Mark McGwire made millions of dollars to hit home runs. After all, it’s not like he boasted a very complete skill set. The St. Louis Cardinals slugger made history when he broke the single-season home run record in 1998. At the time, he and Sammy Sosa brought baseball back into the national spotlight.
When Big Mac swatted his 70th home run of the season, one lucky fan caught a ball that would turn into $3 million one day. Only that wouldn’t have happened if Mark McGwire had just agreed to meet him.
Mark McGwire was one of the best power hitters of all time
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If you’re going to be good at one thing, you better be great at it. Mark McGwire didn’t run the bases well. Nobody would call him a terrific defender. He certainly didn’t hit for average. What he did do, though, was swat home runs at a prolific rate.
Originally a member of the Oakland Athletics, McGwire wasted no time showing MLB pitchers that he should be feared. He won the 1987 MLB Rookie of the Year award after leading the league with 49 home runs. He also boasted a league-high .618 slugging percentage.
A perennial All-Star in Oakland, McGwire regularly topped 30 homers throughout the early ’90s. Following two injury-marred campaigns, he knocked 39 long balls in 1995. The next year, he once again led the majors with 52 home runs.
That set off a remarkable run in his 30s that seemed to defy the odds. Of course, we later learned that steroids powered McGwire’s late-career surge. But for Cardinals fans, that didn’t matter. Once the game’s biggest slugger arrived in St. Louis, they couldn’t wait to watch Mark McGwire step up to the plate.
Cardinals slugger broke the single-season home-run record in 1998
Acquired at the trading deadline in 1997, McGwire had already swatted 35 homers in 105 games with the Athletics. He nearly hit one in every other game in 51 appearances with the Cardinals to close out the year.
It turns out that McGwire’s prolific pace would repeat itself in 1998. That season, the first baseman enjoyed a historic battle with Sammy Sosa. Both power hitters became SportsCenter staples for their epic long balls. Fans flocked to games to watch each ball fly into the stands or out of the park entirely.
Chasing Roger Maris’ single-season record saved baseball. And by September, McGwire closed in. On September 8, he broke the record by swatting his 62nd home run off of Chicago Cubs pitcher Steve Trachsel.
Weeks later, the Cardinals superstar knocked his 69th and 70th homers into the stands against the Montreal Expos. Phil Ozersky came up with the ball. What ensued turned out to be completely life-changing.
McGwire refused to meet the fan who caught his record-breaking home run ball
Sports memorabilia can fetch a ton of money. Ozersky learned that lesson firsthand thanks to Mark McGwire refusing to meet him. According to the Mercury News, the Cardinals offered Ozersky a signed bat, ball, and jersey in exchange for the record-setting ball. He made just one more request. Ozersky wanted to meet the man who broke Maris’ record.
Unfortunately for him, McGwire had no interest in stepping up to the plate. That led the deal with the Cardinals to fall through.
While Phil Ozersky failed to meet Mark McGwire, he got a heck of a consolation prize. By holding on to the ball, he got the much better end of the deal. Three months after McGwire turned him down, the man who was making $30,000 a year sold the ball for $3.05 million.