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McGwire Comes Clean

January 19, 2010 - Al Stephenson
Baseball fans are enamored with the home run. We love to see the ball fly out of the park. The prodigious blasts thrill us most. Sock one 500 feet and we will go crazy.

Certain home runs stick out more than others. I remember Cecil Fielder hitting one that went completely out of Milwaukee's County Stadium. I recall it not so much for its length, but more for the story involving the pitcher who gave it up, Brewers closer Dan Plesac.

It seems that Plesac talked to his mother by phone later that evening and when asked how he pitched that day, he replied with this gem. "I gave up a home run to Cecil Fielder, but it barely went out."

As a kid I was told about the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth. A colorful character that played before my time, the Babe was loved by all baseball fans. His season record of 60 home runs and career mark of 714 were the most hallowed marks in all of baseball.

When Roger Maris came along and challenged his season record in 1961 most people didn't want to see him get it. The pressure on Maris was so great that he lost chunks of his hair. He hit 61 forcing baseball fans to ask for an asterisk to be placed by his name since he got the record in a 162 game season. Babe after all had only 154 games to get his 60. The fact that Maris had fewer at bats than the Babe in his record setting year didn't matter to the baseball public.

Several years later Hank Aaron came on the scene to challenge the other record. When he hit 715 off of Al Downing of the Dodgers, baseball celebrated but not with the gusto that they should have. Babe Ruth meant that much to us.

So when Mark McGwire had that famous season along with Sammy Sosa in 1998 the baseball world watched with fascination. Both players were within reach of Maris' 61 and everyone seemed to want the record broken. It was easy to root for McGwire who was so quiet and unassuming. He pulled for Sosa and vice versa.

On the night he broke the record it was against the Cubs and there was Sosa in right field applauding the fete. The entire Maris family, Roger's widow and children, were in attendance. It was mesmerizing theatre and everything was right with baseball.

Except that it wasn't. There were rumors of steroid use, but most of us didn't want to believe it. McGwire was huge compared to the skinny little fella that broke into the big leagues. Maturing, working out with weights, that could explain it. We just didn't want to believe he juiced.

Well we have found out over the last few years that many players were using and now Mark McGwire has admitted what many suspected - he was on steroids in 1998. He wishes he hadn't ever used perfomancing enhancing drugs, but it was time to come clean.

His admission, though welcomed, left a little to be desired in my mind. The words "the truth will set you free" was used for his declaration. The problem was that his apology fell short of sincere and his "truth" left many unanswered questions.

He denies the allegations of Jose Canseco that the two of them shot up in the rest room before games. OK, I will give him the benefit of the doubt on that one. He also suggests that using steroids did not necessarily give him the ability to hit 70 and break the season record. He had been hitting home runs all of his life he says, since Little League through college and his professional career. I suppose he believes that, but I don't.

The view from my seat (wishing it wasn't true) suggests that the use of steroids, though not improving hand-eye coordination that is necessary to hit a baseball, does make you stronger. It will give you the ability to hit the ball farther and if nothing else it helps the body recover from nagging injuries quicker. This means a much greater chance of breaking the record.

Would he had broken the record had he not been using? I guess we will never know. Taking steroids have so many negative effects on the body that no record is worth the ultimate problems an individual has to deal with.

I am in agreement with Mark McGwire on one thing. I too wish he had never taken steroids.


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