Mark McGwire Deserves Better

Mark McGwire
That's it, I'll bite the bullet and talk about Mark McGwire too, the great American slugger not all that interested in talking about the past. Well, not interested in talking about it until Monday, where he admitted to using steroids off and on to recover from injuries. In his view, though he admits he now wishes he had not used them or played during the steroid era, they didn't do much for his performance on the field.

Riiiight.

Google McGwire's name and you will find a myriad of reactions. He is a popular subject for anyone with a pen or a keyboard right now. Should he be punished? Is he a distraction? What did this do for his Hall of Fame chances? What does Dale Murphy think of the situation? (These are some of the questions I can answer on the first page of Google results I'm seeing right now, as of 1:42 PM PST)

People sure care a whole bunch about what Mark McGwire did in the 1990s, and on some level it is understandable. His 1998 home run race with Sammy Sosa is what brought baseball out of the shadows of the ugly 1994 lockout. McGwire was a part of the 1990s unlike any other baseball player really. The '98 home run chase transcended the game. It captivated America through that summer, and steroids would rain on those days that we thought were so sunny.

Now, McGwire has admitted to something we already knew when he wouldn't talk about the past to congress. He was on the juice.

Why is this such a big deal? Seriously, why?*
*Of course I would mark a steroids rant with an asterisk. If you want to get back to Mark McGwire, skip through this. However, I have to say something about my personal view on steroids. For me, they never compromised the integrity of the on-field product. Steroids essentially enable muscle to be built quicker. Steroids aren't magical. Even with them, an athlete must put in diligent work to make taking them worthwhile, and in the end an athlete only enhances something they already had - which is what all sorts of supplements that people have no qualms over do as well. With that said, I strongly oppose steroid use, but for profoundly different reasons. Unlike other products that people don't bat an eye at, steroids are highly dangerous, and in many cases were obtained in highly illegal and unethical ways. For instance, some players (or more likely their trainers) purchased HGH on the black market from HIV/AIDS patients. How sickening is that? Yes, steroids tainted the game, but it is how willing so many were to damage themselves in so many ways off the field for a little more fame and money on it that leaves the ugly black streak on the steroids era for me.
Mark McGwire is getting blasted for no good reason at all. We didn't learn anything new. We didn't learn anything that will impact the future. All we found out is that Mark McGwire, for certain, used steroids and feels bad about it.

Consider what it took for Mark McGwire to speak up. He is a private person by nature. Sure, he hasn't talked about steroids, but he hasn't campaigned for his Hall of Fame candidacy either. It was somewhat surprising when the Cardinals named them their hitting coach too, at least in part because his name never surfaced in coaching rumors or discussions. Mark McGwire, no matter the circumstances, is a man that prefers to stay quiet.

So, it took some notable courage and gumption for McGwire to go on camera and say something about a hot-button issue that puts him in a negative light. It is a surprising move, given his nature. I think he spoke up because he knew he could not run from the media as the Cardinals hitting coach, and he would not be able to go about his hitting coach duties quietly, like he would prefer, if he stayed mum.

I will admit that I am disappointed in some of McGwire's responses. I'm sorry, the steroids did help him hit home runs. I wonder what he meant when he said he only used steroids "off and on" too. Technically, with the way typical steroid cycles work, anyone could call themselves an "off and on" user.

Still, the punishment does not fit the crime. McGwire took steroids at a time when it was culturally accepted in baseball. He was hardly the only user, and it should not dominate his legacy like it does now.

For starters, how many other steroid users put baseball on their shoulders and carried them out of the post-lockout doldrums?

Plus, if Mark McGwire is so bad, where is the outrage against Alex Rodriguez? He came clean in a similar fashion to McGwire last year, yet by mid-season everyone was caught up in his relationship with Kate Hudson. He also got a championship ring the season after he came clean. He is still a bit of a polarizing figure, but I can think of over 250 million other rea$on$ his public perception is what it is.

Where is the outrage against Rafael Palmeiro? He was at the same congressional hearing that McGwire was a part of. He opened up by pointing his finger directly at the head of the hearing, Thomas Davis, confidently uttering, "I have never used steroids, period." Then, a few years later he tested positive for steroids.

Where is the outrage against Sammy Sosa? He was part of that magical 1998 home run chase too. He evaded questions about his steroid use at the congressional hearing as well. However, the most provocative news regarding him recently has to do with his skin.

Meanwhile, Mark McGwire continues to get hammered for his refusal to talk about the past in front of congress. He goes against his quiet nature to talk about something he knows will be a big news story for all the wrong reasons, and gets criticized even more. That's just brutal.

Fair enough, McGwire made a mistake when he decided to use steroids. He left some questions unanswered when he came clean too. He has opened himself up for criticism, and on some level it is deserved.

McGwire deserves better than he is getting though. He did a whole bunch of good for baseball, and he has done a whole much more right with the situation he is in than he is getting credit for. Many have lost sight of the forest in the trees.