I have never cared much for baseball. When I was little, I would stand in the outfield and pick at the grass instead of really paying attention to the softball game I was playing.
The only reason I actually cared if the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2007 was because I got to run around Kenmore Square at midnight with my friends and a zillion other people, and because I hoped the victory parade would get me out of class. (It didn’t; I skipped that day, mainly to go see the Dropkick Murphys perform. Sorry, Mom and Dad!)
But in 1998, at least for a few months, I was really into baseball—thanks to none other than Mark McGwire. I was watching history in the making.
Who would get there first? When would it happen? In the end, how many would they hit? I was enthralled. Baseball was actually interesting and exciting to watch—at least when McGwire came up to bat (and, in the meantime, I could amuse myself).
I remember the night he hit No. 62 very well. I remember sitting in my living room on the night before my first day of school. I was tired (it wasn’t that late, but I was just a few week shy of 10 years old, so it was late for me), but I wanted to stay up—I had to stay up. I had to see it. I had to see history.
I remember watching the ball sail over that low, little wall—I remember, “There it is—62!”
In a drawer in our guest room, along with World Series newspapers and old Cardinals memorabilia, there are tickets, game programs, and scorecards (how I amused myself during those “down moments” when we were at games) from that season.
Down in our basement, on the wall with World Series pennants and pictures of great Cardinals players, there’s a photo of McGwire.
That season was important, relevant, special. My mom wouldn’t have kept all that stuff or put McGwire on that wall if it wasn’t.
And, even though our familial devotion to the Cardinals runs deep on my mom’s side (it’s a long story…), and that’s the main reason I got into the whole race, I know I wasn’t the only little kid or teenager or 80-year-old or whoever to get into baseball that season because of the possibility that, for the first time since 1961, for the first time most of us could remember, such a great record might be broken.
In fact, some people are calling that the summer that “got us back into baseball.”
So yesterday, McGwire admitted he used steroids.
The thing is, I’m not sure I care. And I’m not sure anyone should care half as much as they do.
His steroid use doesn’t change the fact that he was the baseball player who actually got me interested in the sport. And it doesn’t change how I feel about about those memories.
I might have cared if he’d been a jerk about it. I might have cared if he’d acted like other players have when being interrogated about and confessing to steroid use. And I might have cared if he’d been the only one.
But he wasn’t—he wasn’t a jerk about it, and he was remorseful. Maybe I’m just a sucker for criers, but I know how he acted before (not confessing when being questioned by Congress), and I’ve seen how he acted yesterday (believe me, I’ve seen it; CNN is on all day at work), and I believe him.
I believe that he was told not to confess before, and I believe that he’s sorry, and I believe that he really wishes he could take it back.
If Hank Aaron can offer forgiveness, and if Tony LaRussa (who I don’t peg as a particularly sympathetic guy—he looks like he’d let you know if he thought you sucked)—can stand by him and still bring him on as hitting coach for the Cards, I’m pretty sure it’s a sincere apology.
More importantly—most importantly—McGwire wasn’t the only one. What about Sammy Sosa? What about Barry Bonds? Yeah, I know Bonds’ home run-record ball has that asterisk on it and all…but still.
How come only now people are talking about turning the record back to Roger Maris? We’ve known for ages that Bonds used steroids—why didn’t we have this whole conversation then? You could also argue that McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, etc., were just keeping up with the steroid-using pitchers they were up against—evening the playing field, if you will.
I’m not saying it was right. And, quite frankly, I do think that the record should be reversed.
But do I think McGwire deserves this stigma (“You are a bum! Go back in your hole and cry!” says the guy calling into CNN right now. He’s from Massachusetts. I bet you he likes the Red Sox, and if that’s the case—sir, you have negative right to comment.), deserves to have the highway named after him taken away, or deserves to be barred from the Hall of Fame?
No. No, no, no, no, no. I cannot emphasize enough…NO.
If you say that he does deserve all this, you better do the same for pretty much every baseball player who’s played recently—and that’s not possible. Go ahead and try to be moral and say that’s how it should work, but it won’t work and can’t work that way.
He may not have confessed under Congressional pressure, and it took him a while to do it, but Mark McGwire willingly confessed. He wasn’t in the spotlight at this particular moment, and, therefore, forced to confess.
He did it because he needed to for himself, and now he’s under fire for it. But he took responsibility, he’s not making excuses, and he’s trying to make it right, as much as it’s possible.
He deserves some credit for that, and he deserves to be left alone.