Both McGwire, of the St Louis Cardinals, and Sammy Sosa, of the Chicago Cubs, had been chasing the record all season and both broke through the Maris barrier weeks ago. But although they were tied at the end of last week, McGwire, in an incredible weekend, punched his way to the top with two homers against the Montreal Expos yesterday at Busch stadium, his home ground.
Sosa may yet have another game to play, since the Cubs are fighting for a place in the World Series, but at 66, he looks unlikely to make the grade. It is desperately ironic that a performance which, in any other year, would have easily given him the record, leaves him in second place. McGwire, 35, has emerged as the batting sensation of the century, and allegations about drug use have done nothing to damage his image in most peoples' minds.
The chase has been a marketing man's dream, and yet the sums of money on offer will be far less than those available to a basketball player like Michael Jordan, whose wealth and economic activities make him equivalent in size to a medium-sized country.
There has been just as much interest in the balls struck by McGwire with such power all season.
Most have been returned by fans, a mark of the game's innate sense of propriety and honour, now restored after a 1994 player's strike threatened to do it grave damage. Kerry Woodson, a 22-year-old body shop worker, caught the 69th, and thought he had the last. "I reached up, closed my eyes, and it landed in my glove," Woodson said. "It's a dream come true. I hope he doesn't hit any more today."
The second home run ball landed in a party box and the final prize went to Phil Ozerski, who was attending the game with a group of Washington University scientists.