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Shock and Aw: Getting Over the Sins of ’98

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

(Page 2)

Nor did Rice go downstairs and get the idea about riding across the sky from Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley or Elmer Layden, although in this case the Apocalypse was only a game against Army.

Writers then didn’t go downstairs after games. If poetry was what they were after, they could do it better themselves.

Today with the press fighting with bloggers, tweeters and TMZ just to be noticed, the game is left to fend for itself and everyone happily shreds myths as fast as they create them, since both sell.

Surprising as it was, at least to me, there was no sympathetic reaction to McGwire’s heart-rending performance, just more carping.


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Unfortunately, when Fleischer briefed McGwire on what questions to expect, Ari apparently forgot to provide an answer or two.

Asked by Costas if the steroids accounted for his home run exploits—duh—McGwire said, over and over, that he did that part by himself.

“No pill or injection is going to do that,” McGwire told Costas, who needed all his poise to hide his shock.

“I was given this gift by The Man Upstairs. My track record as far as hitting home runs, my first at-bat in Little League was a home run.

“They still talk about the home runs in high school, they still talk about the home runs in [American] Legion, they still talk about the home runs I hit in college. I led the nation in home runs [at USC]. They still talk about the home runs I hit in the minor leagues.”

As McGwire’s core audience knew, to the decimal point, if The Man Upstairs gave him that gift, he left out the one for singles and doubles.

After hitting .289 with 49 home runs as a rookie, McGwire fell into the .230s in his third and fourth seasons before his swan dive to .201 in his fifth when he hit 22 homers and only 75 singles, double and triples.

McGwire said that was because of the injuries, which obliged him to take the ’roids, which restored him to his natural superstar self.

Of course, there was only one reason he could say something so self-defeating: He believes it with all his heart and soul.

In other words, he’s I-N D-E-N-I-A-L.

Like, that’s supposed to count against him, too?

If forgoing denial is the new standard and The Man Upstairs gets to decide, McGwire won’t ever go into the Hall of Fame and no one else will, either.

You don’t have to have climbed to the mountaintop and tumbled into the Valley of the Lepers to be in denial. I don’t know anyone who isn’t, and none of my friends has been a worldwide disgrace, even if they—OK, we—had an embarrassing moment here or there.

Do you think Elizabeth Hurley or Jamie Lynn Spears look cool?

Sit down, take a pamphlet and we’ll get to you.

Denial is an exponentially more powerful mechanism for professional athletes, who wouldn’t be professional athletes if they couldn’t surmount negative input, like being cut, booed or seeing their average make a five-year march from .289 to .201.

It’s especially true in baseball, a team sport that’s nevertheless a celebration of the rugged individual, which may have something to do with its appeal in our capitalist, social Darwinist culture.

A hitter goes to bat by himself, his face recognizable to all in the stands looming over him, to face 98-mph heat and, as Crash Davis noted, ungodly breaking stuff with the bottom falling out.

Aside from the occasional tip on what pitch is coming—which helps, even if Nolan Ryan occasionally told hitters like Reggie Jackson what was coming, to see who was better—the batter is as much on his own as he was the day he popped into the world and will be the day he dies.

Denial is the lifeblood of baseball, exemplified by the old story I heard from Don Drysdale, the great right-hander, himself:

“The ballplayer is walking down the street with his girlfriend when he runs into his wife.

“ ‘Who are you going to believe,’ he tells his wife, ‘me or your eyes?’ ”

At the zenith is the illusion you’re a superman, or The Superman, projected by no one else like baseball stars with their sheer, preening, you-are-not-on-my-level-or-a-recognized-part-of-my-world aura.

I still remember Willie Mays sauntering across the field before a game, his cap tilted down over his eyes, his glove dangling by his fingertips, secure in the knowledge all this was his.

In the way of baseball, a culture that’s verbal only in the press box, Mays didn’t like talking to the press but didn’t have to. His mere bearing was expressive enough, saying all there was to say about who he was and where that left you, whether you were Warren Spahn or a utility infielder. 

Baseball players strive for that state, as Buddhists aspire to Nirvana. Covering the Angels in the ’70s, I remember Manager Jim Fregosi marveling at Boston’s Jim Rice, strolling regally to the cage in batting practice in Fenway Park, as if Rice’s bearing was the reason he hit the way he did—which, to a great extent, it was.

So, yeah, you bet your ass McGwire has denial mechanisms that could derail a locomotive.

Understandable as that should have been, all that was sympathetic in his confession was eclipsed by the little that wasn’t.

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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.

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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



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

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.

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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!

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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

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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.

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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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