Mark McGwire’s Penance

While he’s not exactly breaking a story, Mark McGwire, the baseball-bashing slugger who captivated Major League fans and became the first player to eclipse Roger Maris’ single season home run record announced the news that he was a cheater yesterday. I say that intentionally. While playing with the Oakland A’s and St Louis Cardinals, McGwire says that he took performance enhancing drugs. Some will say that baseball had no rules in place with regards to the substances he took at that juncture, but let’s face facts, McGwire got help and that smacks of insincerity at minimum.

A friend from my radio days spoke to me of an interview he once did with McGwire. McGwire had been an oft-plagued injured player at several points in his career with Oakland suffering from heel and foot injuries. In the interview McGwire mentioned (with a surly attitude, I might add) that he thought that he was a victim of heredity. His numbers were down, he said, because he had bad feet and that it took a long time to recover from those injuries. As someone who also has suffered with heel injuries, I can sympathize, but still, that’s not a good excuse for taking roids.

McGwire repeated that song yesterday. He said he felt he owed it to his teammates and to the fans to get back out on the field as fast as he could. He also mentioned that his teams were paying him a lot of money and he felt he owed it to the management to get back on the field. So he took the drugs to try to recover faster. I believe him, to a point but what McGwire doesn’t realize is that besides healing faster, the dog days of August often makes the bat a bit heavier because of the long grind of the season that takes its toll on everyone. With steroids, there are no dog days of summer.

Unfair advantage: McGwire.

Some will say that admitting his mistake is admirable. He certainly didn’t come completely clean when he testified in congress. Others will say that we all knew he was on the juice back when he was playing and we just didn’t want to know the truth. Others will claim that we just don’t care about drug use and we all just want to see good baseball. And even others will state my earlier claim: baseball had no rules on the juice then, so McGwire didn’t break any rules that were on the books.

And that is a bunch of horsefeathers. And a look to baseball’s past tells us why.

A consequence of any sports’ season is that players get hurt and that many of them play hurt. I once asked Phil Rizzuto, the hall of fame Shortstop and a character in the broadcast booth for years for the Yankees, if he ever played hurt. He said he played hurt almost every year because he was afraid someone else was ready to take his spot. “I threw some dirt on my leg and moved on. We all did that unless we thought we’d hurt the team.”

Rizzuto mentioned a second and more important reason why anybody who played in the non-steroid era should blanch at McGwire’s lame-excuses today. That reason is the following statement: “We wanted to make the post-season every year because we needed the money! None of us wanted to have to work in the offseason.”

And McGwire took drugs to keep a much larger paycheck. If he was hurt and felt that badly about it he could have done the admirable thing and simply gave the money back–or even donated it to charity–a opportunity that he still can do. I haven’t heard one of these roid users even suggest that they might donate or even return all, or even some, of the money they earned during the steroid era because they weren’t honest with the fans and have damaged the integrity of the game. McGwire is just another greedy fatcat, who longed to inflate his numbers to gain fame, prestige and of course money.

Why did McGwire come clean? Very simple, he fears that he has damaged his chances of making baseball’s hall of fame. He’s failed to garner even 25% of the votes of the writers over the last four years. He won’t have too many chances left and he needs to boost that total quickly. It’s the latest ploy, begging forgiveness in an insincere manner. Much like the rich man who didn’t let Lazarus eat scraps from his table, McGwire isn’t asking for forgiveness here. He is asking for pity. It’s all about McGwire and not about integrity.

Mr. McGwire, I loved seeing you play. How about you return some money to the Cardinals and A’s? How about even using your fame to help promote steroid awareness in high schools and colleges because God knows you’ve caused enough damage to younger athletes already? How about you ask Major League baseball to place an asterisk next to all of your records during the years that you took performance enhancers? How about admitting that you were greedy for fame, money and records that you did not rightfully earn?

If you did that, your request for forgiveness might come from a more sincere place. One of the first rules of going to confession is to admit your sins with honesty and humbleness and then to do some kind of penance. Perhaps that’s a lesson that Mr. McGwire needs to recall?

A-Rod and Steriods

I watched Alex Rodriquez with Peter Gammons on ESPN last night. For those who don’t know, I covered baseball for over 8 years at WFAN and WOR (a lot less glamorous than it sounds–think of me as a “soundbyte gatherer” as opposed to a reporter) and had the opportunity to meet and interview A-Rod when he was with Seattle. I found him to be surprisingly nice–I say “surprisingly” because many baseball players–especially the bigger stars hate the media and are often surly. A-Rod, at least in Seattle, was one of the rare exceptions.

So keep in mind that this is a guy who I genuinely liked meeting and interacting with and a guy who I found to be an outstanding player on the field as well.

So what do i think should be done to A-Rod after he was caught and then admitted that he used steroids in 2001-2003?

I would opt that A-Rod’s contract should be void now with the Yankees and he can only re-sign with them under their terms. He should not be allowed to take on any endorsement deals and should be fined at least 40% of the value of his contract from 2001-2003.

The same punishment should also be doled out to the other 103 ballplayers on that list–that now have become public despite the baseball union’s lack of protecting these players who submitted their results for an anonymous test. It’s time for baseball to take a stand and while there were no rules in play for this type of behavior at that juncture, the bottom line is that baseball’s numbers have now been artificially inflated because of drugs.

And baseball is a numbers game. This has so much stink on it now that a good bath with tomato juice won’t clean it. We can never look at this time of baseball history again in the same way. Period. End of story.

A-Rod cited being “young and stupid” feeling pressure to perform and a host of other convenient excuses. While I’m apt to forgive people their faults and move on (we’re a forgiving church after all), I’m less apt to do so once someone gets caught and has imperfect contrition. If this report doesn’t come out–then A-Rod is still playing and not about to mention anything to anyone about his steroid use.

The worst part about it for me was when he said and I paraphrase, “I don’t even know what substance I was found guilty of taking.”

So does that mean he was possibly taking many different substances? Who knows?

While our church emphasizes forgiveness and I admit that it takes a big man to stand up and admit that these reports are true as opposed to Roger Clemens (who I suspect is still taking steroids) who will never admit it, it also demands justice.