Mark McGwire admits steroid use, cements place as steroid era scapegoat

by on January 15, 2010 · 0 comments

Ed. note: This can be said of really any post here at Pitchers Hit Eighth, but I’d like to make explicitly clear for this one in particular that these are my opinions and mine only. Others may agree or disagree with me, but this is all coming from my brain, not anyone else who may write here at the site.

Now that we’ve reached the end of the work week in which Mark McGwire’s world changed (I can’t necessarily claim that the way people look at him changed), and some of the uproar has died down (thanks Lane Kiffin and Karlos Beltran*), I figure it’s finally time to chime in with my three cents about the McGwire admission and resulting fall-out.

*The misspelling is intentional. Read more here.

Before you continue reading, please understand that you are at a St. Louis Cardinals blog. I believe that I have a balanced viewpoint on the subject, and am evaluating in a fair manner, but the previous sentence bears noting.

Early on, I made a conscious decision to hold off on posting my response to the McGwire saga of this week. I wanted to be as objective as possible, and perhaps wanted to give Mac a chance to correct some of his, shall we say, inconsistencies. In the meantime, the esteemed Joe Posnanski has again managed to put my thoughts into words far more eloquently than I could hope to communicate. And Bernie Miklasz at the Post-Dispatch. And even Deadspin has put their own, well, spin on it (be advised, there’s some choice language over there, if you haven’t been).

With all of that out there, I decided to go ahead and write my own anyway.

I can’t begin to imagine the personal willpower and strength that it must take to sit down in front of television cameras, an interviewer that will not leave you off the hook, knowing that what you say is going to bring your family grief, is going to likely plunge your name into further ill repute, not to mention the inner angst of carrying the knowledge that you cheated.

Maybe some of these guys subject to such a situation don’t care. In fact, many probably just view it as another requirement of being famous, being rich, being in the public eye.

McGwire may be one of those, only he would know. But from my vantage point, I certainly saw more anguish, more sincerity, and more willingness to talk about specifics out of McGwire than any previous ‘performance enhancing drugs’ admission/interview/statement.

I quote those three words above, because it’s important to note that short of Andy Pettitte’s specific admission to using human growth hormone, McGwire is one of few (if any others?) to specifically say he used steroids and HGH. The rest of the admissions have danced around using the words ‘performance enhancing drugs’, ‘banned substances’, or apologizing profusely while not really clarifying what he was apologizing for. McGwire stood out here, by owning up to specifics.

He quickly gave back that goodwill by claiming that the steroids only kept him on the field, and didn’t provide any inherent advantage in terms of strength, improved statistics, or increased performance. Since then, he has at least seemingly backpedaled a bit on one aspect of this argument. From Posnanski’s piece on his phone conversation with McGwire:

I did say to him that many people were bothered — angry, in fact — by his refusal to link his own massive power numbers to steroids. He acknowledged that but did not back away from his own viewpoint that he would have been the same hitter without steroids had he been able to stay healthy.

“It’s my opinion,” he said, “and it’s something I believe deeply. With the walking M*A*S*H unit that I was, sure, steroids benefited me. They got me on the field to play more games and get more at-bats.

So McGwire concedes that his use of steroids, based upon his belief that they kept him healthy and nothing else, at least provided him the advantage of staying on the field to post larger in-season and career numbers. Hey, it’s a start.

As for his belief that the ‘roids didn’t pump him up in order to hit longer, more towering home runs? I can’t buy it. For years I wanted to believe he did it clean, all the while knowing he wasn’t. A self-created conundrum, wanting McGwire to be all he was (or what folks believed him to be, including the same members of the media that now lambast his attempts at redemption) in 1998 – and clean of any blemishes.

Well Mark, it just doesn’t float with me. You gained an advantage both from increased capacity for working out, increased strength, increased health and ability to recover, and ultimately a number of at-bats added to his career that is immeasurable.

This could’ve been a far better moment for McGwire. It could’ve been everything folks wanted to hear from him. But if you listen to McGwire, it wouldn’t have been the truth.

He truly believes that the drugs did not improve his ability to hit a baseball in any manner. To a fault, he believes this. So for years many folks have been clamoring for him to “come clean.” To “tell the truth.” Well, finally, Mark is telling the truth – or what he believes to be the truth – and he is being completely broken down for it. If for so many years, everyone believes McGwire has been lying (and they have obviously been proven right) – then why ask him to lie now, if he truly believes what he says? It’s inconsistent. Admittedly as inconsistent as my back and forth between wanting him to be what we all wanted in ’98 versus what I know to be the truth now.

Why didn’t he do this sooner?

Well, for me this is a multi-pronged issue. One, why not grant him immunity in 2005 during the Congressional hearings? McGwire has been dragged through the mud repeatedly for his performance at that event, but was it necessary for it to turn out that way? McGwire mentioned during his interview with Bob Costas that he intended to clear the air in 2005. He went so far as to tell Congressmen Tom Davis and Henry Waxman that he used steroids, he wanted to tell the world, and he wanted to do it that day. He was refused immunity that he desired to protect both he and his family. Davis has confirmed this is true. We can only trust what they are saying is the truth.

I go back and forth on the 2005 hearings. If McGwire wanted to tell the truth, why wouldn’t they let him? Why not give him immunity? What were they afraid of losing in the deal? Who did they hope to ensnare? Certainly not McGwire, given the fact that they have not prosecuted or truly chased down any of the PED offenders?

That said, what really prohibited McGwire from just going forward with his plans to confess then? Again, the feds haven’t exactly made an example of anyone simply for using – he wouldn’t have perjured himself like another player on the panel that day, or others similarly embroiled in the steroid saga – and he could’ve turned this problem on it’s ear very early in the process.

I’m certain we’ll never know exactly why or how an admission was impossible for McGwire in 2005 – for that matter, he may well just not have been “ready” yet to face the music. Who could blame him?

Regardless, “I’m not here to talk about the past” should no longer be a reasonable thing to hold against him. Davis and Waxman were fully aware that McGwire would take this stance during the hearing, and were apparently okay with it in lieu of Mark being granted immunity. It’s a shame, in my opinion, that this has only come to light now.

Finally, I believe it’s also important to note that McGwire is, to date, and short of publicity hound Jose Canseco, the only player to have come forward of his own volition and without any proof of infraction (at least to my knowledge?). Other players had their names show up on reports that were supposed to remain confidential, some tested positive, at least one was trying to sell a book. McGwire just came out with it.

I’m not naive enough to believe that this wasn’t required in some manner by Major League Baseball or the St. Louis Cardinals as a condition of employment as a hitting coach. I’m certain that somewhere along the chain, possibly even coming from Commissioner Bud Selig himself, it was made clear to McGwire that he had to fall on his sword, in a manner of speaking.

But again on the other hand, no one is forcing McGwire to come back to baseball. He has a desire to teach, and in his interview he indicated a desire to “get this off my chest” and come clean. So whether MLB or the Cardinals required this admission before moving back into the clubhouse or not, it seems pretty clear that the ultimate decision was McGwire’s. I don’t think anyone would’ve been surprised to see him back out of the deal by this point already without so much as a peep about steroids.

Now that I’ve rambled on for about 1500 words worth (sorry about that), I’ll do my best to tie up all of these loose ends.

McGwire, one way or another, volunteered to be in this position. Based upon the information we have from McGwire and Tom Davis, he volunteered to clear the air in 2005 but declined to because Congress and the Attorney General couldn’t see fit to grant him immunity and his lawyers advised him to go into protection mode. His claims of performance not being assisted by the steroids are just flat indefensible, but it’s clear that he believes it to be the truth without the slightest hint of insincerity. He subjected himself to a interview of extensive length, with one of the best and most inquisitive sports interviewers of our time, Costas, and with no restriction on what could be broached.

On Costas, I thought he was magnificent – gracious, delicate, yet pointed – he wasn’t going to let McGwire off the hook, other than to offer Mac multiple opportunities to clarify his position on whether the drugs improved his performance or not. (In hindsight, knowing what we now know about the preparation that went into this say with Ari Fleischer, did they make a mistake in interviewing with Costas? I’m thinking of the softballs that Alex Rodriguez was thrown by Peter Gammons here. It should be said that, in my opinion, Rodriguez nor any of the other interviewees were asked as directly as McGwire just how the drugs affected their performance.)

McGwire cheated the game. His name will forever be followed by that distinction, and there’s no way to argue around it. However, the ferociousness with which his name has been attacked is unnecessary. McGwire has said his piece, and there’s no reason to believe he has been anything but truthful in this instance. Ignorant of the particulars of steroids or chemical composition, maybe, but I believe he has been truthful in his admission of his transgressions.

In my admittedly biased opinion, McGwire is the head on a pike for the steroid era. Enough time had passed, and it was no one’s fault but his own, that even an admission now – regardless of what was said, regardless of the truth, regardless of the words said and the “right” things admitted to – nothing would satisfy the naysayers who wanted McGwire to be the scapegoat for the steroid era in Major League Baseball.

While I don’t think Hall of Fame induction factored into McGwire’s decision to admit his use, it bears noting that he stands to be “the bad guy” who takes the fall for the era, as it were. Guys like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Rodriguez will be welcomed into the Hall with open arms. “They all put up Hall-worthy numbers outside of their steroid abuse years,” the writers will say.

I say prove it. McGwire has already said he used to stay healthy – so the same could be said of late-career Bonds and Clemens, right? Assisting in their big career numbers and stellar late-career seasons? Anyone have proof that ARod wasn’t using before Texas? Nope, they’re too busy turning him into the latest Yankee World Series hero.

Maybe McGwire could’ve said his piece differently. Maybe he’s still being coy about what he’s willing to admit to (re: strength, health, impact of the drugs). Maybe he should’ve sat down across from Gammons instead of Costas.

Or, the obvious conclusion, maybe he should’ve thought twice twenty years ago.

Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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