McGwire keeping tabs on Judge, Bellinger

Rookie HR record holder impressed by pair of young sluggers

August 14th, 2017

LOS ANGELES -- Mark McGwire arrived in Oakland in 1987, a bright-eyed rookie with a powerful swing. Before he had time to fully comprehend his status as a big leaguer, he says, he was already threatening Major League Baseball's 31-year-old rookie homer record -- held at the time by Frank Robinson and Wally Berger.

With 49 dingers that year, McGwire shattered the previous mark of 38. Thirty summers later, he's on the opposite end of the chase.

Now serving as the Padres' bench coach, McGwire spent the weekend in Los Angeles, where Dodgers rookie is making a serious run at the mark. He's hit 34 homers in his team's first 117 games. Across the country, the Yankees' is even closer to McGwire, with 35 home runs.

"It's awesome to watch," said McGwire. "Think about it -- it was 31 years to the year that I broke it. Now we're in the 30th year for my record. It's pretty cool to think about. I'm a firm believer that records are meant to be broken.

"I've always said there's a potential superstar born every day. Here you are 30 years later, and you've got two superstars in the making. They have a very good chance of shattering it, and I wish them the best of luck. It's going to be cool to watch down the stretch."

McGwire's 1987 season certainly has its share of parallels to Judge and Bellinger. Like Judge, McGwire got his first taste of the big leagues with a handful of games the season before (as a third baseman, believe it or not). Like Judge, he struggled.

McGwire, 1986: .189/.259/.377, 3 HRs, 18 games

Judge, 2016: .179/.263/.345, 4 HRs, 27 games

As Judge has this season, McGwire used his initial callup as a springboard for his success the following year.

"I was lucky enough to get my feet wet," McGwire said. "It helped me understand what it was all about."

That said, McGwire's breakout in 1987 more closely resembles Bellinger's. After all, Bellinger didn't start raking until his April 25 callup.

Unlike Bellinger, McGwire cracked Oakland's Opening Day roster. But it wasn't until the season's third week that he was given the everyday job. With A's first baseman Rob Nelson slumping, McGwire took over on April 20. He would homer nine times in the next 16 games, and the job was his for keeps.

"I just wanted to play every day, just wanted an opportunity," McGwire said. "Next thing you know, it started happening, and I started hitting home runs. Next thing you know, I have 33 at the All-Star break, I'm making the All-Star team."

Thirty years ago on Monday, McGwire hit his 39th homer, breaking the mark set by Berger in 1930 and later equaled by Robinson in '56.

With 49 homers that year, McGwire raised the bar high enough that any challenges from Judge and Bellinger figure to come down to the wire.

If anyone knows what it's like to chase a home run record, it's McGwire.

"You don't think about it at the time," McGwire said. "You're doing something you've always dreamed about doing since you were a kid, but you're just taking every day as it comes. ... You don't have a lot of time to sit back and think and go, 'Oh my gosh.' Because it's an everyday job. It wasn't until the end of the season, I sat back and was like, 'Wow.'"

Thirty years later, Judge and Bellinger are making baseball fans from coast to coast utter the very same word.