It’s hard to say that you feel better about Mark McGwire’s admission to using performance-enhancing drugs. In his statements to The Associated Press, and through tears in his interview with Bob Costas on MLB Network, it was clear that “Big Mac” felt ashamed for what he had done… but only so far. Whether it was admitting that he injected himself with steroids (but preferred taking them orally), his admitting that he used hGH, and “getting this off his chest”, when asked repeatedly by Bob Costas whether the substances – deemed to be “performance enhancing” – did that for his power numbers, McGwire denied it at every turn, citing his God given talent, or by saying that he only used them to deal with a body that he said was “like a walking M.A.S.H unit.”
So, if there was a way to be contrite without being contrite, McGwire exhibited it. But, in a look at the psychology of the star athlete, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that McGwire reacted the way he did.
This is where the brow furrows, and the teeth gnash for the fan that sees the issue of PEDs in a black and white context. For the athlete at the major league level, their whole lives have been about being the best. In McGwire’s case, he brought up his laundry list of homerun hitting talent from the time he was in Little League and Legion ball, to his early years in MLB. So, when Costas asked if his homeruns were all “legitimate”, the answer from someone that just said they had used PEDs for the better part of a decade, McGwire overlooked the PEDs, fell back on the talent he has showed, or been told he had his whole life, and answered honestly with a matter-of-fact, “yes”.
For McGwire, it came back to the injuries. The steroids, an incredible way to deal with rebounding from injury, or inflammation from excessive strain, were used to get McGwire, “back to normal.”
“The steroids I did were on a very low dosage. I didn’t want to take a lot of it,” McGwire said in his hour long interview with Costas. “I took very, very low dosages, just because I wanted my body to feel normal. The wear and tear of 162 ballgames and the status of where I was at, and the pressures that I had to perform, and what I had to go through to try and get through all these injuries, it’s a very, very regrettable thing.”
But, the hard truth is, that’s cheating the game. McGwire, by being able to chemically get passed the injuries, was able to continue playing. Who knows how many homeruns were hit simply due to his ability to step in the box when he shouldn’t have been able to?
He also said, “I’ve always had bat speed. I just learned how to shorten my bat speed. I learned how to be a better hitter.” But, if you think about that statement, the reason he was able to shorten his bat speed was tied to an increase in power – being able to get a compact swing only works when being able to explode with extra strength.
But, beyond that, there is the truth that is becoming more and more obvious the further into the “drug testing era” we get: McGwire’s numbers were cartoonish during the same period he used PEDs, a sign that they did enhance his performance.
In 1991-1993, the league-leading home run numbers were 44, 43, and 46. In 1998, McGwire was the league leader in HRs with a staggering 70, smashing Maris' record just two years after he now admits to using steroids on a consistent basis.
What McGwire has is a wrongful sense of the truth. From every account, he seemed genuine in all that he said. There’s little doubting he’s extremely sorry for what he has done to his family. At the same time, there is every reason to believe that in his heart of hearts, he would have passed Roger Maris in 1998, with every injection or pill being just a way to be “normal”. In that, McGwire’s backward logic revolves around not taking performance “enhancers” but rather performance “equalizers”.
The sad truth is, Mark McGwire’s soul will move toward becoming more intact, while most likely suffering in his Hall of Fame votes. At least publicly, McGwire seemed willing to accept that.
“I’m not here doing this for the Hall of Fame. I’m doing this for me, to get this off my chest,” McGwire said through tears. “I played this game of baseball because I was given the ability to play. If I’m lucky enough to get in there, that’s just icing on the cake. But I played this game because I loved it.”
But, if the numbers are all legitimate in McGwire’s mind, regardless of PED use, then how could he not be upset about not reaching one of baseball’s highest honors? If he had the God-given talent, why would he say, “Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.”? The truth seems to lie in that hazy area of “it was the era” and a sense of McGwire believing that he short changed himself by not proving what he believed: the homeruns were a by-product of talent, not a pill.
In the coming months, the Cardinals faithful will receive him with open arms, and there seems a very good chance that he will also give the media there its due and take further questions. His trips to Wrigley Field, or to Citi Field will be a far more painful experience as he’s bound to get an earful from the fans, and if the Cardinals organization doesn’t run interference for him, descended upon by the media. All of which – and certainly more scenarios – have been mapped out by the Cardinals and league; McGwire said he would have admitted his PED usage at some point, but make no mistake, the timing of his admission on Monday was due to him being hired as a hitting coach with the season fast approaching.
So with Tuesday being the first day after his admission, the reality is, most of America feels for Mark McGwire, a man who is clearly been pained by having to live with not admitting to using PEDs, even to his own family. And yet, his steadfast claims of “performance enhancing” not enhancing his performance will surely not have them saying, “All is forgiven. Your stats are asterisks free.” McGwire had a chance for these five years to sit and wait for a fast ball down the middle to hit, and even though it came gift-wrapped for him, he decided it wasn't such a good pitch to hit, and let his chance at true redemption come in for a strike, instead of one of McGwire's towering home runs.
Select Read More to see home run totals from 1991-2009
* Strike shortened year. Williams had 43 homeruns.
61 homeruns is projected figuire
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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