Big Mac's Attacks
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.
My 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.