So yesterday Mark McGwire admitted to using steroids. As I have said before, the real interesting story of the steroids issue in baseball is not who used steroids but who did not use steroids. Everybody always assumed that Big Mac has used them so what's with the surprise, or with the high moralizing that's taking place? Who owns the rookie record for most home runs ever hit? If you look it up, you'll find it's Mark McGwire. He has always been a home run hitter, and if you don't believe me check this out.
McGwire said in his statement that he does not believe that the steroids helped him hit any home runs. In that I would disagree but not because of the reasons normally given. The media routinely calls steroids "performing enhancing drugs." The simple fact is that is wrong. People who actually study steroids will tell you they do not enhance your performance. If you cannot hit a curve ball, steroids are not going to help you. What steroids do is to allow you to work out harder, longer and sooner without the attending break down that would come with working out that hard. In other words they keep you healthier (I know about all the side effects that actually hurt you long term) and help you recover faster from injury. Barry Bonds was doing 300 lbs leg presses just two days after having knee surgery. Your muscles would not allow you to do that without assistance to keep them from tearing apart.
That is the reason, I believe, why so many home runs were hit. Rather than breaking down as the season went on and losing their strength through the dog days of summer, and therefore losing their power, they were able to maintain it for 162 games. That means it did help them hit home runs that they might not otherwise have hit but not because they were able to hit home runs only because of the steroids. God gave McGwire his swing, not steroids. If you ever saw him play, his swing was a thing of beauty even when he was striking out. Steroids did not make him study harder, or concentrate and walk through each at bat in his mind before he went up to the plate, he did that by himself. What steroids allowed him to do was to keep his power up for more than 500 at bats, which gave him opportunities to hit home runs that he would not have otherwise had.
If steroids had been available to Mickey Mantle I have little doubt that he would have taken them simply because they would have allowed him to stay healthy, and if he had ever been healthy for an entire season Maris' record would have never existed in the first place because Mantle would have blown Ruth's record out of the water. And let us not forget that Mantle was injecting himself with lots of things and was also taking greenies which had to have helped his performance on days that he might not otherwise have played or would have been dragging. So in that sense those things helped his performance, the same as steroids help performance, the same as cortisone injections help athletes, but I don't hear anyone complaining about that cortisone is performance enhancing. If an athlete would be sidelined or playing in considerable pain, and thus not playing at optimal level, without the shot, then under the steroid argument there can be little doubt that their performance is being chemically enhanced.
I saw the last game McGwire ever played, and it is something I will always treasure as a memory. For those who want to rewrite history and forget everything that McGwire did for the game, let us not forget that without him and Sosa in '98 baseball would be in a very different place today. Everyone looked the other way, and the simple fact is most people, other than sports writers, don't care, and it was the sports writers who failed to report on it in the first place. And, if they say they didn't know they are being just as disingenuous as baseball execs, owners, players and fans.
Let's face the fact that it was the steroids era, just as other eras have been "assisted" by various factors, including excluding some of the best players in the country from being able to compete, and treat it for what it was. There can be little doubt that Mark McGwire was one of the greatest players of his generation, and that's really all you can compare to. There can also be little doubt that the vast majority of players, including the pitchers, were taking steroids. There is nothing that can be done to change that, especially ridiculously incomplete studies ordered by the commissioner and undertaken by an owner, so let's deal with the time for what it was (and the time is 1984-2004) and move on. But let's also not be fooled by Selig's ridiculous statement that the game is now clean. Is it cleaner? Yes, it probably is, but many people have just moved onto things for which there is no reliable test.
Here is a funny piece from Jim Caple in which he is writing other confessions that might be made. You can find it here:
Random columnist: "Yes, I suspected McGwire took steroids while he was playing. How could I not? He was the size of a garbage truck. It wasn't anything new. People had been talking about steroids in the game for a decade -- remember how fans chanted 'Steroids! Steroids!' at Jose Canseco in the 1988 postseason? But I still glorified McGwire because I loved seeing him hit home runs, the same as everyone else did. I said he was saving the game. And now I'm demonizing him because he ruined the game.
"So does that mean I should also admit to being a hypocrite? Well, sorry, I'm not going to. And I'm not going to vote for him for the Hall of Fame, either.''