Game Time: Sifting Through Mark McGwire's Bullshit
At this point, using the word "courageous" to define any of the performance-enhancing drug users of baseball's Steroid Era that "come clean" about their transgressions is a bit disingenuous. "Courageous" would be their giving back all of the money that steroids helped them make. So if you're looking for someone to pat Mark McGwire on the back for his crocodile tears yesterday with Bob Costas, his hand-picked slow-pitch softball pitcher, you will not find it here.
Honestly, at this point I don't even really care that all of these guys were jacked full of foreign substances ranging from HGH to female fertility drugs. What does offend me is that they are being lauded by some for apologies that continue to perpetuate lies about why they took the drugs. McGwire, like Andy Pettitte before him, used injuries as his crutch, blaming guilt for time spent on the disabled list and the inherent pressures of the "steroid era" in which he was cursed to play -- an era which was also cursed with eight-figure salaries, but I digress.
McGwire sat down with Bob Costas, and if it's okay with all of you, I'd like to dust off my Bullshit-o-meter and apply it to some of the highlights. The Bullshit-o-meter ranges from 1 (anything said by Abraham Lincoln) to 10 ("I did not have relations with that woman"). Here we go...
"As far as using [PED's] on a consistent basis, the winter of 93/94. I did it on health purposes. If you look at my career in 93, 94, 95, 96, I was a walking MASH unit."
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BULLSHIT-O-METER SCORE: 9.2
McGwire also makes mention earlier in the interview that he tried it for the first time in 1989, validating some of what Jose Canseco alluded to in his book. I have a hard time believing that a guy whose entire makeup was centered around sheer power dabbled for a few weeks in 1989, and then decided four years later he needed steroids merely to "feel better."
It's worth mentioning that in the midst of McGwire's steroid-aided uber-romp to Pantheon Level Power Hitter status (from 1995 through 1999, Big Mac averaged 57 home runs per season), baseball also saw its first $10 million-per-year player (Albert Belle in 1997). Also, the highest-paid players in each league from 1991 through 1998 looked like this:
Joe Carter - 1991, 1993, 1994
Danny Tartabull - 1992
Cecil Fielder - 1995, 1996
Albert Belle - 1997, 1998
Darryl Strawberry - 1991
Bobby Bonnilla - 1992, 1993, 1994
Barry Bonds - 1995, 1996, 1997
Gary Sheffield - 1998 (becoming the first $14 million-per-year player!)
The common trait? They're all power hitters. Chicks aren't the only ones who dig the long ball. Power equals paycheck. McGwire knew this.
And by the way, even if he did use them strictly to heal injuries, which is laughable, then theoretically he was still healing injuries illegally and thus allowing himself to play more games unnaturally. It's the lesser of two evils, but still evil nonetheless.
(On if he could have hit 70 home runs without steroids) "Absolutely. 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 Legion, they still talk about the home runs I hit in college, I led the nation in home runs. They still talk about the home runs I hit in the minor leagues.....I've always had bat speed. I just learned how to shorten my bat speed. I learned how to be a better hitter. There is not a pill or an injection that is going to give me the hand-eye -- or give any athlete -- the hand-eye coordination to hit a baseball. A pill or an injection will not hit a baseball."
BULLSHIT-O-METER SCORE: 9.1
So many other abusers (alleged, admitted, and Mitchelled) from that era had huge spikes in productivity, yet McGwire, according to him, is the one guy who was enough of a technician where his spike in home runs was due to hours spent tweaking his swing and taking advantage of physics. This was easily the most egotistical thing he said in the interview.
"It was the era that we played in. I wish I never played in that era. I wish we had drug testing. If we had testing when I was playing, you and I wouldn't be having this conversation today. I guarantee you that."
BULLSHIT-O-METER SCORE: 10.0
In 1992, the year before he claims he started using steroids regularly, Mark McGwire was 27 years old and hit .205 with 22 home runs and 75 RBI's. Baseball-reference.com says this season most closely mirrors Nate Colbert's season when he was 27 years old. Who was Nate Colbert? Exactly.
So if there were drug testing, Mac, you would have been Nate Colbert. Nate Colberts don't make $10 million per year.
Oh and bonus points for blaming your problems on the era in which you lived, Mac. McGwire blaming his problems on the Steroid Era is like Tiger blaming his issues on the Adultery Era or me blaming my problems on the invention of the kolache.
And you do realize that in most of the eras before the Steroid Era, players had to get second jobs in the offseason or go fight to defend our country. You do realize this, right Mac?....Mac?....Oh sorry, you're still sobbing. Jackass.
"I preferred the orals."
BULLSHIT-O-METER SCORE: 0.0
Who DOESN'T prefer the orals?!?
BULLSHIT-O-METER SCORE: 9.5
So the hardest day of your life was telling all of us about a transgression that made you a multi-millionaire and for which everyone is going to forgive you anyway because of this flimsy apology...a transgression which, by the way, we all knew you perpetrated anyway? Man, that's a pretty good life. Asshole.
(On Canseco's allegations that they shot up together in the clubhouse in Oakland) "There's absolutely no truth to that whatsoever."
BULLSHIT-O-METER SCORE: 8.7
Sadly and shockingly, if history has taught us anything up to this point, it is to believe Jose Canseco. And that may be the saddest part of all of this.
(On apologizing to Tony Larussa) "He found out this morning. That was a hard call."
BULLSHIT-O-METER SCORE: The Bullshit-O-Meter just exploded...GAME OVER.
In some ways, I am far more offended by Tony LaRussa's act than I am McGwire's. It's not even LaRussa lying about knowing what McGwire was doing. In a way, I almost expected that and I don't know what liability or headaches there are for LaRussa if he admits being complicit in (or at the very least, turning a blind eye toward) McGwire's transgressions.
What does bother me is this -- on his Twitter account yesterday, LaRussa posted the following Tweet:
"Mark admitting mistakes & explaining circumstances fit high opinion I & teammates hold Read/listen w/open mind & form own opinion"
LaRussa, if it's all right with you, I don't need any coaching on how to process this whole thing, especially from a guy who is about as biased as they come with respect to the perpetrator. Go back to saving stray cats or neutering puppies or whatever it is you did before you got a Twitter account.
And with LaRussa and McGwire thrashing the poor Bullshit-o-meter, it's time to put a wrap on this. To summarize all of this, the best way to describe how I've processed the last twenty-four hours is to draw an analogy.
I grew up watching and attending college football games largely in the northeast and midwest parts of the country. For many years, I had heard how raucous, unrefined and downright rude football fans in the southeastern part of the country were. As I had never been to a game in that part of the country, that was my impression of SEC Fan -- toothless, belligerent, and ready to hit you in the head with a bottle of Jack Daniel's, as soon as they finished chugging it, of course.
Eventually, I had a chance to go to an SEC game in Knoxville, Tennessee to watch Notre Dame play the Tennessee Vols. And you know what? Most of the fans were a lot like the college football fans with whom I grew up. A few years later, I went to my first LSU game, and guess what -- same thing. Oh sure, there were a few illiterate troglodytes with Boone's Farm dripping down the front of their overalls, but for the most part they were very genteel, Southern folks. Good people!
Unfortunately, my lack of exposure to them up to that point had painted them ALL with a broad brush. This is what the label "Steroid Era" now does to every player who accumulated their "in their prime" stats between 1988 and the release of the Mitchell Report. If you played in that era, the transgressions and dysfunction of a figurative few taint the accomplishments of all. Time does not heal all wounds. These are wounds to which time will actually be less kind; the further away we get, the more time that passes, the broader the brush will become.
And that is probably McGwire's (and Sosa's and Bonds' and Clemens' and Pettitte's and Rodriguez' and Ramirez'....) biggest crime -- they took everyone, even the innocent, down with them.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 PM weekdays on the Sean & John Show, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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