25" or "25." The more common inscriptions began when he started playing with the Cardinals, the most common are: "STL25," "98," "70," "2000," and "'01" (See examples 2,5).
It should be noted that McGwire stopped signing on the sweet spot of baseballs near the end of the 1998 season. His National League baseballs signed on the sweet spot are exceedingly rare.