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In the summer of 1998, when it became clear that not just one but two players had a shot a breaking Roger Maris' longstanding home-run record, baseball's designated marketer knew the league had to step up to the plate.

"As it came close to reality, we recognized that it had become a national news story," says Paul Beeston, president-chief operations officer of Major League Baseball. "We wanted to make sure the message got out [and] that the focus was on the players."

In mid-July, Mr. Beeston, 53, pulled together a marketing task force to make the most of interest in the home-run-record race between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs.

The team worked with MLB sponsors such as MasterCard International and McDonald's Corp. to extend the interest in the titanic race for Maris' record as well as build good will for the game, which after the 1992 players' strike had been pummeled by fan apathy. The level of interest from companies, media and fans grew to be enormous, says Mr. Beeston. Extensively covered post-game press conferences became major events, and captured fan interest rarely seen in the modern baseball era.

With Mr. Beeston's behind-the-scenes direction, the McGwire-Sosa prime-time show fed a jaded American's public need for heroes, and they both played their roles exquisitely.

Prior to joining MLB in 1997, Mr. Beeston spent more than 20 years with the Toronto Blue Jays, most recently as president-CEO.

"We got lucky there. We had two wonderful personalities and the race brought out

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