Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Crocodile Tears--For What?

Yesterday, the "big news" was that Mark McGwire finally admitted to using steroids during his baseball career.

Frankly, I have trouble seeing this as anything newsworthy, other than maybe the fact that a baseball team is actually hiring McGwire to work for them again. I'm all for forgiveness and redemption and all that, but really, you don't go hiring Al Capone to run BATF.

OK, here's my big problem with the McGwire admission: he's not sorry. He cheated through much of his career, and he clearly feels bad about it, but seems to think he was doing it for a good reason, so we should just forgive him. This, for me, was the money quote:
“I did this for health purposes. There’s no way I did this for any type of strength purposes,” he said.
Uh-huh. And why is that OK? You weren't trying to be a stronger ballplayer, you just wanted to recover quicker, or heal or prevent injuries. It's not like that would give him a competitive advantage over other players or anything. And then, he doesn't even take responsibility--it was the times, you see:
“It was a wrong thing what I did. I totally regret it. I just wish I was never in that era,” he said.
Yeah, because if there hadn't been those illegal drugs tempting you, you just would have lived with your injuries, put your tail between your legs and gone quietly home while someone else played ball. Bull. You cheated. You knew what you were doing, and you did it anyway.

And finally, the weaseling in his press statement about why he didn't come clean five years ago when he "testified" before Congress:
After all this time, I want to come clean. I was not in a position to do that five years ago in my congressional testimony, but now I feel an obligation to discuss this and to answer questions about it.
Uh, "not in a position"? What better position than when you have the attention of the whole country, broadcast live on C-SPAN and ESPN? I guess it's better to wait five years, then put out a press statement to clear the air for your new job. After all, it's all about you.

And that's bad. But even worse to me is the guy who is hiring him, again: Tony LaRussa. LaRussa was McGwire's manager when he broke into the majors with Oakland, then brought him to St. Louis later on. And now he's hiring him as his batting coach in St. Louis. LaRussa has insisted until yesterday that he had no knowledge, no idea that McGwire was juicing all those years. That doesn't even come close to passing the sniff test. LaRussa has been covering for McGwire (and therefore himself) for years. LaRussa has a fabulous (and IMHO, inflated) reputation as a baseball "genius" (I mean, he has a law degree from Florida State!) and humanitarian (largely for his work in animal rescue). But somehow he was unaware that the man he worked with for fifteen years was ballooning himself like a cartoon character and then lying about it. I offer you the opinions of baseball columnists Terence Moore and Ray Ratto. Neither seems to find LaRussa credible on this issue, either.

I have been accused of having a blind spot on this issue, having rooted for Barry Bonds for so many years. I will admit having suspicions for a long time, despite Bonds' denials. I will say this: he has been consistent with his stance that he did not knowingly use banned or illegal substances. That may not prove true, but I have no knowledge one way or the other. What I do know is that it was apparent during that era that some, indeed many, players were juicing. The fact that Bonds stood out among them does not diminish for me the achievements. He was the exciting player in an era of exciting players, some or all of whom may have been enhanced.

To me the bottom line is that one can never know all the details of who did what or just how much it helped them. McGwire claims he would have hit just as many home runs without enhancements. We'll never know, and that's too bad. What we do know is what happened: We saw, we cheered, we enjoyed. It's time to stop looking for which numbers need to have asterisks by them. Instead of moralizing about the past, we should learn from it and move on.

Baseball and other sports have always had their share of people trying to find advantages outside the game itself: doctored balls, amphetamines, steroids, altered bats. In a "game of inches," even tiny changes can make a big difference.

What we need to look out for is those who excuse or condone such behavior. People like Tony LaRussa or Bud Selig, the owners, managers, agents, and players who either supported or feigned ignorance of the drug problem that was making them rich, need to come clean about their culpability.

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