“Do you want to know the terrifying truth? Or do you want to see me sock a few dingers!?” – Mark McGwire on The Simpsons, 1999
The quote above from Mark McGwire aired on The Simpsons episode entitled “Brother’s Little Helper” in which he distracts the townspeople as he enchants them with 500 foot home runs. The irony in it all is that McGwire was doing the exact same thing on the field in 1999 – he was distracting fans from the truth.
After the strike in 1994, baseball needed a hero. Mark McGwire answered that call and gave baseball fans what they so desperately needed in the post-strike era: hope.
Back then, everyone turned a blind eye as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa raced to erase history and set the new record for home runs in a single season. Hell, even the Commissioner turned the other cheek and let it happen. Bud Selig knew that the home run chase was going to save baseball and bring it back to the level it once was.
Subconsciously, maybe we all knew that something wasn’t quite right. The problem was that we were so enchanted by those 500 foot bombs, that at the time nobody cared whether it was real or not because it was entertaining to watch.
Everyone saw the success and accolades that McGwire and Sosa were receiving, so other players decided to jump on the bandwagon as well. I don’t claim to have any sources from within the clubhouse, but from what I’ve read from books like “Game of Shadows” and “Juiced”, steroid use in baseball was more rampant than we could have ever imagined.
Now, over 10 years later, McGwire and others from that era have been deemed outcasts in baseball and quite the opposite of the heroic forms they once represented.
I have a tough time deciding what’s wrong and what’s right here. Obviously, taking performance enhancing drugs to give you an edge over the competition is completely unfair. Those players were willing to do anything to be the best in baseball, even if that meant getting caught.
I don’t condone players using performance enhancing drugs, but if there were no repercussions, then what’s the harm? Players like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds reaped all the rewards that came with the success from their Cinderella season, but now their are paying the price.
After all the players who have finally come clean, the players who got caught, and the Mitchell Report, imagine how many players could have or could be currently taking performance enhancing drugs that we don’t even know about?
It’s crazy to think that’s even possible, but I’m sure in the past, people also thought that Mark McGwire on steroids was unfathomable.
Ultimately, Mark McGwire did the right thing by coming clean about his steroid use. Unfortunately, he did it about five years too late, but better late than never. It seems like a gesture of good will so the BBWAA might start to consider changing their vote to put McGwire on the ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
However, we have seen how long voters can hold a grudge for, and it might be too little too late for Mark McGwire to apologize.
When all is said and done though, baseball can finally start to turn the page on the steroid era, even if it’s a chapter with a big fat asterisk next to it.