Mark McGwire, Steroids, and the Culture of Performance-Enhancing Drugs

WASHINGTON - MARCH 17:  Former St. Louis Cardinal Mark McGwire looks on during testimony Marrch 17, 2005 for a House Committee session that is investigating Major League Baseball efforts to eradicate steroid use  in Washington, DC. Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Allan 'Bud' Selig will give testimony regarding MLB?s efforts to eradicate steriod usage among its players.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Dave NicholsSenior Analyst IJanuary 11, 2010

Mark McGwire came clean today.

It was a matter of time, I suppose, that McGwire would eventually make a statement on his use of performance-enhancing drugs.  And he made that statement earlier today, admitting finally that he used steroids and human growth hormone for a large part of his career, including in 1998 when he hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals.

His statement says a lot about the man behind the slugger. 

He said he "knew this day would come," and he "wished I had never played during the steroid era."  Those are the words of a man with a guilty conscience.

What will be parsed by every sportswriter and talking head in the country now is his motivation for the statement today and how it affects his candidacy for the Hall of Fame.

It's greater than just McGwire, though.  How does this affect the candidacy of many of the sport's biggest names of the 1990s? 

You know the names: Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, Sosa, A-Rod, Manny, Big Papi.

The record book is full of these players' names, and they all carry a taint of performance-enhancing drugs.

Last week, McGwire was named on just 23.7 percent of the ballots cast for the Hall of Fame election that sent Andre Dawson to the Hall. 

How many of the writers left McGwire off that ballot because of his now-infamous congressional testimony?  How many will cling to their sanctimonious opinion now that McGwire has admitted his use?

America loves a redemption story.  Maybe this admission and subsequent position as St. Louis' new hitting coach is McGwire's attempt at clearing his name, along with clearing his conscience. 

The cynics among us would probably say that this is a calculated attempt of a desperate man who sees his support for immortality dwindling as the memory of his infamous statement, "I'm not here to talk about the past," fades into the collective recesses of our minds.

It's an image no one would want to revisit if we were to gather and celebrate McGwire's induction.

But now, we have the mea culpa.  There are more words for pundits to ease their minds, as they ultimately decide if McGwire will take residency in the Halls of Cooperstown.

For now, Big Mac has apologized. 

Any recounting of his performance before Congress (on his lawyer's instructions, of course) will be balanced by the idea that he professed his remorse for his involvement in the whole ordeal—his actions over the bulk of his career and his words that day.

McGwire was guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs.  It was a fact assumed, but not in evidence, until today.  But there are many players of this generation that share that stigma. 

What are the voters for the Hall supposed to do?  Not vote for players in that era at all?  Only vote for the ones they think are clean?  Only vote for the ones that publicly admit that, yes, they did do steroids?

How about the players already enshrined in the hallowed Hall that were guilty of much the same thing?  Amphetamines were recently abolished and legislated, and it's no surprise that road scoring is down across the league.

What about all the players in the Hall of Fame that used these performance-enhancing drugs?  Are we just supposed to ignore that fact?  Look past it because the imagery of someone doing "greenies" doesn't conjure up WWF wrestlers?  It's a slippery slope when someone's opinions and assumptions determine the fates of others.

McGwire, Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, Sosa, A-Rod, Manny, Big Papi, and many others: They will all be judged by the Baseball Writers Association of America.  It is their only jury.

I have my opinions.  You have yours.  But the BBWAA has the final say.

Personally, it does not change my opinion one way or the other.  All those players were guilty of breaking the rules, but they weren't the only ones in that era.  Hitters faced pitchers who used.  Pitchers faced hitters that used. 

We'll never really know how many players used.  But we know it's more than we first expected.  Maybe that was wishful thinking.

But my opinion is that we cannot eliminate an entire generation of players from the Hall of Fame.  I believe that PED use was so prevalent that these players can still be judged against their peers in the era that they played.

Something that Dawson said in his telephone conference call the day he found out he'd been enshrined makes a lot of sense.  He didn't say it in relation to the steroids issue, but it's germane nonetheless.

"If you're a Hall of Famer, eventually you're going to get in, no matter how long it takes."

If you are a supporter of Mark McGwire, you better hope Dawson has it right.

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