onsdag 13 januari 2010

Despite Steroid Admission, It's Way Too Late To Pump Up Mark McGwire's Bid For Hall Of Fame

Former St. Louis Cardinals Mark McGwire is sworn in during a House Committee session investigating steroids in Major League Baseball in 2005.
At long last, Mark McGwire has elected to talk about the past - a past that isn't very pretty for baseball - and now the Hall of Fame voters are going to have to decide whether being an admitted cheater makes him any more worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown than a suspected cheater.
It's a little unclear as to why McGwire chose now to issue his mea culpa for having used steroids as he inflated his home run numbers to record-setting proportions in the '90s, other than his desire to return to baseball as the St. Louis Cardinals' batting coach cleansed of guilt. Undoubtedly, he'll attain sympathy in some quarters as Jason Giambi did when he was the only one of the players caught up in the BALCOprobe who admitted to the grand jury in San Francisco about having used steroids. But I highly doubt if it's going to make any appreciable difference in the 23-24% he's been getting in the Hall of Fame balloting.
If anything, when the voters reflect on what an absolute sham McGwire was, publicly embracing the Maris family in 1998 as he went about annihilating Roger Maris' longstanding single-season home record with the help of performance-enhancing drugs, they should be even more dismissive of him as a person deserving of any honor in baseball. In his statement Monday, McGwire said: "I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish and a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroids era."
It seems to me the most important people he needs to apologize to are Roger Maris' two sons. After all, he robbed them of their father's legacy, as did Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, although I'm not holding my breath for either of them to admit their cheating ways. (For what it's worth, Maris still has a place in the record books as the American League one-season home run record-holder.)
And when McGwire says he wishes he never played during the steroids era, I have to laugh. After all, he was the steroids era. Is he trying to suggest that he just happened to come along and get caught up in this web of performance-enhancing drugs that had been festering in baseball for years?
And whether he wants to admit it or not, McGwire's admission yesterday, along with Jose Canseco's past lurid tales of steroids use, has taken a big chunk out of Tony La Russa's legacy, as the "Bash Brothers" 1989 world championship with the Oakland A's is forever tainted. La Russa was still saying yesterday that he believed McGwire's home run prowess for him in Oakland and St. Louis was primarily the product of hard work in the weight room. It remains a weak defense from someone who has lived by the credo "respect the game."
McGwire cited the 228 games he missed over five years due to seven trips on the disabled list as his incentive to see if steroids could help him heal faster, and I suppose that's going to be the standard excuse used by all the other cheats who either come clean or get caught. And if the residual effect of taking steroids was being healthy and strong enough to make a mockery of the record book and enhance their salaries tenfold, well, who could help that?
I do believe McGwire's primary motivation for coming clean now was his desire to get back on the major league field with the Cardinals and teach hitting - which couldn't happen until he addressed the issue - and not necessarily an attempt to improve his image with the Hall of Fame voters. He has to know that finally talking about the past can never eradicate the past. Rather, it has served to further illuminate it and remind everyone, the players and their union, the media and, yes, the commissioner of baseball, that we were all complicit in looking the other way as all these cheats tarnished the game forever.
Admission of steroid use should never be construed as some form of healing process for baseball, either. There is no healing from this. But it's a whole lot better than the lying and denying.
Are you listening, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa? Or are you content to wait for your turn on the Hall of Fame ballot to see exactly how well you really fooled everyone?


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