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Sorry Mac, but apology is too little, too late
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McGwire said Monday that he “always knew this day would come.” Thanks for the heads up. For years, the rest of us had wondered whether he was going to emerge from his suburban bunker and admit that, yes, Jose Canseco got another one right.
Then the Cardinals named McGwire as their hitting coach last fall, making Monday’s admission a virtual precondition of employment. You know, like a drug test.
Lest the media inquiries in each National League city distract him (and his pupils) at the outset of each series, he had to say something. He had to fess up. And he finally did, acknowledging that he took performance-enhancing drugs “throughout the nineties, including during the 1998 season.”
Combine that with the past revelations about Sammy Sosa, and we can confidently conclude that much of what we witnessed in ’98 was as legitimate as WWE.
But I’m not here to talk about the past. (Now that McGwire has changed his tune, I can steal his line.)
You probably want to know if this will change McGwire’s prospects for the Hall of Fame.
You probably want to know if, in the great American tradition, this confession will start him on the path to salvation – in this case, Cooperstown, N.Y.
You probably want to know if I view him differently, now that he has come clean.
Well, I don’t. In fact, I’m surer than ever that I have viewed his Hall candidacy in the proper light.
Let me explain. I’m not currently a Hall voter. But if and when I join the electorate, I will apply a different standard to hitters who played during the Steroid Era. That’s the period that roughly coincides with McGwire’s playing career (1986 through 2001).
It pains me to say this, but the sluggers who played during that time are guilty until proven innocent, at least when it comes to the Hall of Fame. Through the reports and the books and the Mitchell Report, an overwhelming amount of evidence points to the same conclusion: A lot of players took steroids.
Good guys, bad guys, family guys, charitable guys – there were guilty parties of every stripe. The leaks and revelations could go on for years, and we will never know the precise list of who used, when it happened, and what impact it had on their numbers.
So, I have a simple policy: If you played during that time, you will need to have done more than hit 400, 500 or even 600 home runs in order to get my vote. One-dimensional players need not apply. It was just too easy for very strong men to get on the juice and hit baseballs over the fence.
(I would, on the other hand, vote for Barry Bonds. He was a great all-around player, with eight Gold Gloves and more than 500 stolen bases. He was surly and unrepentant, yes, but he was also better than pretty much everyone else in the game before and after he allegedly began taking steroids.)
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Now, is it possible that my criteria would result in the unjust denial of a home-run hitter who did his work legitimately, who resisted the temptation to use steroids while others gave in? Sure. But what’s the alternative? Apply the “Good Guy” test? Oh, there’s no chance he took steroids. He’s such a great person. Nope. Sorry. A lot of our heroes took steroids. Painful but true.
On multiple occasions during his televised interview with Bob Costas on Monday, McGwire said that he hit homers because of hand-eye coordination and God-given ability – not the steroids he took. That is absurd. If he hadn’t taken the steroids to help him get healthy – which he admitted – then couldn’t his career have ended after the injury-shortened ’93 and ’94 seasons?
Without performance enhancers, McGwire might be just another retiree with 238 home runs. (That was his total through ’94.) There would have been no revelations on Monday, because no one would have cared about a .250 hitter who couldn’t stay healthy.
The Hall of Fame? McGwire insisted to Costas that his disclosure had nothing to do with Cooperstown. And that’s good. No need to fret about such a remote possibility.
More importantly than reviving his stalled Hall candidacy, McGwire should focus on rebuilding trust with the baseball-loving public. A-Rod did it by getting clutch hits and winning a championship. McGwire will need to do his good deeds in less noticeable ways – unless Tony La Russa’s tantalizing suggestion of a McGwire comeback in September comes true. (The manager referred to the idea of the 46-year-old suiting up as a “nice little dream” in a recent interview with the Contra Costa Times.)
In his statement on Monday, McGwire said, “Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.” The unwritten code of his workplace dictated that using steroids was OK, and the competitive urge to use was too great for him to say no. It’s too bad. Had he come along earlier, he might have hit 400 or 450 home runs – without artificial help – and been revered by fans into his dotage. Instead, his sad performance before Congress is as much a part of his legacy as No. 70.
If you’re looking for a storybook ending, you’ve come to the wrong era of the wrong sport. Mark McGwire’s relationship with the Hall of Fame should begin and end with helping Albert Pujols make it there. That’s probably not the way McGwire envisioned it 10 years ago. But at least he can do his job with a clear conscience.
For a seminal figure in the Steroid Era, that will have to be good enough.
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