SPECIAL FEATURE

Where his father John failed, Mark McGwire succeeded

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Sometime in the mid-1900s, John McGwire stood at bat and connected. He sent the ball sailing over the left outfield fence. A home run! The crowd stood and cheered as he ran across home plate.

Then his daydream bubble burst … and the young John limped away from the empty diamond, dragging his polio-damaged leg, a victim of a poliomyelitis epidemic that ravished the United States in 1944. The serious infectious virus hit children especially hard.

It caused inflammation of the gray matter on the spinal cord and brought fever, motor paralysis and muscular atrophy. John’ concerned parents isolated him from public places, away from the swimming pools, theaters, crowds.

On a Sunday in September just after John’s seventh birthday, while walking across the living room at his home in Spokane, Washington, his legs collapsed. Three years later in 1947, a dead-virus vaccine aimed at protecting poliomyelitis paralysation was developed. I came too late though to help John.


Mark McGwire PHOTO FROM EDDIE ALINEA’S FILE

For lonely six months, John was confined in the contagious patients ward at St. Luke’s Hospital in Spokane, His mother couldn’t even visit her little boy. Many tears flowed as hospital attendants roiled his bed to the window so he could wave to his mother sanding on the sidewalk outside the hospital.

As he grew up, his parents, six younger siblings, relatives and friends never treated him as handicapped. John himself never considered himself disabled. His interest in sport never wavered though. He participated in sports events as much as he could.

John knew his having polio had turned him away from a career in sports. He enrolled in the University of Washington School of Dentistry to help people. He became president of his class and graduated in 1962.

As years passed, John and wife Ginger were blessed with five robust, sports-loving sons. Coaching his brood in soccer and little league allowed John to remain involved in sports. On September 7, 1998, John’s 61st birthday, he and Ginger attended a baseball game.

The couple ’s second eldest son stepped up to the plate. He swung with powerful strength, sending the leather flying over the left outfield fence. A home run that re-wrote the history books!

Mark McGwire had hit his 61st round-tripper of the season, tying Roger Maris’ 37-year-old record.

“Happy birthday Dad!” Mark shouted as he circled the bases, throwing kisses into the sky in Maris’ meBIs, 130 runs, 162 walks, (a National League record) and a .752 slugging percentage. Then the three generations of McGwires—Mark, Mark’s son Matthew and John –saluted the standing, cheering crowd.

And John, leaning on his cane, entered the playing field and crossed the home plate.

Mark went on to score nine more homers to end the 1998 season with staggering number, including 70 base-clearing shots, 147 RBIs, 130 runs, 162 walks, (a National League record) and .752 slugging percentage. But it was with Babe Ruth and Roger, it was the home runs total that fans will remember.

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