Holy god in heaven. Mark McGwire used steroids? Really? I’d have never pegged him for a guy that would use steroids. I mean he only spent four years hitting home runs every 8.1 at bats (ridiculous).
Did I get that out of the way well enough? Monday, when McGwire (a guy who I always liked because he saved baseball from becoming what hockey is now) issued a statement admitting to have used steroids for most of his sixteen year major league career, it seemed like the whole world (of baseball) stopped holding it’s breath. Finally, one of those guys, the ones who steadfastly refused to admit to what we all knew, had come clean.
Yeah, and anyone who doubted that this was true before is an idiot. The man went from plain old big to “looks like a shaved bear” big in the course of a few years while he was missing 228 games due to injury (which were probably caused by the steroids in the first place), and started hitting home runs at a pace faster than anyone in baseball history, even Babe “I did it on Hot Dogs and Beer” Ruth. McGwire claims that he did the steroids to bounce back from these injuries and not to boost his ability, but for him to actually believe that is just as embarrassing as his performance in front of Congress in March of 2005. That the drugs made him into a Hall of Fame caliber player (in the numbers at least), from a relatively normal power hitter, does not seem to enter his mind, and he believes that he would have hit the 70 home runs in 1998.
Mark McGwire may have made his mistakes in his career, and when appearing in front of Congress in 2005 (which may or may not have been due to some really f#$%ing bad advice from lawyers), but that does not mean he is a bad person. From all reports over the past few days (and it did take me a few days to decide which way I was leaning on this), it seems that McGwire is genuinely sorry. He has called the Maris family, which was such a big part of that 1998 home run chase, as well as Bud Selig, Tony LaRussa and others to give his apologies (though if he really wasn’t helped by the steroids in breaking all of those records, one must wonder what he is apologizing for) and truly seems contrite. He knew he would have to do this because he is making his return to the game, as the Cardinals new hitting coach, and was making a preemptive strike to clear the air before Spring Training.
I remember worshiping McGwire and his butt buddy (who claims that he injected him) Jose Canseco in the late 80’s and early 90’s, even when they were beating the Sox in the ALCS. They were cool, they hit massive home runs, and they won championships, whats not to like. Then, as Canseco made his way through Texas and Boston, McGwire seemed to disappear, spending those five seasons on and off the DL. Then came the apocalypse, 1994, the World Series was cancelled, replacement players were one Sonia Sotomayor decision from taking the field, and even so, the game was pushed back to the point where baseball was a second class citizen in American sports.
There are many different people who helped to bring us back to where we (in baseball) are today. There was Cal Ripken, whose 1995 breaking of Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak captivated the country, and the Yankees rise back to prominence (yeah, I hate them too, but it really did help) that started to bring us back, but it was the summer of ’98 that really did it. Baseball became appointment viewing, single at bats in games that we didn’t care about kept us on the edge of our seats, and, for me at least, September 8, 1998 at about 8:00 pm will always be one of those “where were you when you heard” moments. For that, and for the great, though still flawed game that we have today I will always thank Mark McGwire.
For me, this is the start of the final chapter in a sad story. The “steroid era” is over, and those guys who played their careers during it’s height and were clean hate the term and don’t deserve to be attached to it. Mark McGwire has come clean, and his chances of ever making the Hall of Fame are going down the tubes. He is not like Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds, who would have been in even before the drugs, but his admission is like Pete Rose’s a few years back, something we all knew was true but needed to be admitted.
Spring Training is 36 days away, and for the first time in a while, Mark McGwire is looking forward to another season in the sun, not back to mistakes that can’t be changed. I say we let him relax and just be a coach.