History takes a beating

BOB ELLIOTT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Michael Barrett had the best seat in the house as history unfolded.

Tie game.

Bottom of the eighth.

Sept. 27, 1998, the final day of the season.

Barrett was squatting awaiting Carl Pavano's first pitch with two on and two out.

"Usually, he takes the first pitch, not this time," the former Montreal Expos catcher said. "You didn't want him to hit his 70th homer, but once he did ...

"Busch Stadium was electric. The place was magical. I remember thinking: 'We just saw history.' This was only my ninth game in the big leagues."

Mark McGwire had that effect on fans both that day and for most of the 1998 season, hitting 70 homers, the final one off Pavano, for the single-season home run record. And now?

"It's like it doesn't matter," said Barrett, the new Blue Jays catcher who is preparing to begin his 12th season in the majors.

Five innings earlier, Barrett and the Expos thought they had seen McGwire's final homer when Mike Thurman gave up No. 69.

"Our bench was into it, like 'that was it,'" Barrett said. "But looking in to St. Louis' dugout they weren't to him, like a guy with a no-hit bid. They knew he had more at-bats coming.

"It's sad, the way things have come out lately. We saw so many things that a lot of us now question. A lot of this robs McGwire of what was a miraculous season."

Not just McGwire.

Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Miguel Tejada, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez, too.

McGwire has been eligible for the Hall of Fame for three years. He has not been named on 25% of the ballots, far short of the required 75%.

"The Hall of Fame is not reserved for quality people," Barrett said accurately. Ty Cobb was a racist, Babe Ruth drank not only the odd gallon, but the even ones too.

Hanging in Barrett's home is an autographed picture of McGwire hitting his 70th.

"Regardless of their transgressions, Sammy Sosa and McGwire displayed a tremendous amount of passion that summer. What they did for the game is more important than being in the Hall of Fame. That home run race brought out people who are still fans. McGwire handled the media like a Hall of Famer. After the 1994 strike, baseball needed that. This will pass."

The Barretts have two children, Grace 4, and Drew, 1. What happens, Barrett is asked when 10 years from now Drew asks: "So dad, why isn't the red-headed guy in the Hall of Fame if he hit so many home runs?"

Barrett looks down at his feet thinking.

"I'm going to tell my son that we all make mistakes and there are consequences for what you do in life," Barrett said. "I want to get this right, but there is a lot more to be said about integrity and passion combined than anything else when it comes to playing baseball.

"You have to have a set of values. Looking back on your life without regrets is one of the most peaceful things we can do."

The deep thinker spent 30 games with the Padres in 2008. He'll compete with Curtis Thigpen and J.P. Arencibia, for the backup role behind Rod Barajas.

Barrett also has a picture of Clemens in his office from when they were teammates with Team USA during the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

"That picture," Barrett said, "isn't coming down either."

Barrett said fans have to look at steroids in the game "like the dead ball era."

"I won't pass judgement on my brothers, we have all made mistakes," Barrett said. "I don't want to look back. I want it to go away."

It's going to be a while.

BOB.ELLIOTT@SUNMEDIA.CA


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