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Shock and Aw: Getting Over the Sins of ’98

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Posted on Feb 11, 2010
AP / Eric Draper

Mark McGwire after breaking Roger Maris’ single-season home run record. The slugger recently apologized for taking performance-enhancing drugs during his career.

By Mark Heisler

Editor’s note: Listen to a related podcast with Mark Heisler here.

This just in: With all forgiven, Mark McGwire makes Hall of Fame.

Who knows, it may even happen in his lifetime.

It’s nice to know that as nuts as the world gets now, it still can’t stay mad forever at someone who admits his mistake.

Of course, in Big Mac’s case, the world looks like it may still be upset for another 10 years, or until sports writers, who grew up on The Game’s Continuity With Its Past, are succeeded by enough people who grew up following the game on their iPhones.

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This isn’t the world, this is baseball.

The Hero is now an embarrassment to The Game, a living embodiment of the steroid era, which revealed its inability to confront what everyone in it knew was happening.

Whatever you prefer to believe, you’ll never know what you’d have done in McGwire’s place, with his career going downhill—whether because of injuries, as he believes, or a hole the size of a beach ball in his swing—grabbing onto substances that weren’t against baseball rules, erring technically only in not getting a prescription, which would have been easy, sealing his fate by then going to a new, mythic level that made it impossible for him to acknowledge how he had done it.

Worst of all, the thing that no one can forgive him for, McGwire broke baseball’s heart, as players, writers and league officials alike set aside their skepticism to join the revelry in the national Mardi Gras known as the Summer of ’98.

There were, indeed, reasons to be skeptical about McGwire’s confession, starting with the timing—nine years after he retired, five after his reputation went down in flames in the time it took to say to Congress “I’m not here to talk about the past.”

Then there was Ari Fleischer, who orchestrated the confession. The former presidential press secretary stayed in the background on this one, as opposed to the times he asserted limits on free speech after 9/11 (“There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do”), or laid down the case for the Iraq war (“There is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly.”)

As detailed by The New York Times’ Richard Sandomir, Fleischer’s rollout could serve as a model for future confessions.

McGwire’s apology was first released to the wires for instantaneous worldwide distribution, then fleshed out in a sitdown with the MLB Network’s Bob Costas, who would ask all the hard questions credibility required.

McGwire, who was media-shy when he was on top, then told and retold his story for two days so the media heavies, like ESPN’s Bob Ley, each got “exclusives” to trumpet.

It worked for McGwire, who, for the first time since his fall, was entirely human.

Only Howard Beale’s humanoids from the movie “Network” wouldn’t have been moved as McGwire, choking back sobs, apologized to everyone—“major league baseball, my family, the Marises, Bud Selig,” adding in a quavering voice, “Today was the hardest day in my life.”

Even if you didn’t buy his whole argument—and no one could—there was no mistaking what he was going through after shutting himself off from the world for years because he couldn’t say those very words. 

“Mark McGwire did himself a lot of good, he did,” acknowledged a skeptical Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News, adding, “It was painful to watch as McGwire broke down time and again.”

Of course, you don’t want to underestimate the number of humanoids out there.

“What McGwire has suffered and I can say it straight to Mark’s face, is nothing, not even remote to what I suffered, and he sits there and starts crying,” said Jose Canseco, the original cheater/tell-all author.

“Mark, there’s no crying in baseball, you know that. You’re being taken care of and you know it as well as I do.”

Pre-steroid-era greats all but vowed to lie down before the gates of Cooperstown to keep McGwire from being enshrined among players of character, like themselves.

“What does the Hall of Fame consist of?” asked Goose Gossage, the old fireballing reliever with the extravagant Fu Manchu mustache.

“Integrity. Cheating is not part of integrity. ...

“It bothers me that we always talk about those guys and we seem to forget about the guys who didn’t cheat. They get penalized twice. They don’t make as much money, and when it comes to the Hall of Fame, their numbers are going to pale in comparison to the other guys.”

Even if Goose meant “we” get penalized twice, and leaving out the part about no one talking about him and his making less money, that leaves the laughable Hall of Fame Integrity argument.

Baseball’s Continuity With Its Past is really a continuity with the good parts, even if they must be sanitized, like Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis reinstating Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, who had been forced to retire by American League President Ban Johnson after pitcher Dutch Leonard said the three of them bet on a game they knew was fixed.

Leonard furnished documents seeming to support his story, but refused to testify publicly, giving Landis cover to reinstate Cobb and Speaker.

That was l-o-n-g ago, when things were routinely covered up, or ignored, like Babe Ruth’s drinking.

Of course, the press back then didn’t do a song and dance over “character,” either, knowing how much or how little there was.

Great writers of the day cheerily acknowledged they were out to create myths to give the public what it wanted and promote the game.

Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. …

Grantland Rice crafted the most famous line in sports writing from the Polo Grounds press box, from whence he could only see the Notre Dame backfield that outlined the ground.


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Blackspeare's avatar

By Blackspeare, February 13, 2010 at 8:38 am Link to this comment

ITW…I like your BB comments except that BB is the only team sport played individually.  Except for the timing required between two fielders during a DP every other play is made individually.

Report this

By Inherit The Wind, February 13, 2010 at 6:40 am Link to this comment

John Kace, February 13 at 2:11 am #

Inherit the wind,  I cant argue with anything you said. I love baseball. Speed and Defense Wins. A timely Homer doesnt hurt.
***********************************************

I don’t know about speed, but defense, starting with pitching, is crucial. Without good pitching NOTHING else matters.

Speed is, I guess, part of good defense.  But while base-path speed is exciting and thrilling, you can win without it.  In the 50’s station-to-station offense was common.  But if you HAVE speed, you should build your offense around it. If you don’t and have power instead, build your offense around THAT.

Baseball is a team sport—nobody, not even a perfect-game pitcher, can win by himself.  And, strategically there are times when homers ARE meaningless—like being down several runs in the late innings and hitting a bases-empty dinger.  Better to hit a double and open up multi-run-scoring opportunities. 

Of course, when the winning run is at the plate and the hitter has power but no speed, a homer can be great, but not if the batter tends to hit into double-plays when swinging for the fences.

There’s a lot of game-within-games.  Notice that the VERY best hitters usually have significant homeruns (> 400) AND significant hits.  Let’s not forget that the Babe was a life-time .342 hitter—that’s a lot of non-homerun hits.

Adjusting for era, training, advances in health, etc, the Babe was STILL the most important and greatest player ever.  NOBODY, not even Bonds or McGwire and Sosa, have dominated their era the way he did.  Babe Ruth CHANGED how we perceive baseball.  None of the other greats did that the way he did. It wasn’t just the colossal records that took many decades to fall, it was how far he pushed them.  Think about it: When Babe Ruth FIRST broke the season home run record it was about 12.  Then he pushed it to 29, then to 59, and finally to 60.  One guy increased the season home run record by a factor of 5! That could NEVER be done again under current rules. Simply not possible. 

The man was titanic.  And we know he drank, screwed, ate, all to excess.  Probably tried drugs too.  Still the greatest ever.

Report this

By ofersince72, February 12, 2010 at 10:30 pm Link to this comment

Obama is a liar…..You all makin him part of ur
              Hall of Fame
Mark shouldn’t be judged about his integrity of
legal matters that aren’t any of yours or my
  business

  BUT BY HIS BIG   STICK

OBAMA SHOULD BE GETTING JUDGED BY HIS INTEGRITY
ON MATTERS THAN   ARE   YOURS AND MY BUSINSS

Report this

By John Kace, February 12, 2010 at 10:11 pm Link to this comment

Inherit the wind,  I cant argue with anything you said. I love baseball. Speed and Defense Wins. A timely Homer doesnt hurt.

Report this
Blackspeare's avatar

By Blackspeare, February 12, 2010 at 12:04 pm Link to this comment

McGwire and Sosa brought baseball back from the brink——lets give them some credit.  Baseball was sick from the Owner/Player problems in those days——steroids were the medicine that healed baseball!

Report this

By ofersince72, February 12, 2010 at 10:35 am Link to this comment

McGuire, Bonds and Sosa didn’t fill that bank,

the FANS Did….....and the fans weren’t ingnorant

to steroids.

Report this
skulz fontaine's avatar

By skulz fontaine, February 12, 2010 at 9:35 am Link to this comment

Selig is a clown. Disingenuous, buffoonish, lying, cretinous, and vile. McGwire’s
“apology” is too little too late. Baseball has been ruined for quite some time. That
is largely due to Selig. MLB EVER wants to regain even a modicum of respect, let
Mr. Hustle into the Hall of Fame. What Pete did pales in comparison to swine like
McGwire, Bonds, Sosa, and fill in a cheating blank.
It is a given that during these the dark days of American Baseball, Bob Costas will
gloss over the ruin and put it all into Costas “perspective” and everything is just
ducky. Yeah, whatever.

Report this

By ofersince72, February 12, 2010 at 8:41 am Link to this comment

Ditto on Pete into the HOF

and God Bless Mark Mc.  Put him in…he was very
entertaining

Take the owners and agents to jail

Report this

By Inherit The Wind, February 11, 2010 at 8:59 pm Link to this comment

“Home runs are for suckers!” That could have been Ty Cobb’s motto.  He RAILED against dingers and could actually hit them at will, but felt it was “wrong” and bad baseball.  Cobb may have been the greatest player ever to play the game.  What he wasn’t naturally good at (fielding) he MADE himself good at.

But despite his drive, determination, intelligence, and flat-out meanness and ruthlessness, he only played in one World Series and lost—in 1908 (I think).  He never played or managed in another one.

OTOH, Babe Ruth, the man who MADE homers Big News won 7 World Series, 3 with the Red Sox.  Even as a pitcher he was a BIG home run hitter.

“Small ball” baseball can win some games. But good pitching and big hitting win championships.

Report this

By hidflect, February 11, 2010 at 12:22 pm Link to this comment

What’s the problem? He cheated at the national pasttime loved by millions. He MADE millions and scored a mile of poontang. He got away scot-free. And now he’s “sorry” and wants to lap up a coupla laps of fawning admiration for his honesty since he’s been out of the spotlight for so long and is feelin’ a little lonesome.

Just keep giving this scumbag everything he wants and all will be well…

Report this

By TomSemioli, February 11, 2010 at 11:00 am Link to this comment

All this fuss over entertainment aka sports? Point a finger at the sports fan: they do not hold players accountable for cheating, nor do they hold their elected officials accountable for appropriating their tax dollars for stadiums boondoggles. And the last time I checked, sports fans are still breaking box office records and shelling out for merchandise. If you want to worship someone who can hit a ball 400 feet with a stick, fine. Just don’t spend my tax dollars. And we can do without the glorification of militarism at the games too…

Report this

By D.T. Francoeur, February 11, 2010 at 7:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What about Pete Rose!?!?!?!? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! Put Pete Rose in the “HOF”, NOW!

Report this

By paul collins, February 11, 2010 at 6:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is the most pretentious piece of writing I’ve ever struggled through. Unbelievable!  I thought I was going to read a sport column. I did somehow make it to the end but really would have had to do so another couple of times to find out what the hell it was supposed to mean. I did not reread

Report this

By Inherit The Wind, February 11, 2010 at 4:56 am Link to this comment

Were steroids banned when Mac took them?  The article says “no”.  If they weren’t it was not cheating.  If they were, it was cheating.

It’s just that simple.

Like all medications steroids can be used or abused, or both.

In the 60’s players took amphetamines regularly—just read Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four”.  “Better sports through medicine” has ALWAYS been the mantra going back to Joe DiMaggio’s bone spurs.

But what is and isn’t acceptable changes as we know more.

So…does Mac belong in the Hall? Does ANY player who pumped himself up using steroids—like Sosa and Bonds (guys who physically CHANGED in appearance from usage)?

Hell, it’s just entertainment.  When people are unemployed by the millions who gives a shit?  I love baseball, but it’s still just a game.

Report this

By John Kace, February 11, 2010 at 2:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If you want talk baseball speed, defense and fundamentals win. Home-Runs are for suckers. Im a jaded Cubs fan. For whatever reason I like Pete Rose dont care much for Mcguire.

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