Big Mac comes clean about playing dirty. Now what?

Baseball 19 Jan 2010

Was anybody really surprised when Mark McGwire recently admitted that he did illegally use steroids during a major portion of his playing career, including the magical 1998 season when he broke Roger Marris’ single season hoemrun record? I mean honestly, was there anyone over the age of 10, below the age of senility, and without the last name LaRussa that believed that McGwire’s muscle bulging body was the product of a healthy diet and a solid weight lifting program?  If so, please have those altruistic fans email me, as I have some land in Florida that I would love to sell to them at a dandy of a deal.

So now what?  After all the commotion, all the finger pointing, all the blood letting, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth, what does McGwire’s admission mean for baseball, it’s fans, and it’s other PED perpetrators both recently retired and still active (yes, for those of you who emailed about the land, there are still unclean players out there on the field)?

The dust is still settling, and the ultimate fallout is till to be determined, but here are some initial thoughts.

First, the good:

  • I applaud Mark for coming forth on his own before being “outed” by some snoopy media source.  Was it a completely, un-pressured, self-motivated cleansing of the soul?  No.  He wanted to get back into the game as an on field instructor, and one of the requirements of that was going to be a public address of this issue that he has been silent about since his 2005 congressional appearance.  That being said, he still manned up and confessed his sins.
  • While there can be some debate as to whether his tears were those of sincere regret for what he had done, or simply those of embarrassment for having to publicly come forth about it, there is no question that his confession showed his understanding of the shame he had brought upon himself and the game.  It was far more palatable than Manny Ramirez’s prima donna press conference this past season upon his return from his illegal substance suspension, during which Man-Ram smugly announced “I’m baaaack”, and “It’s show time!” while wearing shades and smacking his gum.  Not only did Manny make an ass of himself (nothing new), but he showed even for himself a new level of lack of respect for baseball, it’s rules, it’s history, it’s integrity, and it’s fans who love and respect the game.
  • Additionally, I would like to point out that although McGwire was roundly derided for his performance during the steroid congressional hearings, during which he bobbed and weaved like a drunk heavyweight around the flabby jabs and wild roundhouses thrown by misdirected congressional members, he never lied.  He did not come forth about anything, which was probably smart from a legal standpoint (just ask Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens), but he did not lie, conveniently forget how to speak English, wag his finger defiantly denying any such transgressions, or throw other players under the bus to save his own tail, before ultimately admitting the truth.  It’s a small consolation, but at no time did he blatantly lie to our faces through television or print interviews like just about every other high profile cheater of this shameful era has.

Now, the bad:

  • He cheated!  We all suspected it, and now it’s confirmed.  He cheated himself, he cheated his opponents (myself included), he cheated the holders of the records he broke, he cheated the fans, and he cheated the game by using illegal substances to gain a competitive advantage.
  • He denies that his cheating made any difference!  Stunningly, despite his tearful admission of using illegal substances for at least 10 years of his career, he contends they did not improve his performance in any way…huh?  Say again, Mac? Wait, you used this stuff for 10 years, but it didn’t help you in any way.  This is where his tearful admission loses credibility, and ignores logic.  If he used steroids only to assist in healing from injuries, then why did he continue to use them even when he was healthy?  If they didn’t help him perform any differently than if he had not taken them, then why the deep remorse?  Why the guilt?  Why the tears?  Why the apology to the Marris family?  If the steroids really made no difference in his performance then there should be nothing to apologize, agonize, or feel guilty about.

Finally, the ugly:

  • Other players who also used PED’s and watched what McGwire went through will probably not be inspired to willingly come forth to admit their transgressions.  Challenged by the media, ridiculed by fellow former players, and unforgiven by most fans within the first few weeks of his announcement, McGwire’s hope that the truth would set him free seems to be as much a distant hope as his unlikely election to the Hall of Fame.

When I try to step back and objectively look at the situation, and the way it was handled by everyone, here is what I am left with.

McGwire cam forth mainly for one simple reason – he wanted to return to the game.  The admission was simply a pragmatic necessity, not a spiritually inspired calling to cleanse.  He is a better man for having done it, and it was probably cathartic for him to let it out, and to not have to hide behind the facade any longer.

However, his stunning denial that his performance was affected in any why by his steroid use is troubling.  I believe the source of this disingenuous assertion is partially pathological, and partially practical.  Pathological because I believe that there is a part of him that really believes his career numbers were the result of his hard work, and god given talent which were both the foundation for his success.  He doesn’t want these real, relevant, and significant ingredients of his success formula to be omitted or discounted.  Practical because he knows that if he acknowledges that steroids assisted in his performance, it could undermine his credibility with the players as a hitting coach.  The question understandably becomes how much of his success as one of the game’s most prolific home run hitters was due to hard work and talent, and how much to the use of illegal substances?  How much of his success can be taught through his work as a hitting coach, versus being illegally acquired through a needle?

I grapple with the steroid issues of the era I played in just as much as anyone.   With McGwire it’s even more difficult to sift through all the emotions because of his role in helping the game to recover after the player’s strike of 1994.   However, today I must judge harshly to send a clear message to all would be users, and say that Mark McGwire’s admitted steroid use eliminates him as a candidate from joining the immortals in the HOF.  I’m glad he came forth on his own.  I hope he feels better for having done it.  But, until he acknowledges that his steroid use helped his ability to perform, and to perform at higher level, his apology is as hollow as the records he holds.


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