McGwire's Return to the Game Doesn't Smell Like a Rose

Joe SpencerContributor IOctober 27, 2009

The St. Louis Cardinals today announced that former Cardinals superstar Mark McGwire would be joining the team as its hitting coach.

This is the same Mark McGwire who in 1998 set the then major league record for home runs in a season with 70.

It is also the same Mark McGwire who has been at the heart of the "steroid era" of baseball from the very beginning.

In August of 1998, while McGwire was chasing the home run record, Associated Press writer Steve Wilstein noticed a bottle of Andro, which since 2004 has been labeled by Congress as an anabolic steroid.

McGwire first denied taking Andro but later admitted he had been taking the substance for more than a year, while claiming, "Everybody in the game of baseball that I know uses the same stuff that I use."

Nobody knew at the time this article came out what was in store for Major League Baseball concerning steroid use in the years to come.

At the time, Andro was legally sold as an over the counter supplement that boosted testosterone levels. While it was not banned by MLB, it certainly was taboo amongst many other professional sports. The Olympics, professional tennis, college sports, and the National Football League all had banned Andro from being used.

Outside of MLB, most people viewed the use of Andro as cheating and potentially dangerous as well.

After his retirement following the 2001 season, McGwire remained relatively obscure from the public eye except on rare occasion. That all changed in 1995 after his former teammate Jose Canseco released his book Juiced, which alleged rampant steroid use amongst players including McGwire.

Eventually Congress stepped in and held a hearing inquiring about the use of steroids in MLB. Several big name players were called to testify, including McGwire.

When it came time to talk, however, McGwire had very little to say.

In his opening statement, McGwire stated, "Asking me or any other player to answer questions about who took steroids in front of television cameras will not solve the problem. If a player answers 'No,' he simply will not be believed. If he answers 'Yes,' he risks public scorn and endless government investigations.

"My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family, and myself. I will say, however, that it remains a fact in this country that a man, any man, should be regarded as innocent unless proven guilty."

When asked if he was asserting his fifth amendment right not to incriminate himself, McGwire responded, "I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to be positive about this subject."

Following that hearing, McGwire has essentially been unheard from. The steroid issue has remained front and center with MLB. Suddenly, almost out of nowhere, the Cardinals announced the hiring of McGwire as a coach.

Surprisingly absent from such a newsworthy event was McGwire himself. The Cardinals announced that he would address reporters in the near future via a conference call. Way to stand up and finally face the music.

What concerns me is the hypocrisy of Major League Baseball. Here we have the hiring of a coach who many believe has tainted the game. Though he has never admitted use of or has been proven to have used illegal substances, I think the majority of people believe he at the very least cheated the game.

Yet according to Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., Commissioner Bud Selig received the news of McGwire's hiring warmly.

If Commissioner Selig is so warm and fuzzy about the return of Mark McGwire to the game, then perhaps he would be just as warm about the return of another baseball legend. After all, who could possibly be a better hitting coach than Pete Rose?

I sense a very discriminating double standard in Major League Baseball, and as a fan it is very troubling to me.

Rose accepted a lifetime ban in 1989 amid allegations that he was betting on baseball games, including games of the Cincinnati Reds, which he was managing at the time. It was noted in the investigative Dowd Report, however, that there was no evidence Rose was betting against the Reds.

Rose had a gambling problem. There are thousands of people in this world who have the same problem. He violated the rules of baseball by gambling on baseball games. However, the fact that he simply bet on games that didn't involve him, or bet on his team to win, indicates that there was no cheating going on. 

Pete Rose did not cheat the game of baseball. Pete Rose did not damage the integrity of the game of baseball. Pete Rose did not taint the record books of Major League Baseball. Mark McGwire certainly did all of the above.

For years the public scorned Pete Rose because he continually denied allegations of wrongdoing for so many years. It wasn't until some 15 years later that Rose finally admitted publicly that he had bet on baseball games while managing the Reds.

Mark McGwire first denied the use of Andro before finally admitting to using it. McGwire had nothing to say to Congress when asked about his use of steroids and has still not spoken about the issue after the Congressional hearing.

McGwire chose to remain out of the public eye. He made more than enough money through several multimillion-dollar contract signings over the course of his career. He didn't need to "make a living."

Rose did not play during the era of multimillion-dollar contracts. The lifetime ban Rose agreed to took everything away from him. Not only could Pete not be elected to the Hall of Fame for his playing accomplishments, but he is not allowed to be involved with Major League Baseball...period.

The Reds cannot formally retire Rose's uniform number because of the ban. Rose was unable to participate in any ceremony involving the closing of old Riverfront Stadium (Cinergy Field) or the opening of the Great American Ballpark because of the ban. Rose was unable to participate in the 25th anniversary celebration of the Big Red Machine team.

Major League Baseball made one exception to the ban during the 1999 World Series when MLB unveiled the fans' votes for the All-Century Team. The fans had voted Rose in as one of the outfielders, and when he was introduced, the fans attending Game Two of the series gave him the loudest ovation of any All-Century Team member, including McGwire.

If baseball has room for Mark McGwire, it certainly should have a place for Pete Rose.


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