Mark McGwire has now admitted what just about everyone else already figured out several years ago: he used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Initial reactions to McGwire's statement have run the gamut: PTI's Tony Kornheiser absurdly suggested that MLB should grant "amnesty" to PED users who issue apologies; ESPN.com's Rob Neyer attempted to justify McGwire's actions by saying that if he (Neyer) would have needed to take illegal drugs to save his writing career then he would have done it; Vincent Thomas--previously best known for asking what another media room denizen called a "crackhead question" during last year's NBA playoffs--repeatedly declared on Rome is Burning that McGwire should have saved his revelation for a book in order to "get paid." In other words, while McGwire used drugs to enhance his physical performance a lot of writers and commentators act like they have taken drugs that are impairing their mental performance. One voice of reason is Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins, who correctly concludes that McGwire "was not a victim of the steroid era, as his statement implies. He was the most obvious creation of it."
I have extensively covered the PED issue (check out the Steroids/Performance-Enhancing Drugs section in the right hand sidebar of BEST's main page for a complete archive of my articles about this subject), debunking the ludicrous assertion that steroids don't work and repeatedly stating that PED users should be banned and should have their records vacated. A few months ago in a post titled Revelations About Sosa Show That MLB Must Fumigate the Record Book I wrote:
All of the players who have been caught by the drug testers, outed in the Mitchell Report or otherwise reliably linked to illegal PED use should either be removed from the record book completely--much like the NCAA "vacates" results by programs that cheated--or, at the very least, listed separately under a heading that indicates that their numbers are fraudulent to some degree. If the Players Association or individual players complain, then MLB should invite the aggrieved parties to file a lawsuit and then testify under oath that they are clean; that way, those players will open themselves up to criminal charges of perjury. Somehow I doubt that Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and crew will be interested in placing themselves in that kind of jeopardy.
There are two reasons why MLB must act so forcefully:
1) It is important to be fair to the players--past and present--who did not cheat.
2) The two main reasons that the cheaters cheated were to get paid and to establish a place for themselves in history (Sosa just smugly spoke about being elected to the Hall of Fame because of his great numbers); the best message that MLB can send to young baseball players is that cheaters do not prosper and that when they are caught all of their numbers are nullified.
Six of the top 15 players on MLB's career home run list have been linked to PEDs, including leader Barry Bonds and the sixth ranked Sammy Sosa, plus Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez, who are currently tied for eighth-ninth. Those cheaters--plus the 11th ranked Rafael Palmeiro--pushed clean, Hall of Fame sluggers Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt out of the top 10 in the sport's most glamorous statistical category, while cheater Manny Ramirez currently sits just two home runs behind Schmidt and only trails Jackson by 17 home runs. During Monday night's SportsCenter, John Kruk--a three-time All-Star who candidly conceded that he was not an "elite" player--said that the more that comes out about the "Steroid Era" the angrier he becomes. Kruk noted that he and other clean players were essentially playing "naked" while apparently a substantial number of "elite" players benefited from using illegal drugs. Kruk added that he cannot help but wonder what kind of numbers he and other clean players might have put up had the playing field been level. It is worth noting that PED usage not only warped statistics but also had a huge economic impact, because the cheaters reaped tremendous financial gains and the trickle down effect of their profits is that the clean stars earned less than they otherwise would have, the clean above average players who potentially could have been stars lost those opportunities and, clearly, some clean fringe players who might have been just good enough to play in the majors had their dreams completely shattered.
It cannot be emphasized enough that MLB's record book has been completely fraudulent for quite some time. The Olympics and the track and field authorities have responded to their steroid/PED scandals by wiping out the records/honors won by cheaters like Marion Jones and at some point MLB Commissioner Bud Selig--or his successor--must take a similar action.
McGwire's statement is carefully crafted but it is as fraudulent as MLB's record book. McGwire likely composed his remarks with the cooperation and help of MLB authorities in order to cast himself and the sport's decision makers in the best possible light (such as McGwire's assertion, "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"). McGwire declares, "I did this for health purposes. There's no way I did this for any type of strength use" and adds "I wish I had never played during the steroid era." The first statement is a lie and the second statement is a cop out. Steroids and HGH--the substances that McGwire has belatedly admitted that he ingested for the better part of a decade during the height of his career, including the 1998 season when he shattered Roger Maris' single-season home run record--help to build strength and thus enhance performance; that is why they are called performance-enhancing drugs--and to assert anything else is about as scientifically valid as saying that the Earth is flat. We all know that superior hand-eye coordination is required to hit major league pitching and that PEDs do not improve those skills--but the point is that if you already possess those skills and then augment that natural talent with unnatural strength your performance (and thus your statistics, particularly in the power categories) will be greatly enhanced.
It is transparently clear why McGwire made his admission now:
1) Next season he will be a hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals and if he had not said something prior to the season then he would surely have been bombarded by questions about steroids/PEDs every day. McGwire issued his statement during the height of the NFL playoffs, hoping to minimize the amount of coverage that it gets and hoping that by the time Spring Training rolls around he can declare that this is old news and, reprising his infamous line, that he "does not want to talk about the past." McGwire says that now he is willing to answer questions about his PED use--but let's see just how long this willingness lasts and how forthcoming he really is; look for McGwire to do a handful of teary-eyed interviews with carefully selected media sycophants before he quickly clams up, says that he has nothing to add to his prepared statement and gruffly requests that all he wants to talk about is his future as a hitting coach.
2) Forgiveness is deeply entrenched in American culture, so McGwire has reason to believe that his chances of being elected to the Hall of Fame are better now that he has belatedly admitted the truth; clearly, his vote totals during his first several years of eligibility suggest that without such an admission he had little chance of being inducted, so in this regard he has everything to gain and nothing to lose, as can be seen by the early reactions of Kornheiser and Neyer referenced above.
It appears that Commissioner Selig is eager to welcome McGwire back into an active role in MLB but Selig's warm embrace of the man who cheated his fans and his employers out of tens of millions of dollars, who cheated Maris out of the single season home run record that Maris worked so hard to obtain and whose successful cheating clearly inspired the subsequent cheating by Bonds and others raises several important questions: for starters, when is Selig going to accept Pete Rose's similarly belated apology for betting on baseball? There is no evidence or indication that Rose's gambling had anything to do with his playing career, a stark contrast to how McGwire built his legacy squarely on PED use (while some can argue that Bonds was a Hall of Fame caliber player prior to his PED use, McGwire--by his own admission--used PEDs throughout his career). Furthermore, the only reason that Rose is not in the Hall of Fame now is that the HoF--under great pressure from MLB--made a grossly unfair postfacto decision after MLB suspended Rose that players on the suspended list may not be put on the HoF ballot. How can Selig possibly justify praising McGwire while leaving Rose in limbo? Another question that must be asked is why is MLB in such a rush to canonize McGwire but is making no such apparent efforts regarding Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro and the other black and Latino PED users? Again, let me emphasize that in my opinion every single PED user--white, black, Latino or any other color/ethnicity--should be banned and should have his statistics "vacated." However, if MLB is going to absolve McGwire while ignoring all of the black/Latino PED-using record breakers then MLB certainly seems to be applying a racist double standard (not that this would be the first time MLB would be guilty of doing that).
Jose Canseco--an admitted steroid cheater whose tell-all books revealed just how rampant PED use has been in MLB, despite vigorous denials by Bonds, McGwire, Palmeiro and others--is one of the few honest men in Major League Baseball concerning the justly named "Steroid Era." That tells you all you need to know about the state of the sport and about the disastrous reign of Bud Selig, the man who has presided over the destruction of MLB's most cherished legacy, its record book.