Baseball BeatJanuary 12, 2010
Big Mac's Attacks
By Rich Lederer

The big news on Monday was the admission from Mark McGwire that he used steroids on and off for a decade, including the 1998 season when he slugged 70 home runs and broke the then single-season record of 61 by Roger Maris in 1961.

Everybody seems to have his or her take on the subject (check the sidebar for news, analysis, video, and audio). As a general rule, we don't feel the need to weigh in with our opinions on such matters. But, in this case, I have a few thoughts that I'd like to share.

Me%20%27n%27%20Big%20Mac_2.jpgMy first is a tongue-in-cheek question. Based on the photo at left, which one of us do you suppose was on steroids when this photo was taken in October 1998? It wasn't I. But, then again, I never had the God-given talent and hand-eye coordination that he spoke about yesterday. Nevertheless, how many people other than Kerry Robinson can say they pinch hit for Big Mac?

On a more serious note, McGwire, in a statement prior to his interview with Bob Costas on MLB Network, said: "I used steroids during my playing career and I apologize. I remember trying steroids very briefly in the 1989/1990 off season and then after I was injured in 1993, I used steroids again. I used them on occasion throughout the '90s, including during the 1998 season. I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era."

McGwire finally admitted that he used steroids. Great, it's over and all is forgiven, right? Apparently not. You see, the same critics who begged him to come clean are now upset that he didn't say something like the following: "By taking steroids, I hit 15 to 20 more home runs per season than I would have otherwise. I never would have broken the single-season record nor hit 500 for my career had I not been juiced."

I mean, get real folks. The truth of the matter is that nobody really knows for certain how much steroids helped, if at all. Maybe they did. Maybe they didn't. The whole subject is nothing more than just speculation at this point. It is what it is.

Look, I'm not naive. Steroids added muscles and bulk to McGwire's frame. The added strength probably allowed McGwire to hit a baseball farther. Hitting a baseball farther meant McGwire's long fly balls were more likely to clear outfield walls. Ergo, steroids probably resulted in McGwire slugging more home runs than he would have hit otherwise. Do we really need Mark to spell that out for us in that manner?

I'm also not here to apologize for McGwire. But goodness gracious. The guy admitted that he used steroids. He apologized. He said it was a mistake. He apologized again (and again). But, as Joe Posnanski tweeted: "People SAY they're forgiving but apologies never seem to go far enough for them." Or, as Rob Neyer noted of Big Mac's accusers: "Before Admission: 'I won't vote for McGwire until he admits it.' After: 'I won't vote for McGwire because he didn't admit it RIGHT.' Sheesh."

Rob, in fact, has had the single-greatest take on the record books for a long time: "In the vain hope of forestalling a ridiculous discussion, may I mention (again) that 'record books' simply 'record' what happened on field?" As it relates to the steroids era, McGwire (and others) hit those home runs and the record books simply recorded them. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Barry Bonds hit more home runs in a MLB single season and career than anybody else. That is a fact. It doesn't mean that you have to accept that Bonds is the greatest home-run hitter of all time. A judgment like that is subjective.

Babe Ruth held the single-season and career record for decades. However, he never competed against black players. Maris broke his single-season record in an expansion year when the American League diluted itself by adding two new teams. It took Hank Aaron 2,000 additional plate appearances to break Ruth's lifetime record. McGwire and Bonds broke home-run records during the steroids era.

Travel conditions have changed over the years. The same thing goes for equipment. Training and nutrition have improved. Ballpark dimensions have never been universal. Games are played in various cities with different altitudes, weather, and wind patterns. Strike zones and the height of the mound have been altered to fit the times. Day games. Night games. Doubleheaders. No doubleheaders. Designated hitters. Four-man rotations. Five-man rotations. Bullpen usage. Left-handed relief specialists.

The game of baseball has evolved over the past century-and-a-half. Some might think for the better. Some might think for the worse. Color barriers. Betting scandals. Spitballs. Expansion. Free agents. Corked bats. Amphetamines. Cocaine. Steroids.

OK, that was more than a few thoughts. But I just couldn't sit back and take the lectures any longer. If these gatekeepers are going to block McGwire and Bonds and Roger Clemens (and others) from the Hall of Fame for partaking in steroids, are they now going to kick out previously enshrined players who used amphetamines, the performance-enhancing drugs of the late 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s? There's no need to mention names here but c'mon. These greenies were readily available in all locker rooms and players could reach into a jar or bowl and take a handful of these uppers before, during, or after a game, apparently endorsed by management and ownership alike.

Let's hear it from the level-headed Rob Neyer on the subject of the steroids era and the Hall of Fame:

It's not at all clear that McGwire will someday be elected to the Hall of Fame. On the other hand, it's fairly clear that the Hall of Fame will not be much of a Hall of Fame if, 20 years from now, many of the best players of the 1990s have been left out. It's fairly clear that someone will eventually realize that the players of the 1990s were a product of their times. And once someone realizes Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens belong in the Hall of Fame, it won't be easy to maintain the position that Mark McGwire does not belong.

Other than perhaps trying to minimize the effects of steroids (including emphasizing the "low dosage," which was unnecessary), most everything else McGwire said seemed not only reasonable but genuine to me. I hope we can get past the self righteousness and, with new regulations and testing in place, move on to the post-steroids era.


Now that he's fessed up, Mac will start to move up the list as more writers forgive him every year. His admission will eventually bring closure to the issue - though it might still take a few years.

Don't forget Mac hit 30 HRs before the all-star break of his rookie season. He was a threat to break 60 from the beginning, with or without steroids.

What the steroids did was allow him to recover and play an entire season (probably at the expense of later injuries and a shorter career). He had plenty of years where he had a higher HR ratio than Maris or Ruth, but had the seasons cut short by injury.

The thing is, both Mac and Bonds would have been no-doubt HoFers had they stayed clean. Bonds was a better all-around player before the "flax seed clear" and "Ben Gay creme".

Now if Alan Trammell wants to get in, he should confess to using steroids, even if he didn't.

The threshhold question of whether steroids help a man hit more home runs is less open than seems to be commonly thought. Start here: Steroids added muscles and bulk to McGwire's frame. Yes, but--selectively. It has long been well understood in the medical community that the effects of steroids are overwhelmingly focussed on what is called the "shoulder girdle", basically musculature from the armpits up. They have minimal effects on any muscles below the shoulders. Now relate that to The added strength probably allowed McGwire to hit a baseball farther. Power hitting--indeed, hitting in general--is (as Professor Adair's book The Physics of Baseball explains) almost entirely a function of lower-body strength: torso, hips, legs. The arms serve only to hold the bat, so that the rotational force of the body is transferred to it; they supply no material contribution to power. Bulging biceps may make baseball annies swoon, and beat writers smirk, but they don't propel baseballs.

It is those well-established facts that explain why the ratio of home runs to hits was, except for the ball-juicing in 1993, essentially flat throughout (and before) the so-called "steroids era".

The only question is not practical but ethical: if players took steroids believing that they worked, what are those players guilty of, and how guilty is that? My thought is "remember Prohibition"; how "guilty" were the great majority of Americans who bought and drank "prohibited" alcohol--surely the source of all sin--in those years?

Great post, Rich. I couldn't agree with you more.

I had a fantasy baseball team named the Roid Boyz in 1999. It didnt bother me then, it doesnt bother me now. Im glad they have instituted testing, as I feel like the guys who stayed clean in the 90s like the Big Hurt dont shine as bright as they should and may be tainted by their era, but it seemed pretty obvious to me as soon as I knew what roids were. Then when we get the Mitchell report, suddenly every sports columnist in the country goes off on this crusade to fill up their newspapers when they knew all along, just like the owners, Bud, everybody else. Thats why Bud has a soft stance now and its why the Cardinals hired big Mac in the first place. A large part of the media didnt get the memo however as they help finish off journalism with this crap. Bonds, McGwire, Clemens are all Hall of Famers to me. Jim Rice isnt though, so what do I know.

almost forgot: Rich, is that your non-baseball article in the 2010 Farmers almanac?


I think the type of public apology is relevant. While I do not believe that McGwire necessarily must offer a public mea culpa, IF they do, they should be completely honest and frank. While I don't believe that he necessarily lied, I do believe he minimized and misrepresented his actions.
For example, I believe he stated that he first dabbled in steroids at the conclusion of the 1989 season and then again after the 1994 season. His reason was to combat injuries. However, his injury-plagued seasons did not occur until 1993, not in 1989. What was his reason in 1989? Competitive advantage?
Further, he minimized his increase in size claiming that he only reached a maximum weight of 250 lbs. and he usually finished most seasons around 235 lbs. Did he not notice the considerable physical size difference that is readily apparent from photos of his early to his late career.
I took note of numerous other discrepancies in his remarks similar to these. In sum, I believe he truly regretted what he had done and especially what has occcurred to the public perception of himself. However, his actions were forced by his new position with the Cardinals (a fact that he acknowledged during the interview). As a result, I think he he held back from being completely honest during the interview. To his credit, I think he was much more forthcoming than Alex Rodriguez (who I believe lied during his apology). Good day.

FWIW, here are a few thoughts:

1) He would never have hit 70 HRs if he had not used steriods. BY HIS OWN WORDS!!!! He was using them to stay healthy, and without them, we can assume, he would not have been able to stay healthy. Therefore it's highly unlikely that he would have as many home runs as he did without them. That particular case is closed.

2) As you said, every record is tainted. However, not all records are tainted with the illegial use of drugs. Use of steriods, despite what may have occured at the gyms Mac hung around in, was in fact illegial during the time in which he used them. He broke the law and as a result, hit a lot of home runs. I can't think of a historical parallel for this, can you? He broke not only the rules of the game, and gained an unfair advantage over his competitors, but he actually broke the law to do it!

Say what you will about Babe Ruth not hitting against black pitchers, but he broke no laws to gain his unfair advantage. If he broke any laws, they were unrelated to his baseball performance. Again, I cannot think of any equivalent which does not involve attempting to break the knee of Nancy Kerrigan, which I don't think is a good parallel.

This is one reason why I'm not so ready to give Mac, Pettitte, et. al. a free pass on this. Maybe these guys belong in the HOF, maybe they don't, I can't decide. But please don't dismiss this as much ado about nothing. It is something, and it does matter.

Eric Walker, I think you're really minimizing the effects of steroids. McGwire even alluded to it during his interview with Costas. 162 games is a long slog. It's the same reason players used greenies. Anything to help them get up for the next game.

Except steroids are much better than greenies. They significantly speed up muscle recovery. That's huge for a number of reasons:
1. You can increase your workouts
2. Even if you don't workout, your muscles will recover quicker from the load of the season, and you'll feel better in the later months of the season.

Besides that, it looks like McGwire increased his muscle mass all over his body, not just in his arms.

I bet a big reason for the increased amount of homers was that pitchers were using steroids. If the average speed of fastballs went up, I would expect more strikeouts and more homers. That's what we got. Is there any way to study average fastball speed back to the early 90s?

Mark McGwire has nothing to apologize for--he didn't hurt anyone. If he "regrets" his actions, so what? That's his business. He doesn't have to explain anything to me, so I'm not sure why he has to explain himself to anyone else. Oh, I forgot, he wants to work for Bud & Co. so I suppose he has to make nice.

I find it hard to believe that over the first 120 years of Major League Baseball the 60 home run plateau was only reached twice and then during the "steroid era" Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds all topped that number with regularity during a seven year period of time. Not only that but home run rates all over the majors increased dramatically from 1994 until around the Mitchell Report. I'm not saying there weren't other factors at play but it seems naive to say that the steroids may not have had any affect at all.

Ok, Cards fan here, so keep that in mind.

Steroids clearly gives those players, like Big Mac, who took them, an advantage. No, it won't help w/the hand eye coordination that many players like to point out, but where it helps them is health, plain and simple. As odd as it sounds, I think Big Mac could have hit 70 home runs w/out 'roids. He really did have that natural kind of power. The catch is I don't think he ever would have been healthy enough to have done so. Meaning, there's no way he could have played enough games at that point of his career to have done it. Had he not taken 'roids, I think the last few years of his career would have looked more like he did in 2000 and '01, where he had massive flashes of power, but health kept him off the field for a good chunk of both years. Also, instead of being in 2000 and '01, I think the time line of those years would have been moved up, to say 1996 or 1997. The steroids allowed him to actually see the field, which is what helped him break the record in '98 and put up those massive HR totals in the late '90's. Ironically, those very same 'roids are what, most likely, led to his knee issues that wound up ending his career.

As for the media treatment of Big Mac: What he hell do people like Neyer or Buster O'liney want from him? Did he tell us everything? Probably not, but I truly believe we saw the most honest, heart felt apology offered by any of those associated with steroids. I think he was more honest and sincere than-+ Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettite, Giambi, clearly more so than Bonds, pretty much all of them, except possibly Canseco.

The treatment and double standard is appalling, and if Clemons, Bonds, any of them, get into the HOF w/out McGwire, then it will be a sad day for baseball.

Should add, I don't care if Big Mac makes the HOF, I'm just saying either he and all of them make it, or none at all.

I've posted this on the Book Blog, but I think steroids should be viewed the opposite way as military service is viewed for 1940s era players.

Some 1940s era players with marginal stats are in the Hall, and one reason is that the loss of their prime years due to service in the military in World War II and Korea is not their fault, and they are to some extent "credited" with the missing stats. In the case of steroids using players, its reasonable to "debit" the stats that were steroids produced.

Bonds and Clemens are obvious Hall of Famers without steroids. In fact Clemens would be in the Hall of Fame today if injury issues had forced him into retirement in 1994, and possibly this is true of Bonds as well (not on the first ballot, but then the historical Bonds won't get in on the first ballot either). Ex-steroids McGwire is more debatable as a Hall of Famer.

I agree with the point that you don't keep players of the Bonds and Clemens caliber out of the Hall of Fame unless they were thrown out of the game due to gambling associations, or they murdered someone (actually I think OJ Simpson is still enshrined at Canton), and if you have some sort of selection criteria that keeps a Bonds or Clemens out, then the criteria is goofed up. After all Ty Cobb was the first player selected.

"either he and all of them make it, or none at all."

Not necessarily. There is an oft blurred distinction here. If the rationale is that taking PEDs is some sort of moral issue, then you are correct. (For the record, I wouldn't keep ANYONE out on this basis.)

But there is a second objection - if a person would not have been a HOFer but for the PEDs, and if the PEDs in question were forbidden under the rules, that's an independant reason to keep someone out. Of course we can't KNOW that for a given player PEDs made the difference, but arguably we should err on the side of exclusion in such a case.

More specifically - Bonds by this standard is clearly in. While we don't know for sure when he started using, (a) he was so good that it is virtually inconceivable that he wouldn't have been a no-brainer candidate even without PEDs, and (relatedly) (2) he may well have entered the HOF if he retired before he began taking PEDs. He won 3 MVPs well before the likely start date of any PED use. Clemens is also in under this standard.

But McGwire is (at least) a closer case. He may well have not (quite) accumulated HOF numbers but for the PEDs. Complicating the case is that at least some of the PEDs were not forbidden at the time; he should not be penalized for those.

Sigh, I guess I should read all the prior posts before I comment. Sorry for the redundant post - Ed said more or less the same thing at 9:19.

"It has long been well understood in the medical community that the effects of steroids are overwhelmingly focussed on what is called the "shoulder girdle", basically musculature from the armpits up."

Since when? Steroids affect all muscles in the body. Why would it centralize to the shoulder muscles? I'd like to see your citation to this "well understood" phenomanom.

I'm shocked that no one ha mentioned the fact that Tom House admitted to using steroids back in the 70's, and that other players were using in that timeframe, too. Steroids have been around for a long time, people.

Thank you Rich. My argument have mirrored what you wrote for years now. You put it much better and, as always, I learn a great deal from this fantastic site.

Rich Lederer said:

"The truth of the matter is that nobody really knows for certain how much steroids helped, if at all. Maybe they did. Maybe they didn't. The whole subject is nothing more than just speculation at this point. It is what it is."

No, this is not the truth of the matter. This is a lie (yes, a L-I-E). Steroidal drugs are among the most researched substances in history. Its effects on the human body are very, very clear. They enhance athletic performance and every major sport on the planet has banned its use. In fact, MLB and NFL are probably the last oasis available on the planet for PED users.

It is actually ironic that People who pride themselves on the "scientific approach" go and say this kind of unscientific rubbish.

Statistic study of samples (e.g, MLB) composed of experimental units (e.g, the players)requires a definite degree of "sameness" (for example, experimental animals must have the same age, sex, lineage, and so on). The same goes for sports stats: athletes HAVE to be clean. If this condition is violated the statistical validity of their performance is lost. This is why these doping athletes are suspended and stripped of their medals and records (remember Marion Jones, Floyd Landis, Tim Montgomery, Justin Gatlin?).

THIS is the truth of the matter.

What? you don´t believe me like you believe McGwire? read some science then:

Lancet. 2008 May 31;371(9627):1872-82.
Use of doping agents, particularly anabolic steroids, in sports and society. Sjöqvist F, Garle M, Rane A.

Sports Med. 2004;34(8):513-54.
Effects of androgenic-anabolic steroids in athletes. Hartgens F, Kuipers H

Both Fred McGriff and Mark McGwire started their careers in 1987. Here are their numbers prior to the '94 strike - when both players were 30 and around the time Big Mac claimed to begin using PEDs.

McGriff - 1147 G, 4714 PA, 703 R, 262 HR, 710 RBI, .285/.389/.541 153 OPS+

McGwire - 990 G, 4006 PA, 546 R, 238 HR, 657 RBI, .250/.362/.507 143 OPS+

A couple things stand out. One is that even before steroids, Mark McGwire was a damn good hitter.

The other is that McGriff, a player not known for his "dominance," was in fact a dominant player in his 20's, and was notably better than McGwire during this 8 year period. Not only was he more durable but he also produced at a higher rate.

I dont know if McGwire would have put up HOF caliber numbers without the use of PEDs. I do know that prior to his admitted use, he was a lesser player than a guy who (like Mac himself) rcvd about 20% of the HOF vote this past year.

Stimulants improve concentration and motor functions. I would think that affects bat speed

The HOF needs to come up with some type of "baseball era" adjustment to account for variations in the game that have direct impacts on the stats.

1) Lowering the pitching mound 5" in 69
2) Body Armour & medical exception
3) Addition of Batting helmets in the 50's and mandated in 71.
4) Cork center of baseball 1911
5) Raised seams on ball - in the 30's
6) Clean baseballs -Ray Chapman incident - in the 20's
7) HGH/Roids in the 90's
8) smaller strike zone - 70

I'm sure there are others like the admittance of the black player and Latin American player as well.

Big Mac benefited from a lower pitching mound, cleaner baseballs (perhaps 5 pitches/ball?), improved hand/eye coordination, body armour, smaller strike zone and batting helmets over players in the HOF prior to the 1970's.

IF the HOF accepts players based only on the era they played in then I don't see how they can keep him out. If however the HOF is based on how the individual played against some subjective standard of all era's then he doesn't come close. I support the latter concept even if its subjective.

I think that much of the reaction to McGwire's admission of steroid use is for the same reason that the admissions/explanations/denials of other players have met with a similar response- they come off as entirely self-serving. The idea seems to be to admit only as much as you can get away with, and deny the rest. And when and where possible, spread the blame around in order to make yourself as sympathetic as possible.

ARod wants us to believe that he only used steroids during a short period and quickly gave them up. Andy Pettite admits to having used HGH (which seems more palatable than admitting steroid use) only to recover from injury (as if quicker recovery didn't confer a competitive advantage!). Rafael Palmeiro, among others, is pretty sure that someone passed him a tainted supplement. Barry Bonds claims that someone was rubbing arthritis cream on his arm. Clemens insists that he didn't touch PEDs at all.

And McGwire tells us that he used it on and off, in small dosages, and only because he wanted to be healthy. He wishes that he had played in a different time, when the temptations of steroids would not have overpowered him and his broken body. He's not really sure what substance he was taking, he just knows that it didn't *really* work and that all it has done is caused him harm, possibly physically, and definitely to his reputation. I get the impression that he wants us to understand that he has suffered disproportionately for a minor and sporadic dalliance with steroids.

It does not seem authentic, it sounds self-serving. Don't count me among the people who felt he owed us an apology-- I'm not. But having heard it, it does not come across as a genuine explanation of what happened. Best of luck to him as he embarks on a career as a baseball coach, and I hope he eventually makes his way into the Hall of Fame. But I think I'll file this apology into the old mental paper shredder.

We play decades upon decades, 2 guys with 60 or more, and not many at all had even hit 50. Then all of a sudden people are hitting 70 some home runs and Brady freaking Anderson and a slew of others hit 50. Then you have Clemens amping up his career in his late 30's after he looked for all the world like he was almost done.

Jump till after serious testing began and hey, nobody is hitting 60 and 50 is very , very hard again.

I think the blatant cheating matters a lot to the integrity of the game, and it's belittled the careers of previous sluggers like Frank Robinson or Harmon Killebrew. And real baseball fans know that Henry and Babe are the real HR kings.

Babe Ruth did not hit against Latin, Chinese, Japanese or extraterrestrials. SO WHAT? Hard to come up against, the babe isn't it? That comment ruined the whole piece for me!!

You said "Maris broke his single-season record in an expansion year when the American League diluted itself by adding two new teams."

In fact Maris in 1961:
Hit 8 hrs (average 4) against the two expansion teams (LA/Min).

He hit 53 hrs (average 7.6) against the 7 established teams. Hit 13 of those against WSox.

So if my math is right, Maris may have hit an additional 7 (3.6x2) or 68 hr's, surely not less.

Do you concur??

@Richard: I thought the Ruth comment "ruined the whole piece" for you? Yet I see you're back an hour later on Maris.

As it relates to the latter, no, I do not concur. Expansion diluted *all* teams. The American League held an expansion draft and pitchers were taken from existing teams, creating two new clubs and diluting the existing eight. At a conservative 10 pitchers per team, there were 100 full-time pitchers in the league in 1961, an increase of 20 or 25% from the year before. The bottom line is that the talent (pitching and hitting) was watered down throughout the league, which benefited Maris (and Mantle, Cash, Gentile and many others) that year.

Rich, your probably right.... However:

In 1961 the schedule went from 154 games to 162. And....


1959 4.36 3.86 100 .9
1960 4.39 3.87 99 .9

1961 4.53 4.02 101 1.0

1962 4.44 3.97 100 1.0
1963 4.08 3.63 100 .9

Yes there was a slight increase in 1961, but not the diluting I was looking for. I'll leave it there. Thanks.