Baseball Heroes And Ancient Gods

In the realm of myths, Mark McGwire is right up there with Zeus, Apollo, and Poseidon. I found that out on my recent trip to ancient sites in and around Greece. On our tours we would visit ruins and hear about the Greek gods. Then some American in our group would unfailingly bring up the subject of McGwire with a question like this: "Anyone know whether Mark got another one?"

It seemed I was surrounded by St. Louis Cardinals fans who were all rooting for McGwire, not Sammy Sosa. And so was I. I've been an ardent Cardinals fan since 1926 when, as a lad, I got caught up in the National League race when Rogers Hornsby and Grover Cleveland Alexander were leading the Cards to their first pennant and World Series victories. That series triumph came over no less than one of the fabled Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig Yankee teams.

McGwire was mentioned on our trip to Greece far more than Zeus. And why not? To paraphrase a widely quoted Babe Ruth quip about why he believed he should be making more money than President Hoover, Ruth said he had had a "better year" than Hoover. McGwire was having a better year than Zeus.

I liked Sammy Sosa, too. But I'd grown up in central Illinois where most of my friends were Chicago Cubs fans. So I found myself in frequent hot debate with Cubs rooters over the merits of our teams. The Cards gave me a lot of victorious years - and much to brag about.

So I must admit that I took a boyish glee in seeing my Cards flourish, year after year, while the Cubs achieved little success. I was not a gracious winner. I rubbed it in with my buddies, Bobby and John, when the Cubs had their failures. And when the Cubs, in a terrible trade, practically gave the Cards later Hall of Famer Lou Brock, I never let my friends forget it.

Please forgive! I'm a little more grown up now (although it's said that baseball fans never grow up) and I'm much more sensitive to the feelings of Cubs supporters. So I was able to view Sosa as a grand fellow and his performance as being quite remarkable. But I was pulling for McGwire all the way.

And now McGwire will doubtless join the long line of Cardinals Hall of Famers, which includes pitchers like Alexander, Bob Gibson, and Dizzy Dean, second basemen Frankie Fritsch and Hornsby, shortstop Marty Marion, and outfielder Stan Musial, who, until now, was St. Louis's favorite hero.

Soon the Stan Musial Society, the Washington-based Cardinals fan club, of which I am a charter member, will be sitting around our hotel dining room and crowing loudly about McGwire and our great year. Of course, the Cards as a team didn't get very far. Our pitching was hopeless. But who is going to mention that?

Musial often is our guest. Maybe McGwire will meet with us soon after he has had that time on the beach he has been longing for.

Musial, like McGwire, is so very modest. When he recollects his achievements, Stan, like Mark, seems to be talking about someone else. Stan also seems "in awe" of that "other" fellow who did such wonderful things on the baseball diamond.

After talking about his baseball past, Musial will pull out his harmonica and play us a few tunes. He's a spirited player - but not of Big League caliber. However, we applaud loudly. We would cheer for Stan if he were showing us how he washes dishes.

Finally, I do have one political observation. I have written that there was much talk about President Clinton and his escapades on my trip to Greece. But, thank goodness, McGwire (and Sammy Sosa) were with us, too.

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