The State of Nature of the Summer of ’98

Baseball is one of the greatest games to ever be played in our country, and has always been deeply rooted in American history. One of these infamous events in baseball culture was the 1998 MLB homerun record race between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs. This captivating competition, that lasted the entire season, was said to have “saved baseball” at a time when it was regressing in American pop culture. This great moment in American baseball history also happens to exhibit one of Thomas Hobbes’ most prominent laws of nature.

In this law, Hobbes states: “And therefore if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their end…endeavor to destroy or subdue one another”. This exemplifies the race between McGwire and Sosa in the summer of ’98. Both desperately wanted to reach past the magical number of 61, and then suddenly they just wanted to beat each other. People took sides, were you for Sosa or McGwire, who was going to reach there first, it was all anyone could talk about. Finally it would amount to just a clear out brawl between two players trying to achieve the same goal, a goal that could only ever belong to one of them.

Sosa and McGwire pose for the cover of "Sports Illustrated" magazine, literally portrayed as Gods.
Sosa and McGwire pose for the cover of “Sports Illustrated” magazine, literally portrayed as Gods.

This also stands to exhibit the Hobbesian theory that in a state of nature this kind of competition, or as he defined it “quarrel”, can be caused by the factor of glory. Namely, Hobbes focuses on these disputes caused by two or more individual’s pursuit for glory. Clearly the race to break the MLB homerun record exemplifies this kind of struggle for glory, and in the case of McGwire and Sosa, fame. They both were able to earn the nicknames of “Big Mac” and “Slammin’ Sammy” along their pursuit of greatness that summer, simply a mere taste of the legendary status that would await the champion.

After all, wasn’t it this intense need to win the competition, to earn this glory, that pushed them to have this summer of baseball like had never seen before? It was this state of nature, of competing for scarce resources and pursuing glory, that pushed both Sosa and McGwire to break the home run record within days of each other, right? Unfortunately, we now cannot answer those questions as we would have liked. We have recently become aware that both Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire had turned to the help of performance enhancing drugs, banned by Major League Baseball, during the time of this famously heralded competition, in an (perhaps what one would call committed) effort to beat the other. But Hobbes’ state of nature has an explanation for this too; simply put, humans in their natural state are inherently selfish. They will go to nearly any measure for personal gains. Clearly McGwire and Sosa were not thinking of the fans or the sanctity of the game of baseball when they took illegal measures to win the competition.

Hobbes’ theories here help to illustrate the two-sided nature of this “great race of ‘98”. While it did help to revive the great game of baseball in a country that had temporarily lost its passion for it, it also eventually highlighted the rampant steroid use of these selfish players, here, and in the decade to come.