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McGwire's confession falls short
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Sorry, Mark McGwire is still living a lie, so the truth cannot set him free.
Monday should have been a terrific day for McGwire, the first day of the rest of his baseball life. He finally admitted to using steroids.
He apologized for it. He seemed truly anguished, deeply troubled by what he had done.
And then, in an interview with Bob Costas on MLB Network, McGwire came off nearly as badly as he did in his infamous appearance before Congress in March 2005.
This time, McGwire talked about his past. But he did not admit — did not want to admit, or perhaps could not bring himself to admit — that steroids helped make him a better hitter.
As if it was perfectly natural for a tormented, frequently injured slugger in his 30s to develop into a swaggering, record-setting behemoth.
If McGwire used steroids only for “health purposes,” then why was he so emotional with Costas, breaking down repeatedly as if he were revealing a deep, dark secret?
If McGwire does not believe that performance-enhancing drugs boosted his performance, then I want to know just whom he sees when he looks in the mirror in each day.
Perhaps not even McGwire knows.
He said he took low dosages of steroids because he did not want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Lou Ferrigno. Funny, he looked exactly like one of those oversized body builders in ’98. Who did McGwire think he resembled, Pee Wee Herman?
Ah, details; for some, McGwire’s mere confession will be enough. He said in a written statement that he first experimented with steroids during the 1989-90 offseason and dabbled with them throughout the ‘90s, including during the 1998 season, when he hit his then-record 70 home runs.
All that amounted to a major, undeniably painful step for McGwire. He didn’t make like Andy Pettitte, admitting to only a limited usage. He didn’t pull an Alex Rodriguez, saying he was “young and stupid.” He didn’t fudge like Jason Giambi, issuing a nonspecific apology.
Yet, he still was not credible. Not even close.
To hear McGwire tell it, his evolution into the most prolific slugger in history was a perfect storm of natural forces. God-given ability. Hard work. The shortening of his swing. A greater understanding of hitting as he grew older.
Costas repeatedly gave McGwire the opportunity to concede that steroids helped him hit home runs faster and farther than any player in history. But McGwire never wavered, insisting “absolutely” that he could have been the same hitter without the drugs.
The interview was full of such cringe-inducing moments.
McGwire said that he wished he had never played in the Steroid Era, disregarding that he helped create the era.
He said he took steroids in an effort to avoid injuries, yet "for some reason" continued using the drugs even after he kept getting hurt.
When Costas asked McGwire if his achievements were authentic, McGwire responded, “Authentic in what way?”
Perhaps McGwire was nervous. Perhaps he was overwhelmed. Perhaps he simply is not bright enough to fully grasp the effects of his steroid use and give a more nuanced account.
At one point, McGwire listed the “strength of my mind” as one of his attributes. Well, yes. Steroid users often speak of how the drugs increase their confidence, creating an inner belief that their bodies are capable of more.
McGwire’s initial reason for turning to steroids was understandable, if not completely forgivable. He said he was a “walking MASH unit” in the mid-‘90s, so frustrated with his injuries that he considered retirement. He wanted to help his teammates. He wanted to get back on the field. Many of us would have done the same, particularly with so much money at stake.
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Clearly, McGwire cares about others; it is one of his best qualities.
He said that he declined to detail his steroid use before Congress out of fear that his family and friends would be dragged into legal proceedings against him. It was a noble, if misguided, position. It explains why people want to like McGwire, why people want to forgive.
If only McGwire merited such mercy.
Like other steroid users, he gained a distinct advantage over non-users, creating an unbalanced playing field. McGwire would have lost nothing Monday if he had conceded that he had warped the record books; his chances of election to the Hall of Fame likely are shot, anyway.
But no, he had to fight for his honor, defend his career.
It was the wrong fight at the wrong time.
One final denial through all the tears.
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