Mark McGwire Admits Steroid Usage

In perhaps one of the worst kept secrets in all of Major League Baseball, St. Louis Cardinals hitting coach and former first baseman Mark McGwire today issued a statement admitting to using steroids during his career including 1998 when he broke Roger Maris’ single season home run record.

It has long been rumored that McGwire had used steroids. Further suspicion was raised in 2005 when McGwire appeared before Congress and refused to broach the steroid issue when he was questioned.

It was not just the fans who wondered whether McGwire was clean, the baseball writers too have struggled with this dilemma which has resulted in luke-warm support for McGwire in his quest to be elected to the Hall of Fame.

Today’s admission was rather curious from my perspective. On the one hand I appreciate McGwire waiting until after the Hall of Fame voting results before making this announcement. Had he chosen to issue his statement before the vote it would have become the main story of the day overshadowing the election of Andre Dawson and Dawson does not deserve that.

Recently McGwire was hired to be the St. Louis Cardinals hitting coach for the 2010 season. When manager Tony LaRussa announced the coaching appointment McGwire promised to make some sort of statement prior to the beginning of Spring Training.

I secretly wondered whether this hiring was a marketing ploy by LaRussa to try and get McGwire’s name back into the forefront and help him in his quest to become elected to the Hall of Fame.

Baseball fans have shown an ability to forgive some of the stars of the game after they have admitted to using performance enhancing drugs during their career. One needs not look any further than the examples of Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Andy Pettitte, and last year’s admission by Alex Rodriguez that they took steroids at one time or another during their playing career.

In each of those cases the player came out and apologized for any wrong doing and asked for forgiveness. After a brief period of righteous indignation, the majority of fans have taken the players back and forgiven their transgressions.

From the voting results of the baseball writers of America, it seems they are less willing to forgive a player for these mistakes. Over the next several years players associated with the so-called steroid era will come up for a vote. It will be interesting to see how the vote results will go for those who have admitted to cheating.

I find it interesting that those players who have come forward and admitted to using PEDs have explained that they used steroids and supplements not to try and get bigger or better but instead used these drugs to try and get back to work quicker.

I don’t know how many times I have attended a game when a player has been scratched from the line-up and someone has complained that these players are soft and cannot play through a little pain and somehow they need to find a way to get back onto the field and help their teams.

If we are to believe these players who have admitted to using steroids, they felt it was in the team’s and baseball’s best interest for them to be back on the field as quick as possible. I am sure no one in the front office of these clubs complained when Mark McGwire or Alex Rodriguez came back from injury in a few days rather than a few weeks.

During the magical 1998 season, it was Mark McGwire along with Sammy Sosa who brought thousands of people back to baseball with their assault on the home run record. What if McGwire had chosen not to use steroids and took the necessary time to heal properly to return from injuries?

Would the stadiums around baseball have been filled to capacity for batting practice and games whenever the St. Louis Cardinals came to town? Would these baseball writers who are now ostracizing the players for taking steroids have been better served by writing about a Cardinals team without their best player?

Baseball, the teams, and the writers made a very good living as a result of these players returning to the field. It seems hypocritical for them to now claim outrage and punish these same players for trying to get back to work.

Steroids are a way of life and an appropriate recommended treatment plan for many medical diagnoses even now. There are thousands of people who are prescribed steroids to help anything from pneumonia to colds to asthma.

Chances are you have friends or co-workers who have taken steroid treatments to overcome injury or sickness allowing them to go back to work quicker. Do you think less of them or their accomplishments? Why then do we think any differently about professional athletes?

There continues to be a double standard in society and in baseball. Maintaining the holier than thou attitude and discounting a person’s value or place in the game based on the use of a medical treatment plan seems illogical.

I have long been an opponent of steroids and I have been quick to discount anyone’s career who played in the steroid era. Now though I find myself questioning this viewpoint. If I devalue a player who used medicine to return to health or recover from injury where does it stop?

Today it is steroid use. Tomorrow will I begin to discount a player’s accomplishments because he had Lasik surgery or wears contacts to make his eyesight better? What about the player who uses a new surgical method to fix an elbow or shoulder that is injured? There have been many players who have had Tommy John surgery and come back stronger. Wouldn’t that make that surgical procedure performance enhancing?

I appreciate Major League Baseball identifying a list of supplements that are now banned to try and level the playing field. It just makes me wonder, should I as a fan question the accomplishments of the former playing generation every time a new substance is added to that banned list because some former player may have used it undetected?

I’m getting tired of approaching the game with an ever increasing level of skepticism. I want to return to the time when I didn’t care what vitamins, supplements, or medical substances a player was using. I want to go to the ballpark and smell the fresh cut grass and root for my team.

Perhaps that is a naïve point of view but I want baseball to go back to being a game. Only when that happens can we truly say we have gotten to the point that baseball is cleaned up. And in my opinion it can’t happen soon enough.

As for Mark McGwire, I’ll remember him as one of the figures that helped save baseball bringing fans back in droves after the 1994 strike regardless of whether he did so while taking a substance that would be banned under the current testing structure of Major League Baseball.

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