It was Tuesday evening, September 8, 1998, and I turned on the game between the Cubs and Cardinals in hopes of seeing Mark McGwire break Roger Maris' record for most home runs in a season. Since his home run chase had been so widely followed the game aired on a broadcast network, Fox, which was highly unusual for a regular season game in primetime. After he failed to do so in his first at-bat I decided to go to the gym.
Although my gym (Crunch Fitness) had TV monitors I missed seeing McGwire launch his historic 62nd home run because I was in the middle of doing a set of pulldowns, so my back was to the screens. When I turned to look after completing my set I saw McGwire rounding the bases and then watched some of the celebration including congratulations from his young son and fellow home run chaser Sammy Sosa of the Cubs. It was a sweet moment. (The YouTube video of the HR is no longer available.)
Looking back at it now, with all we know about the charges that McGuire, Sosa (as well as A-Rod, Big Papi and Manny Ramirez among others) were taking performance enhancing substances, this milestone leaves a bitter taste. A supposed moment of triumph instead somewhat resembles the foolishness of President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" moment five years later a few months after the U.S. incursion into Iraq began.
Three years later, on October 5, 2001, I also missed seeing Barry Bonds break McGwire’s record. I happened to switch to ESPN close to 11PM (the game was being played in San Francisco) just as Bonds was rounding the bases in the 1st inning. However, compared to McGwire's pursuit of the record, I had less interest in following it this time around since I was hardly a fan of Bonds. Also, since it came just a few weeks after 9/11 it seemed somewhat trivial.
And six years later when Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s all-time record for career home runs (Aug. 7, 2007) I was vacationing out at Fire Island and read the news about it online. I was happy Bonds' joyless pursuit was finally behind us and delighted that once the media attention ended he more or less disappeared from public view. (Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO and the Steroids Scandal does a good job of revealing the underlying reasons behind the Bonds controversy.)
Happily, I did see Hank Aaron hit the home run that moved him ahead of Babe Ruth (April 8, 1974). I was a junior in high school and had taken a time-out from studying for the SATs to watch the game. After Aaron eclipsed Ruth's record with HR #714 in the bottom of the 4th inning I resumed studying. It seems fitting that this is the milestone I witnessed since his achievement appears to have been the only legitimate one of the three players since he wasn’t hopped up on performance enhancing drugs. (For more on Aaron's pursuit you may find the book Hank Aaron & the Home Run That Changed America of interest.)