Happy 61st Birthday!

Nov. 1, 1998
The world watched Mark McGwire slug his 61st home run, and everyone knew that his father, Dr. John McGwire, was in the stands, happily celebrating his 61st birthday.

The world watched Mark McGwire slug his 61st home run, and everyone knew that his father, Dr. John McGwire, was in the stands, happily celebrating his 61st birthday.

Mark Hartley

Anyone familiar with baseball trivia knows where Dr. John McGwire was when the 61st homer was hit. He was up in the stands at Busch Stadium celebrating his 61st birthday in a very pleasurable way. Where was he when son Mark hit the very first home run of his life? Out in the middle of the ocean on a boat.

We can sort of blame the California Dental Association for that absence. If you`re really into baseball trivia, then you know Mark McGwire popped one over the fence in his first ever at-bat as a Little Leaguer. But Dr. McGwire, the team`s coach, was off sailing on a cruise as a result of dropping his business card into a fishbowl during the state dental association`s meeting that year.

"We won a seven-day cruise," Dr. McGwire recalls with good humor. "He (Mark) was so ecstatic, and he couldn`t even call us. We drove up in the driveway, and he came running out, yelling, `Hey, Mom and Dad! I hit a home run!`"

The Coach, who watched four of his five sons play on that Pomona, Calif., Little League team, hasn`t missed many of Mark`s home runs during the ensuing 25 baseball seasons. Even when Mark joined up with the St. Louis Cardinals after 10 years with the Oakland A`s, a satellite dish at the house allows him to watch "90 percent" of the Cardinals` games. Even when he isn`t near a television, he finds some strange ways of keeping up with the heroics of Mark McGwire.

Rick Reilly, a writer for Sports Illustrated, wrote during the home run derby this fall, "One day as McGwire was coming up on 60 [home runs], an older couple was making their way through the airport in St. Louis, he limping along with his polio-damaged leg, she holding his hand. Suddenly from every cocktail lounge came this huge roar. It could only mean one thing. The couple turned and hugged. Their son had hit another."

How many fathers experience such widespread adulation for their sons when their boy isn`t even in the neighborhood?

"It`s been really thrilling for us to be involved," Dr. McGwire says of Mark`s historic season.

The world`s most famous 61-year-old father that one night last September is quietly winding up what he describes as a wonderful and fulfilling career in dentistry. He practices two days a week in Pomona, still treating some patients he met when he first started in 1962. "I`ve always been involved in high-quality, fee-for-service dentistry," he says.

During the interview with Dental Economics, he attributed his success to two primary sources: the dental school at the University of Washington and a slew of professional acquaintances developed from consulting services provided by the Pride Institute.

"Jim Pride had a profound influence on me," he says of the San Francisco consultant. "You come out of his classes extremely pumped up. There has never been a better time in dentistry."

Three consultants who started with Pride but have since started their own firms were Dr. Harry Demaree, Art Weiderman, and Pam Strother. Dr. Demaree, who currently is based in Texas, helped Dr. McGwire design the current site of his dental practice. McGwire bought the land near the Pomona Valley Medical Center in 1985 and turned to the Pride Institute for assistance. He credits Demaree and other members of that architectural team for fostering the high level of "efficiency" in his practice.

Weiderman has remained Dr. McGwire`s accountant through the years, handling the financial affairs of many Southern California dentists. He gives much credit to Weiderman for his professional and personal wealth.

Strother is the practice`s management consultant. She still meets with Dr. McGwire and his staff (which includes Carole Potts, his dental assistant for 33 years) four times a year, "brainstorming about improving quality."

"It`s pretty hard for the average dentist to be an astute businessman. It`s very hard to do everything yourself," he says. "The practice doubled in growth the first year I sought help. From my standpoint, it`s very inspiring to the team, and it keeps us on the cutting edge."

Dr. McGwire graduated from the University of Washington in 1962, a year when it "rained for 10 months." Although he grew up in Spokane, he pitched his umbrella and moved from Seattle to California. He also cites the dental school`s "very high standards" as a driving force behind the way he practices his profession.

"More rubber dams were used in the Pacific Northwest than in the rest of the country combined," he jokes, adding seriously, "It was a very technique-oriented school, and it influenced me very much when I moved to California. I did most of the endo and perio in my practice from the very beginning."

Mark, his second son, was born soon after the family relocated to Pomona. Dr. McGwire became an associate in a practice belonging to Drs. Jack Monroe and James Gillman. He bought out Monroe`s share of the practice in 1965 and practiced with Gillman for another five years. When the partners outgrew their facility, they opened up separate practices.

For the next 28 years, Dr. McGwire came to know the citizens of the LA suburb very well, even doing a stint as a Little League baseball coach. In addition, he is past president of the Pomona Chamber of Commerce, past president of Rotary Club of Pomona, and currently on the board of trustees of Western University of the Pacific.

"I have been very involved in many volunteer activites in the community throughout my career in dentistry," he said. "When I interact with members of the business community, I`m able to educate them on what modern dentistry has to provide."

He has been married to his wife, Ginger, for 38 years.

Last July, he began the process of retirement, selling the practice to Dr. Tony Daher, a prosthodontist who teaches graduate students at nearby Loma Linda University. Each doctor practices two days a week. They are dental advisors for the sleep disorder clinic at Pomona Valley Medical Center, constructing oral devices for the patients.

In recent years, Dr. McGwire has participated in courses offered by Dr. Peter Dawson`s Center for Advanced Dental Study in St. Petersburg, Fla. He credits Dr. Dawson for "turning my philosophy around in regards to comprehensive dental care and the importance of centric relationships. I consider him to be one of the premier teachers in the country."

The schedule still keeps him busy, but, in five years, he says he will retire. When that happens, he will know that he fulfilled the goals that he set for himself at the University of Washington: "Be creative with my hands and own my own business."

He will bid farewell to a profession that treated him well, and he offers this advice to his peers who struggle with managed care: "The temptation is to sign up with the plans and lower fees. My only concern is that dental practitioners should never lose faith in their innovative ability to control their own destiny. We shouldn`t compromise our ethics and quality in a very high-overhead profession."

Because of Mark`s and John`s stance against smokeless tobacco, the American Dental Association presented Dr. McGwire and his wife, Ginger, with a token of appreciation during the House of Delegates meeting in San Francisco last month. Father and son devoted participated in an educational campaign coordinated by the Alliance of the American Dental Association.

The Alliance created trading cards and posters with messages such as, "Don`t use spit tobacco; it`s poison," and "Eat healthy foods." The ADA News reported that the Alliance printed almost 500,000 trading cards and 5,000 posters. The timing was perfect for the Alliance; fans clamored for the cards as the historic season progressed.

Mark has also emerged as an advocate for child abuse victims. When he signed with the Cardinals, McGwire established a foundation funded by $1 million donated from his salary each year. The foundation provides financial aid to agencies that administer to the needs of child abuse victims, as well as increases public awareness.

Dr. McGwire says, "Tony La Russa (the Cardinals manager) said, `He`s a better human being than he is a baseball player.` That is why so many people admire Mark. He`s a solid citizen."

His office and home are decorated, in part, with memorabilia from the sporting activities of all his sons. Some of the milestones from Mark`s career - cards, baseballs, photographs, etc. - are even on public display at the Richard Nixon Library, thanks to Dr. McGwire`s donations.

But one of the most precious mementos, however, is in plain view of Dr. McGwire - the jersey Mark wore when he smacked number 61. Mark presented it to him during the party afterwards at the Ritz Carlton. The jersey had a note written on it: "To Pop, Happy Birthday! Home Run #61 9/7/98. Love, your son, Mark McGwire, St. Louis, #25."

"That was quite a birthday gift. I wish everyone could experience what I have as a father. I`ve been very blessed to have the five sons that I have."

In the event Dental Economics readers performed six or seven full-mouth restorations during the weekend of September 25-27, never venturing close to a television, Mark ended up with 70 home runs, concluding a fierce competition with Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs with an aura of good sportsmanship. The word, "hero," was bandied about quite a bit. Usually, such heroes start appearing in commercials and raking in endorsement money right away. But McGwire indicated that his main goal of the off-season was to spend as much time with his son, Matt, as possible. It was, as many commentators pointed out, a fitting end to a summer marked by our disgust over politicians.

"For most of his life, Mark tended to be shy, and it`s a thrill to watch him so aptly grow into his new role and give credit to others," Dr. McGwire says. "His gestures to the (Roger) Maris children, the phone conversation with the President - that was a very touching situation. We all embraced at the party, and it was just a wonderful feeling."

Dr. McGwire, of course, was a spectator the last time the country experienced such a moment. Always an avid baseball fan, he tracked Maris` exploits while hustling to keep the dental school instructors satisfied at the University of Washington.

Dr. McGwire said, "He (Mark) had a gut feeling of what Roger Maris went through in 1961 - the turmoil of breaking Babe Ruth`s record. I didn`t realize then how much people really wanted (Mickey) Mantle to break the record. I don`t remember the bad feelings people had that the right person didn`t do it. But it was a historic event, and I remember that I was delighted for him (Maris) when I was following it at school.

"Mark has renewed the fame to that family. Many people felt that he had a Hall of Fame year, but not a Hall of Fame career. Maybe the Hall of Fame committee will now reconsider its decision."

The summer of `98, as the world knows, was a memorable birthday party for Dr. John McGwire of Pomona, Calif. For his part, he`s happy that so many people were affected in a positive way by what Mark and Sosa accomplished.

"It`s brought a lot of fans back to baseball. We`ve gotten hundreds of cards and letters from all over the country. Some of them have been from patients who moved away from my practice 20 years ago. I`ve watched people being moved to tears by this. People who are not even baseball fans have been telling us what this has meant to them."

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