If a guy walks into a bank and steals $100 million with a gun, he goes to prison. If he steals it with a syringe, apparently all he has to do is shed some tears and all is forgiven.
Yesterday, Mark McGwire sat in front of Bob Costas for an interview in which he admitted what he had denied for nearly a decade – that he used steroids and human growth hormone during his record-setting major league career. (In other equally shocking news, Liberace announced yesterday that he is still dead.)
During the Costas interview, McGwire kept repeating how much he’s wanted to come forward and admit his “mistake” ever since his disastrous testimony before Congress in 2005. Yet he has only come forth because he’s been offered the opportunity to be the St. Louis Cardinals’ hitting coach. Apparently this desire to come clean wasn’t quite strong enough until Tony LaRussa offered him a job. (Incidentally, LaRussa is the only one in contention with Barry Bonds for the title of “Biggest A-hole in Baseball.” You’d be better off having Kim Jong Il vouch for you.)
McGwire would have you believe that this whole ordeal is all about him – how hard it has been on him to hang on to this “secret,” how hard it was to tell his son and father, etc. But it stopped being about him a long time ago. He’s hoping people view his steroid use a victimless crime – a mere boneheaded youthful transgression that allowed him to heal his bad back. (“OOOPS! Sorry I accidentally erased all your record books, baseball! My bad!”)
But McGwire’s steroid use has a further reach than he apparently can grasp. For one, he is a common thief. Records show that McGwire made approximately $74.7 million in baseball salary in his career – over 2/3rds of which was earned after he is alleged to have taken steroids to repair his bad back. Without them, he could have easily been out of the game. (See 1991, when McGwire played in 154 games, yet hit only .201 with 22 home runs – numbers that couldn’t get you playing time as a Brewer middle infielder.)
Those salary numbers don’t even include endorsement money, which could easily have doubled his income. And it’s safe to say that the lion’s share of it was earned because of his use of illegal performance enhancing drugs. That’s money that comes out of the pockets of fans, who believed that what they were seeing on the field was a genuine artifact.
Furthermore, what’s being lost in all the steroids talk is that what McGwire did actually altered the competitive balance of the game. (And yes, this also goes for everyone else that was doing steroids at the same time.) But games were won and lost because of steroid use, which made major league baseball a contest of test tubes, rather than hard work and skill. Won/loss records are sacrosanct in sports – it’s all they have to separate themselves from scripted events like “Jersey Shore” episodes. (The only place on TV where you might be able to see more steroids in use than on a baseball field. And that’s the SITUATION.)
(Incidentally, I said the same thing in 2007 about the Brewers signing steroid user Eric Gagne. Gagne stole our money by signing a contract based on fraudulent numbers. And I thought it should have been obvious that Fernando Vina was on the juice – nobody can maintain such a perfect goatee without performance enhancers.)
So if you want to have sympathy for anyone, have sympathy for the fans of teams who lost because McGwire was hitting 15% more home runs in a year than anyone had before. Have sympathy for the marginal player who couldn’t get a major league contract because of McGwire’s bloated salary. Have sympathy for the family members of Roger Maris, who were used as pawns in the great McGwire/Sosa charade of 1998. Have sympathy for Milwaukee’s favorite son, Hank Aaron, whose records have been wiped off the books for good.
I’ve heard some people argue that McGwire should be given sympathy because his tearful apology seemed so much more genuine than Alex Rodriguez’. Unfortunately, we don’t judge the validity of baseball records based on the activity of a player’s tear ducts.
But what’s truly sad is that Big Mac still clings to the chimera that steroids didn’t help him hit home runs. This fallacy is only believed by the people who are still running around the globe looking for Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
It appears that Hall of Fame voters have taken the common sense approach and seem poised to ban McGwire from the Hall for life. They could build three more Halls of Fame and McGwire wouldn’t get in. He says he regrets playing in the “steroid era,” apparently oblivious to the fact that he helped create the era. (Conceivably, no players could be inducted to the Hall of Fame for 10 to 15 years, given the fact that they shared the “era” with Bonds and McGwire.)
So we get that McGwire is sorry. But is he sorry enough to give back the $100 million he stole from us? Is he sorry enough to decline entry back into the game as a hitting coach? Is he sorry enough to have his numbers wiped from the books or to suffer the consequences for criminally taking illegal substances? I think we know the answer.