So Mark McGwire has finally come out and admitted what many of us already believed, he was a steroid user and he used them during his run at the single season home run record in 1998. Why now? Well McGwire was recently hired as a coach for the St Louis Cardinals and he knew he was going to have to come clean all at once or face questions all season. This was an opportunity for a personal and national catharsis but though McGwire showed emotion he did not give his fans or the public what they needed most from a fallen star, he did not fully reveal himself. Rather than give in fully to the reality of his actions McGwire continued to hide throughout his admission.
McGwire claims that he never discussed steroid use with anyone. Not with other players, not with his family, not with his friends or his agent or anyone else. He says none of the people in his life ever asked. As hard as that is to believe I guess it could be true. However according to former teammate Jose Canseco, and ESPN analyst T.J. Quinn several players have said that McGwire was very open about his use of steroids and human growth hormone. Canseco went as far as to write in his book that he and McGwire would shoot up together in the Oakland clubhouse. McGwire’s claims that no one knew about his steroid use seem dubious at best.
Another of McGwire’s assertions that does not sit well is his claim that his steroid use did not contribute to his ability to hit home runs at a rate never seen in baseball history up to that point. McGwire claims that his production was due to shortening his swing and improving his concentration. During his interview with Bob Costas on MLB Network McGwire mentioned that he had always been a good home run hitter. He claims that his first little league at bat resulted in a home run. He mentions that he led the country in home runs while in college. Then he says something that hasn’t been focused on in much of the commentary I’ve seen so far. He talks about how as a rookie he hit a lot of “wall scrapers,” home runs that just barely get over the fence. As either a testament to his delusion or slip up that exposes his lies he first acknowledges that he hit a lot of homeruns prior to his PED use that were just barely out but then attributes his increase in production to swing adjustments and concentration, not the added strength he got from juicing. While his claim that “There is no pill that can give you the hand eye coordination to hit a baseball” may be correct it falls way short completing the steroid equation. First, if steroid make you stronger and faster and thereby increase your bat speed you are able to wait longer to identify a pitch. A lot of hitting involves being able to wait as long as possible and bat speed and reaction time determine how well a batter sees a pitch. But even if we allow that making contact with the ball relies solely on talent we must continue on and look at the result of that contact. It is insane to deny the possibility that due to steroid use some of those wall scrapers became towering shots, and balls that would have died on the warning track became wall scrapers. For that matter a little velocity can be the difference between a routine ball to second base and a hit that just gets through the infield. Here’s a look at McGwire’s numbers before and after he says his steroid use really picked up.
Year, Average, AB/HR, Slugging%, Most HR in a Season
1986-1993, .249, 14 , .509 , 49,
1994-2001, .277, 8.4 , .674 , 70,
So here’s a guy who by his own admission ramped up his steroid use and added roughly 30 points to his batting average, 70 points to his slugging percentage, doubled his home run rate and hit 20 more home runs than he ever had before (nine more than anyone had ever hit in a single season) but doesn’t acknowledge a connection. The only question here is if he’s really that stupid, or if he thinks we are.
Finally McGwire really lost any sympathy we may have had for him when he refused to take full responsibility for his actions. Yes, he said several times that he had done a stupid thing, a “dumb act” in his words. But he never allowed himself to shoulder his full burden. Instead he says he wishes he hadn’t played in the steroid era. That if he “hadn’t played in that era we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” McGwire also says he wishes there had been testing when he played. The implication seems to be that if there had been testing, or if steroids had been against the rules he wouldn’t have done it. Here’s a news flash Mark, the era didn’t make you do it. You chose to take steroids. You went out and purchased steroids. You injected them. You did it Mark, not the era. You. You are to blame. Besides, you claim you never discussed steroids with anyone else and you have no idea who else, if anyone, was taking steroids. If that’s true then there was no steroid culture, no pressure to perform. If you had no knowledge of any other steroid use then you didn’t play in the steroid era as far as you knew. According to your story you played in a bubble where you were the only one taking PEDs. And in a way that’s even worse.
It also doesn’t matter the rule book didn’t have a specific prohibition against it. You knew it was wrong. You knew you were doing something wrong. Otherwise why would you talk about the burden of keeping this secret? It wasn’t the lack of testing that caused this problem, it was your failings as a person. McGwire was asked, if the steroids didn’t help his performance then why are they banned? His answer, “I don’t know, that’s for the Olympics.” Mark, if they didn’t help you and you don’t know why you’re takning them ten why the cover up? If you don’t even know why you’re apologizing then why are you crying and carrying on? The fact is you know you’re stats are tainted. That’s why you hid it.
As a lifelong A’s fan growing up in the 1980s and ‘90s I was a huge McGwire fan. When they found the andro in his locker in 1998 and the steroid whispers started I was still a fan. As time went the little boy in me clung to the hope that Big Mac was clean. When it became clear that McGwire was a likely PED user I still maintained hope that he’d say or do something to redeem himself. Now that hope is gone also. McGwire admitted to taking steroids but in blaming others for his weakness and refusing to acknowledge their effect on his performance his admission and apology have hurt him more than they have helped him. I don’t care if this is hard for you Mark. I don’t care if you’re sorry. It was one thing to lie, it was one thing to clam up and disappear. But if you can’t be honest with us now when you are claiming to be coming clean and unburdening yourself then this is not an act of contrition, it’s a PR stunt. I am far more disappointed in Mac now than I ever have been. He lied to the fans, he lied to baseball, he lied to nine year old Berto. A part of my childhood was a lie and this guy did it. Maybe I should be more grown up and less hurt but I’m not. Thanks for nothing Mac. You had one final chance to be a stand up guy and you blew it. You’re a joke.
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