In the annals of baseball history, the 1998 Home Run Chase remains an iconic chapter, immortalized by the fierce competition between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa as they relentlessly pursued Roger Maris' single-season home run record of 61.
Yet, amidst the frenzy, one name stood conspicuously absent throughout that historic season, only to emerge as the true home run king in years to come – Barry Bonds, who would eventually shatter all records with an astonishing 73 home runs, a mark that still stands.
In '98, Bonds found himself in the shadow of McGwire and Sosa's monumental achievements. He finished the season in 18th place in the home run race, seemingly overlooked by fans and the media. But what exactly was Bonds doing during this remarkable season? He was quietly crafting an MVP-caliber, all-around performance that went largely unnoticed.
Bonds batted a formidable .303, launched 37 home runs, drove in an impressive 122 runs, swiped 28 bases, and boasted a staggering 1.047 OPS – an astonishing 78% higher than the league average, even in an era known for its offensive prowess.
Despite these remarkable stats, Bonds finished a mere eighth in the National League Most Valuable Player voting, an award that went to Sosa, whose Chicago Cubs clinched a playoff spot.
Bonds' 1998 Obscurity
In the limelight of 1998, Bonds were not the centre of attention.
He didn't appear on the Today Show, endorse Denny's delectable side dishes or star in Nike's famous "Chicks Dig the long ball" ad campaign. Bonds seemed to fly under the radar, a stark contrast to the popularity enjoyed by McGwire and Sosa.
Remarkably, Bonds could have retired after the '98 season and quickly secured a first-ballot Hall of Fame induction with 411 home runs, 445 stolen bases, a remarkable .966 OPS, and three MVP awards already to his name. However, Bonds had more in store.
As later revealed in the 2006 book "Game of Shadows," Bonds made a fateful decision. Aware of McGwire and Sosa's involvement with performance-enhancing drugs, Bonds decided to enter that realm himself. His journey into this controversial territory began when his childhood friend, Greg Anderson, introduced him to BALCO lab founder Victor Conte—the result: five of the most prolific offensive seasons in baseball history.
Yet, despite Bonds' awe-inspiring performance from 2000 to 2004, which included his record-breaking 73-home run season in 2001, he never enjoyed the widespread adoration that McGwire and Sosa did. When the BALCO scandal unravelled, and Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa were barred from the Hall of Fame, fans pondered why he had chosen that path.
In 1998, the home run reigned supreme, both figuratively and literally. Yet, when the final tally was taken, Bonds was ranked as the 18th-best player in baseball that year, an afterthought in the historic chase that captivated the world.