The 1998 campaign produced some of the best moments in MLB history
"The Long Hot Summer," which premieres on ESPN this Sunday before moving over to ESPN+, tells the story of the exciting 1998 home run race that captivated the entire country. Only a handful of seasons have produced moments throughout the regular season that transcended the fan base. Here are the 10 most memorable.
After the 1994 season ended in mid-August because of a players' strike, baseball fans were livid when baseball returned in 1995. One factor that fueled their anger was the excitement that 1994 was producing. When the season ended, San Diego Padres right fielder Tony Gwynn was batting .394, and San Francisco Giants third baseman Matt Williams had hit 43 home runs and was on pace for 60. Montreal Expos outfielder Larry Walker had 44 doubles and a shot at breaking Earl Webb's record of 67, while his team had MLB's best record and was poised for its second playoff appearance in franchise history. In addition, Texas Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers threw a perfect game against the California Angels two weeks before the season ended. It is a true shame that this season of all seasons was canceled.
Baseball bounced back from the strike-shortened 1981 season with a fan-pleasing year. Oakland Athletics left fielder Rickey Henderson shattered Lou Brock's singe-season stolen base record with 130, Seattle Mariners pitcher Gaylord Perry recorded his 300th win, and Cal Ripken Jr. began his record streak of playing in 2,632 consecutive games. Meanwhile the AL East and NL West came down to the last game of the season, with the Milwaukee Brewers besting the Orioles and the Atlanta Braves beating out the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals scored five unanswered runs to come back and beat the Brewers 6-3 in Game 7. Milwaukee shortstop Robin Yount rode his motorcycle in a parade honoring the losing team the next day.
The season is best remembered for the M&M Boys home run race between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, which ended with Maris breaking Babe Ruth's single-season record. However, San Francisco Giants outfielder Willie Mays also hit four dingers against the Milwaukee Braves and recorded his 300th home run, while Braves pitcher Warren Spahn threw a no-hitter against the Giants and won his 300th game. Maris also hit another home run in the World Series as the New York Yankees beat the Cincinnati Reds in five games.
The 1988 campaign was full of many feats, the flashiest being Oakland Athletics outfielder Jose Canseco becoming the first player to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a season. On the mound, Tom Browning pitched the 12th perfect game in MLB history, Dennis Eckersley recorded 45 saves, Jeff Reardon became the first reliever to rack up 40 saves in both leagues, and Orel Hershiser pitched a record 59 straight scoreless innings. Hershiser and the Los Angeles Dodgers entered the Fall Classic as underdogs to the Athletics. Then in Game 1, an injured Kirk Gibson hobbled to home plate and pinch-hit a walk-off home run. The Dodgers then went on to beat the Athletics in five games.
New York Yankees pitcher Allen Reynolds became the first player to throw two no-hitters in the same season, while Cliff Chambers and Bob Feller also pitched no-nos. But of course, the main entertainment came in the pennant race between the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. The two teams finished the season tied for first, prompting a three-game playoff. Down 4-2 in Game 3, Giants outfielder Bobby Thompson hit a three-run home run known as the "Shot Heard 'Round the World." The Giants then fell to the Yankees in six games.
The New York Mets suffered losing records in their first seven seasons and started 1969 at 18-23, but the "Miracle Mets" went 82-39 for the remainder of the season. The Chicago Cubs had a 10-game division lead on the Mets on Aug. 14, but the Mets won the NL East by eight games. In the World Series, New York beat the Baltimore Orioles in five games. Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer was one of six players to throw no-hitters this season.
The Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins finished last in their respective divisions in 1990, so '91 marked the first time two teams made the World Series after placing last the year before. The teams then played arguably the greatest World Series ever with three of the seven games going into extra innings. In Game 7, Twins pitcher Jack Morris threw a 10-inning shutout in a 1-0 win. Elsewhere in the league, Rickey Henderson broke Lou Brock's career stolen base record, Cecil Fielder hit the only home run to ever exit Milwaukee County Stadium, and seven no-hitters were thrown, including Dennis Martinez's perfect game and Nolan Ryan's seventh no-no.
Pete Rose hit in 44 straight games, marking the longest streak since Joe DiMaggio's 56-game run. Rose also recorded his 3,000th hit, Willie McCovey blasted his 500th home run, and Gaylord Perry notched his 3,000th strikeout. The season ended in a whirlwind as the New York Yankees overcame a dumpster fire of a campaign that saw Reggie Jackson get suspended and manager Billy Martin resign to come back from 14 games down to tie the Boston Red Sox. In the tiebreaker game, Boston led 2-0 in the sixth inning when Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent hit a three-run home run to secure the lead for good. The Yankees then went on and won the World Series, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games.
The last MLB season before the United States entered World War II was one for the ages and saw what are arguably baseball's two most sacred feats: Ted Williams hit .406, becoming the last player to hit over .400 in a season, and Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 consecutive games. DiMaggio also recorded five hits as the New York Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in five games to win the World Series. In addition, Boston Red Sox pitcher Lefty Grove won his 300th game, which was the final victory of his career.
Regardless of steroid use, this season saved baseball. The entire country was focused on Mark McGwire's and Sammy Sosa's pursuit of Roger Maris' home run record, but so much more happened that year. Ken Griffey Jr. hit 56 homers that included the 300th of his career and he also drove in his 1,000th RBI. Alex Rodriguez joined Jose Canseco and Barry Bonds in the 40-40 Club and the Arizona Diamondbacks intentionally walked Bonds with the bases load. In pitching, David Wells threw a perfect game, Chicago Cubs ace Kerry Wood recorded 20 strikeouts in a one-hit shutout of the Houston Astros, and Roger Clemens threw his 3,000th strikeout. Wells also won Game 1 of the World Series as the Yankees swept the San Diego Padres.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.