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Big Swingers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa treated the nation to a home run race that was as refreshing as a day at the beach

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As is our custom late each fall, we at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED sat
down to discuss nominations for Sportsman of the.... No, we
didn't discuss. We didn't even sit down. It was automatic. It
was unanimous. It was the easiest selection in our history. It
couldn't be one Sportsman of the Year. It had to be two. Mark
McGwire and Sammy Sosa. All in favor, say aye. All opposed,
report back to your coma.

McGwire and Sosa gave America a summer that won't be forgotten:
a summer of stroke and counterstroke, of packed houses and
curtain calls, of rivals embracing and gloves in the bleachers
and adults turned into kids--the Summer of Long Balls and Love.
It wasn't just the lengths they went to with bats in their
hands. It was also that they went to such lengths to conduct the
great home run race with dignity and sportsmanship, with a sense
of joy and openness. Never have two men chased legends and each
other that hard and that long or invited so much of America onto
their backs for the ride. Rarely has grace so swiftly begotten
grace, $2 million pouring into Sosa's foundation for hurricane
victims in his native Dominican Republic and a flurry of checks
for $62 and $70 into McGwire's Los Angeles-based charity for
abused children.

But if the choice of McGwire and Sosa as Sportsmen of the Year
was a no-brainer, figuring out how to write about them, so soon
after so much had been written and spoken and shouted from the
rooftops, was a real brain-racker. We decided to turn the lights
and cameras a little to the side, a little beyond what America
watched all summer, to tell the stories of the two men who
helped form baseball's two greatest single-season home run
hitters--to present the prequel, if you will, to the Summer of
Long Balls and Love. One of these men, who says he lost his job
at USC for coaching in a summer league where he turned Mark
McGwire into a slugger, watched his protege's epic quest unfold
as most of us did, catching network news flashes and lightning
bolts on SportsCenter before dropping off to sleep or just after
waking up. The other man, Sammy Sosa's teacher, followed it all
from the heart of darkness, a prison in Sosa's hometown. For
him, the home run race wasn't watercooler conversation. It was
nearly life and death.

To find out what you didn't know about what you knew everything
about, turn the page. --GARY SMITH


COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. To celebrate the Homeric feats of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, photographer Walter Iooss Jr. turned a witty lens on the two mythic heroes of 1998, and senior writers Tom Verducci and Gary Smith turned their close attention to the two obscure men who, more than any others, made McGwire and Sosa the record-smashing hitters that they are [Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa wearing togas and laurel wreaths--T of C]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY WALTER IOOSS JR. [Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa on beachchairs with coolers and drinks]

COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. [Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire]

They gave us a summer of packed houses and curtain calls, of
rivals embracing and adults turned into kids.