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Breaking down Mark McGwire's mea culpa

Jan 11, 2010, 4:11 PM EST

Anyone who is shocked by Mark McGwire’s statement admitting his steroid use is either painfully naive or belongs to that class of professionally outraged people who implore you to think of the children every time something mildly bothersome comes up.  Anyone with a lick of sense knew years ago, or at least should have, that Mark McGwire took steroids.  His confession is news in and of itself. The underlying facts of his steroid use is not. Or at least shouldn’t be.

So what about that confession?  Like all confessions that are motivated by public relations as opposed to, say, police interrogation, this one has many of the hallmarks of phoniness we’ve come to expect.  McGwire says “I wish I had never touched steroids,” and that “I
wish I had never played during the steroid era.” Sincere? Maybe. Only McGwire knows, but such wishcasting is designed, consciously or otherwise to make passive what was active. You wish away external circumstances like rainstorms on your wedding day. McGwire was in and of the steroid era. Even if he’s being less than candid about his using timeframe — 1989-90, 1993-on — there is no escaping the conclusion that McGwire, as we know him, is no victim of the steroid era. He is a creation of it, for all the good and the bad that entails.

McGwire cites his string of injuries in the early 90s as the main catalyst for his steroid use. We’ve heard this over and over from players who have been identified as steroid users.  I have no doubt that this has an awful lot to do with why players used, but just once I’d like to hear someone say “man, I wanted to hit a boatload of homers and make a gabillion dollars, and I figure steroids would help me do it!”  If you believe “Game of Shadows” this was a big motivator for Barry Bonds. Maybe he’ll make that part of his statement someday.

McGwire says “Baseball is really different now – it’s been cleaned up. The
Commissioner and the Players Association implemented testing and they
cracked down, and I’m glad they did.”  Again, something we have no choice of taking at face value, but what I’m more interested in knowing is how he and his fellow PED users felt about things at the time. Did people feel it was wrong, or did they feel like it was harmless? Were they pressured into using, or was it simply a choice, like whether to do more cardio or more stretching on a given day?

There’s probably no fighting this black or white, good or bad dichotomy that has sprung up about steroids — and I’m sure McGwire has promised the Cardinals and Major League Baseball that he’ll hew to that line, possibly even as a condition of his employment —  but the world doesn’t really work that way, and I’m curious what McGwire thought about it at the time he was injecting drugs. It’s not like steroids are habit forming like heroin. He had a choice. He wasn’t an addict. Some rationality went into it, and I’d like to know how it flowed in his mind. I think by knowing his of McGwire — and others who used — we’d have a much easier time putting the steroid era into perspective.

But enough about his statement. Like I’ve said, it was something that had to happen in light of McGwire’s return to the game and because so many people have clamored for it, but it doesn’t tell us anything particularly interesting or anything new. The only really significant question it does raise is whether the legions of writers who have called for McGwire to “come clean” will now acknowledge that he has come clean or, rather, use this occasion to excoriate him further.

We may already have an indication of how that will go.  On October 28th, SI’s Jon Heyman wrote “now that he’s been hired as Cardinals hitting coach, it’s time for Mark McGwire to come clean.”  Moments ago on Twitter, Heyman saidif you lie for 10 years, and everyone knows you’re lying, what’s the value of finally telling the truth?

They’re already changing the game on Big Mac. Again, no surprise.  Don’t expect barbs to stop, Mark. Don’t expect your Hall of Fame totals to go up.  Your sole function for most of the sporting press is to serve as a repository for criticism. It’s not going to stop just because you’ve come clean like they asked.

UPDATESelig’s statement. Money shot: “The so-called “steroid era” – a reference that is resented by the many
players who played in that era and never touched the substances – is
clearly a thing of the past, and Mark’s admission today is another step
in the right direction.”

  1. delta - Jan 12, 2010 at 2:21 PM

    ” 1) There is not one ‘roid out there that can do diddly for you hand-eye coordination not a one. These hitters like Mcgwire, Bonds and even that sorry excuse for a human Consaco, had a gift to see a ball at 80 miles an hour and put wood to it. take 99 percent of the steroid users in a gym and they cant hit a ball in a cage at the little league speed.”
    No. Again. Thanks for playing, but this line of reasoning is feeble. Caminiti said (before he died) that one element of steroid use is that you simple never got tired, and you felt quick with the bat every time you got up. The increase in testosterone does connect to an increase in adrenaline, which does in fact heighten your senses. No substance other than steroids– are you going to say hot dogs next?– adds 15 mph to your bat speed, or 75 feet to your flyballs, or adds white twitch muscule fibers to your nervous system, or allows you to work out for days at a time and see results each day and never have to rest. Or, like Bonds, adds 37 pounds of muscle. or McQwire, about 35, in middle age? Or, even from a baseball perspective, to have the bat speed to never worry about the outside pitch, because you could hit that one out to right field with ease. (Check out Sosa’s opposite field power in those years, or Bret Boone’s, or A-Rod.) Steroids give you a RIDICULOUSLY OBVIOUS and rather profound advantage over non-users: it’s not 10%; it’s more like 25% or 40%. Eric Gagne — greatest reliever in baseball history, at least for three years — until he had to stop using when testing arrived. Then, the fastball drops to 92 and he’s an average pitcher. MVP’s, Cy Youngs — the proportion of them to known steroid use is proof enough. I-Rod, Tejada, and dozens of them we know about but have no positive test: Nomar, Mike Piazza (back acne his whole career, and absolutely everyone knew…) the list goes on and on. For some fans, the cheating is the most distasteful. For me, it’s even worse regarding baseball history is the damage done to the record books. It’s all so very sad — but please don’t tell me it’s no different than “some other era’s” abuses.

  2. dprat - Jan 12, 2010 at 4:13 PM

    Sorry, delta, must have missed those studies that show steroids “adds 15 mph to your bat speed, or 75 feet to your flyballs, or… allows you to work out for days at a time and see results each day and never have to rest.” Please provide the citations, or admit you’re making stuff up.
    Amphetamines are PEDs, just like steroids. The degree to which each enhances which athletic skills and to what degree is, of course, wide open for debate – and actual scientific study is sadly pretty thin on these subjects. This becomes then just an argument over the degree of performance enhancement. But my point (in part, anyway) was that there is no way you can blacklist players of the “Steroids Era” without casting shadows on the great icons of the “Greenies Era” – unless you are being completely hypocritical.

  3. Lauren - Jan 12, 2010 at 5:06 PM

    To Tom:who in the HELL do you think you are kidding?!! Race had EVERYTHING to do with the way Bonds was treated by YOU,the media,the so-called’fans’,Con[artist]gress,and the greater free world! Including a crappy ass former president playing ‘wag the dog’ as for name-calling it’s Karma beyotch spare me you’d have thought Barry Bonds was behind 9/11 the way people in this country were acting now all of a sudden were are supposed to just move on and let it go?! What a CROCK OF STUFF!! Mcliar cheated and is just now admitting it when he knows he WON’T get into real trouble for it but I have YET to hear any of the SAME holier thans calling for Mr. Bonds head screaming their b.s. now so it looks like baseball is full of racist hypocrites living by their delusions.

  4. Lauren - Jan 12, 2010 at 5:13 PM

    I agree with Carol 100 percent and it’s clueless,delusional,full of CRAP a-holes like on this board that have proven her point!! You;d have thought Barry Bonds was behind 9/11 the way the media and you so-called ‘fans’ were acting and you are trying to say race had nothing to do with that?! Even though you are the SAME jerks who are saying we should just move on spare me when this was Bonds the public was calling for his head I sure as hell don’t see that happening now gee wonder why THAT is! Nor was it that way for anyone else you mentioned and save it about A-Fraud who like Canseco falls under ‘ABB’ Anything But Black and who has light skin and blue eyes so he’s more ‘one of you’. If that means a full of crap hypocrite jizzhole then I guess he truly is!

  5. NRESQ - Jan 12, 2010 at 6:48 PM

    Lauren and Carol: Hey, Bitches! You sick! You obviously got a problem with race! Guess Marion Barry was just picked b/c he was black even though he was sucking on the crack pipe! Guess Jesse J. was ridiculed because he was black even though he had that little bastard child while preachin’ family values! Hey, Girls! When somebody f* up, that it, no matter what color they skin. BB, his head go from size 7 to size 10 in 1 year! McGuire, he go from skinny to beefy same way. They both cheaters and losers. Why you think it OK for black guy, just because he black? Point is, cheatin’ is cheatin, and they all get treated the same. Now, chill out, bitches!

  6. Lauren - Jan 12, 2010 at 11:44 PM

    Listen sack of s$#t YOU are the one with the damn problem!! And please you are HARDLY one to talk about Marion Barry OR Jesse with all the many,many,many,MANY white male politicians who have COUNTLESS mistresses,pay hookers with TAXPAYER dollars,have babies out of wedlock,grope multiple women,f$$k interns one who went missing,take 10 hours to open a woman’s car door,and are just plain sleazebags of the HIGHEST order! It’s not OK for anyone dumb s$%t but we all know DAMN WELL Bonds got vilified far worse than ANY white player so who are you kidding stupid they get treated the same my A##! But considering how stupid you are you would delude yourself into believing that so learn how to spell and put sentences together.

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