Breaking down Mark McGwire’s mea culpa
Anyone who is shocked by Mark McGwire’s statement admitting his steroid use is either painfully naive or belongs to that class of professionally outraged people who implore you to think of the children every time something mildly bothersome comes up. Anyone with a lick of sense knew years ago, or at least should have, that Mark McGwire took steroids. His confession is news in and of itself. The underlying facts of his steroid use is not. Or at least shouldn’t be.
So what about that confession? Like all confessions that are motivated by public relations as opposed to, say, police interrogation, this one has many of the hallmarks of phoniness we’ve come to expect. McGwire says “I wish I had never touched steroids,” and that “I wish I had never played during the steroid era.” Sincere? Maybe. Only McGwire knows, but such wishcasting is designed, consciously or otherwise to make passive what was active. You wish away external circumstances like rainstorms on your wedding day. McGwire was in and of the steroid era. Even if he’s being less than candid about his using timeframe -- 1989-90, 1993-on -- there is no escaping the conclusion that McGwire, as we know him, is no victim of the steroid era. He is a creation of it, for all the good and the bad that entails.
McGwire cites his string of injuries in the early 90s as the main catalyst for his steroid use. We’ve heard this over and over from players who have been identified as steroid users. I have no doubt that this has an awful lot to do with why players used, but just once I’d like to hear someone say “man, I wanted to hit a boatload of homers and make a gabillion dollars, and I figure steroids would help me do it!” If you believe “Game of Shadows” this was a big motivator for Barry Bonds. Maybe he’ll make that part of his statement someday.
McGwire says “Baseball is really different now - it’s been cleaned up. The Commissioner and the Players Association implemented testing and they cracked down, and I’m glad they did.” Again, something we have no choice of taking at face value, but what I’m more interested in knowing is how he and his fellow PED users felt about things at the time. Did people feel it was wrong, or did they feel like it was harmless? Were they pressured into using, or was it simply a choice, like whether to do more cardio or more stretching on a given day?
There’s probably no fighting this black or white, good or bad dichotomy that has sprung up about steroids -- and I’m sure McGwire has promised the Cardinals and Major League Baseball that he’ll hew to that line, possibly even as a condition of his employment -- but the world doesn’t really work that way, and I’m curious what McGwire thought about it at the time he was injecting drugs. It’s not like steroids are habit forming like heroin. He had a choice. He wasn’t an addict. Some rationality went into it, and I’d like to know how it flowed in his mind. I think by knowing his of McGwire -- and others who used -- we’d have a much easier time putting the steroid era into perspective.
But enough about his statement. Like I’ve said, it was something that had to happen in light of McGwire’s return to the game and because so many people have clamored for it, but it doesn’t tell us anything particularly interesting or anything new. The only really significant question it does raise is whether the legions of writers who have called for McGwire to “come clean” will now acknowledge that he has come clean or, rather, use this occasion to excoriate him further.
We may already have an indication of how that will go. On October 28th, SI’s Jon Heyman wrote “now that he’s been hired as Cardinals hitting coach, it’s time for Mark McGwire to come clean.” Moments ago on Twitter, Heyman said “if you lie for 10 years, and everyone knows you’re lying, what’s the value of finally telling the truth?
They’re already changing the game on Big Mac. Again, no surprise. Don’t expect barbs to stop, Mark. Don’t expect your Hall of Fame totals to go up. Your sole function for most of the sporting press is to serve as a repository for criticism. It’s not going to stop just because you’ve come clean like they asked.
UPDATE: Selig’s statement. Money shot: “The so-called “steroid era” - a reference that is resented by the many players who played in that era and never touched the substances - is clearly a thing of the past, and Mark’s admission today is another step in the right direction.”