Monday, January 11, 2010

Big Mac Comes Clean On Steroids

The most talked about story in America today is an old one that has tainted our toy department the past decade: Baseball great Marc McGwire's admission he used steroids.

My initial reaction was:


ESPN, the nation's primary sports channel, reacted in typical fashion, as if it were the second coming of Christ. Everyone has an opinion which makes stories such as this so great.

I met Mark once when he was a student-athlete at a party hosted by USC alumni. He was a tall, lean, muscular lad with the reputation of hitting a baseball a mile. More important, he struck me as an honest, humble kid who seemed to care a lot of what people, especially children, thought of him. He came from a good Southern California family with a younger brother who adored him.

Everyone in that dining hall sipping punch and wine coolers knew Marc McGwire was destined for super stardom, including myself.

He didn't disappoint. The highlight was hitting a then-record 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 in a dramatic homer derby with Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs who ended the season with 66. The incredible avalanche of home runs by McGwire, Sosa and others most baseball experts believed saved the game after a strike/lockout cancellled the 1994 World Series for the first time ever.

But almost to a man, these experts were blinded by the glory on the field that something was wrong. All  others were guilty --  the players, the Major League Players Association Executive Council, baseball team managers and executives all  the way up to the owners and especially Commissioner Bud Selig.

They were as ostriches, sticking their heads in the ground, knowing full well they were participating in a code of silence about the use of steroids and performance enhancing drugs which at the time were not banned by the sport. To this day, no test is reliable to detect certain human growth hormones.

The downfall started in 1999 when a reporter saw a capsule of HGH inside McQwire's locker. Big Mac retired in 2001 and in 2005 refused to discuss his past during a congressional hearing. For most of those years, he has secluded himself inside his gated community.

In his statement and interviews today, McQwire apologized profusely saying his use of steroids and HGH was stupid, foolish and wrong. He took them, he said, because he believed they would faster repair his muscle and ankle injuries and get him back on the playing field to justify his multi-million dollar salary. He admitted he wasn't convinced today that the juice worked.

I found credence in McGwire's statement that his silence was on advice of his attorneys. And those of the MLPA. Their role was to keep McGwire out of jail and protect the baseball union.

For  a decade now, the specter of McGwire's performance drug use floated over his head with sportswriters and most fans delivering a guilty verdict. Such a verdict in a court of law probably would have been less severe on this guy who just wanted to do his job for the love and money the game offered.

Hall of Fame voters refused to consider his nomination the required five years after his retirement. From a historical perspective, that's a joke. Few are model citizens on or off the field. For every Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. there's a Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Gaylord Perry.

The one man who has stood alone and believed in Big Mac has been Tony LaRussa, his manager with the A's and Cards. LaRussa finally talked McGwire out of retirement and hired him as the St. Louis team's hitting instructor after last season. They agreed Mac would issue a statement, clear the air and get on with life.

It was the best call of both men's career.

“I wish I had never played during the steroid era,” McGwire said.

As the years go by, the sensitive youth I met years ago will be exonerated in the minds of baseball fans for we are a forgiving lot.And, Marc McGwire is a good, decent human being.

One would think three other guilt-drenched superstars would face up honestly.

Are you listening  Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens?

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