Just once, I’d like to hear it one way.
The right way. Something more than halfway.
The truthful way.
You know what I would respect the most? A player to come out and say, yes, I did steroids. Yes, I did them because they kept me on the field. Yes, I did them because I performed better using them. Yes, that performance enabled me to earn a ridiculous amount of money. Yes, I am afraid of what it might do to my health down the road, but there was no testing. I felt like I was at a disadvantage if I didn’t do them, but now I’ve got my family set for life, I’m off that island in the Caribbean, and yes, I would do it again.
At least that’s the full truth.
My favorite book of all time is Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four.” I read it for the first time when I was a freshman in high school, (talk about enlightening) and for a while, read it during every spring training. To me, and for sports writing — no, check that, for all of journalism, because this was before Watergate — it is one of the most important books ever written.
And when I got the chance to interview Bouton over the phone when the first reports of steroid use were breaking years ago, I started to set up a question for him like this: “In your book, you wrote (and this was 30-plus years ago) that if you could give a pitcher a pill that would guarantee him 20 wins in a season but might take five years off his life, he would take it.”
Jim knew where I was going, and cut me off. Right there. Didn’t bat an eyelash. And a guy who pitched to Frank Robinson, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, a guy who was a teammate of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, went ahead and said this, as if he were finishing a thought rather than answering a question: “And now we have that pill. It’s steroids.”
So I get why these guys were doing it. I’ve moved to that point at least. I think I have, anyway. But I’m sick and tired of hearing about them “coming clean” when they don’t come clean.
Still, despite all of the holes in his story — and it’s just that, a story, because facts still somehow elude this giant of a man — Mark McGwire is going to be lauded for his admission soon. Lauded. Praised. In St. Louis, he’ll be a huge hero again.
But all he’s done is take the same exact path they all have. I was hurt. It was the era. I was under tremendous pressure. I couldn’t comment because of my lawyers.
No, they didn’t have any affect on my numbers.
And that’s what makes me the most angry about McGwire. I remember the night he blasted No. 62. Of course I do. They were playing my Cubs. But I had the VCR ready. After the less-than-majestic homer lined over the wall, and after the manic trot that including his skipping over first base, only to awkwardly go back and touch it, I watched Big Mac give the Maris family hugs. I watched him choke up when he had Maris’ bat in front of him at the postgame press conference.
And now he’s admitted juicing in 1998, at that time.
But this week he tells us, in a series of orchestrated interviews, one carefully rolled out after another, that he feels regret for “ever touching steroids.”
Looking back, I didn’t see one ounce of regret that fateful night. I saw humility, but only in the awe of his own “accomplishment.” Why else apologize to the Maris family this week? It was a fraud. At its base, no matter what, it was a fraud. Why? Because even if we’re supposed to believe he could’ve still hit 70 homers in a season without any help, he shouldn’t have been on the field. He got there an unnatural way.
Mark McGwire was credited for saving baseball. Can you believe that? But he was one of the guys who ruined it. Remember, Barry Bonds hit the juice because he was jealous of the attention McGwire and Sammy Soa got. And now the numbers mean nothing.
Mark McGwire didn’t come clean this week. Because of “heroes” like him, the record books are soiled, and while legible, they’re hardly believable.