Originally created 09/06/98

When No. 62 lands, let the commerce begin



ST. LOUIS -- Baseball fans aren't the only wide-eyed watchers as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chase history.

More than two dozen companies have been issued licenses to commemorate the fall of Roger Maris' record with everything from T-shirts, hats, plaques and baseballs to special postal cancellations. One even has plans for a "62 Mark McGwire Way" street sign.

"Once home run No. 62 is in the air, we'll get ready to start boxing," said Bob Freesmeier, comptroller at Sportsprint Inc. in St. Louis. His company is under contract with Joy Athletic to have the first of more than 5,000 T-shirts on store shelves within 24 hours, should McGwire come out on top.

Howard Smith, vice president of licensing for major league baseball, has been in the business 15 years and has never seen anything like this frenzy.

"He's going to be a hot property," Smith said. "Everybody is getting ready now."

Major league baseball and the players' union have been working for several weeks to ensure a variety of products at various price ranges are available for fans seeking a memento.

Companies must submit their idea for approval to major league baseball if it includes a team logo, and to the union if it includes a player's image. The athlete, who also shares profits, also must approve.

No one would say what the deals are worth, but so far 24 companies have made the cut. Among them is Fotoball of San Diego. It has already shipped 16,000 limited edition baseballs with the words, "I was there," for the St. Louis Cardinals to distribute at Busch Stadium should McGwire break the record. It was working on a similar deal with the Chicago Cubs for Sosa.

"Yeah, it's a risk," said Carl Francis, senior vice president of retail sales for Fotoball. "But we didn't date it. And if it doesn't happen, they'll just send them back."

Fotoball also has approval for 10 different commemorative baseballs, as well as key chains, that within two days of the record will be available at stores across the country and on cable TV. The items will include the player's name, date, opponent and the distance the ball traveled.

"But we won't put the pitcher's name on it," Francis said.

CEO Sports of Englewood, Colo., has received approval for a commemorative envelope that will carry a special postal cancellation. The letter-size envelope will have a border in the team's color -- red for Cardinals, blue for Cubs -- as well as a picture of the player in full swing and one of him looking skyward and a "No. 62" hologram. The U.S. Postal Service has set up a special postal station for McGwire, "Mac Attack Station!" and is working on one for Sosa.

The item will be available through the postal service about four weeks after the big event.

A variety of companies are preparing T-shirts and hats for those fans wanting something sooner.

Starter Corp. of New Haven, Conn., has won the rights to the celebratory "Locker Room" T-shirt for McGwire. The slugger has agreed to wear the special edition shirt in the locker room after the game when he breaks the 37-year-old record.

Spokeswoman Robin Wexler would not reveal details of the design but said it would be available at stores the next morning for about $18.

Meanwhile, the 20 workers at Picturesque Graphics in St. Louis were ordered stay tuned this holiday weekend as McGwire continues his sojourn.

"We'll start printing one hour after he hits No. 62," said Norman Emge, who co-owns the company with his son. He estimated it would take about 60 hours to finish all 40,000 shirts.

"Anything with Mark McGwire's name on it blows out of the store," said Jim Kaznica, district manager for Sports Authority in St. Louis. "We just can't seem to get enough of it in."