Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mark McGwire WAS the steroid era

As a kid growing up in Norcal, I remember watching the bash brothers in their heydey.  Seeing MwGwire and Canseco absolutely crush baseballs was as exciting as that sport has ever been for me.  In fact, the only thing that's come close is when McGwire, Sosa and later Bonds went for the HR record.  That and when guys like Josh Hamilton go nuts at the HR derby.  As much as I appreciate great pitching from guys like Maddux or Lincecum now, I would say that baseball's only truly redeeming element is the home run.

By now, in 2010, we are smart enough to understand how PEDs affected the game.  Yes, it helps people recover faster, but it undoubtedly helps hitters hit HRs.  There is no doubt, there is no question.  Look at most of the top HR hitters in our era - Bonds,  A-Rod,  Palmeiro, Sosa, McGwire, Manny, Ortiz, Sheffield, Giambi, etc.  They are all linked to PEDs for a reason. (I'm giving guys like Griffey and Pujols a pass, but who the heck knows anymore?)  Who is stupid enough to believe that PEDs doesn't help a good hitter become a great HR hitter?

Yet, Mark McGwire expects us to believe his tearful confession that he only used it to help him recover faster from injury and it didn't improve his hitting.  Aside from his point, recovering faster IS improving your numbers and your performance.  It is cheating.  It shouldn't be seen as a more sympathetic or understandable usage of illegal drugs.  Secondly, Mark McGwire was freakin John Bunyan back then.  Use your eyes.  He expects us to believe that he used it to recover and not to bulk up?  Uh-uh.  I don't think so.  Canseco is again the only one telling the truth.

Additionally, if he truly believed that it didn't help him hit HRs, especially in the infamous 98 season, why did he feel the need to call the Maris family and apologize?  I just don't think he can have it both ways.  Either it was cheating and PEDs helped him break Roger Maris' record, or it didn't.

Don't get me wrong.  I like Mark McGwire.  Okay, aside from the fact that he lied about PEDs for years and went to usc, I still have a small soft spot in my heart for those Oakland A's days.  And yes, I did enjoy his 98 HR record chase, as illegitimate as we know it to be know.  I felt so bad for him a few years ago as he sat in front of Congress trying not to lie but unable to tell the truth.  At least he didn't go the way of Palmeiro.  Now we know it was because he couldn't acquire immunity, otherwise we may have heard the truth then.

I remember thinking at the time that he made the worst possible decision.  Palmeiro pointed at the committee and vehemently denied usage.  Others ducked the questions.  But McGwire repeatedly said that he wasn't there to talk about the past but wanted to help change the future.  I thought he should've admitted it publicly it then or denied it completely.  Either way, the public probably would've believed him, at least for a little while.  But to ride the fence made him look weak, ashamed and guilty.

Looking back, we've learned that even a vague admission of wrongdoing almost immediately earns you public forgiveness.  Basically, the story goes away after a few days.  Giambi apologized without saying what he did and the public outcry died down.  A-Rod lied repeatedly during his confessions less than a year ago and was roundly cheered after winning the World Series.  McGwire will now feel the heat for what, a week, and then he'll be cheered in St. Louis as their hitting coach for the rest of the season.

I laughed when McGwire stated in his admission that he regretted playing during the steroid era.  Umm, Mark, you are the steroid era.  You and Canseco made roids famous with your success with it in the early 90s.  Your physique makes you the poster child of the 90s for MLB usage.  Your and Sammy's national success in 1998 drove Barry Bonds to such extreme jealousy that he wanted to prove what a truly great hitter can do if he used PEDs.  More importantly, the 98 run essentially singlehandedly saved baseball and returned it to financial glory, which caused so many involved people to turn a blind eye to PEDs.  When it comes to players, there is no one as influential as you in the proliferation of performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.  No one.  Okay, maybe Canseco.

As for Bonds and Clemens, they should learn from McGwire.  They should learn that even though everyone knew that McGwire did it, no one would ever get over it until he admitted it.  Barry and Roger don't even have to admit every detail.  Guys, just admit that you used something or other.  Then shed a tear or two and apologize every 2 minutes of your Costas interview.  Then finally baseball can move on.

As for the Hall of Fame, I think McGwire should be in.  So should Bonds and Clemens and Canseco.  They put up the numbers and you can never determine which ones were legitimate and which weren't.  (Okay, maybe not Canseco.)  Its just too bad, baseball purists.  Too late.  You turned a blind eye, now you should be forced to do so again.

McGwire might have been one of the 3 biggest users in our era, but I still hold baseball leadership responsible.  I've said this before but I'll say it again.  The players are 100% responsible - no doubt, but 100% responsibility lies with Selig on down as well.  They did not protect their game.  They did not protect baseball history.  They did not protect the records.  They did not protect the innocent players.  They failed miserably and that will forever be their legacy.

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