I'm Here To Talk About The Present
This is not what I wanted to hear.
I don't mean Mark McGwire's admission that he used PEDs itself.I did in fact want to hear that, no matter how belated, because the discussion needs to move on from side-by-side pictures of Barry Bonds's head in 1990 and 2000 — move on, specifically, to how we can put the statistics of the steroid era properly into context.The denial and the denials have gone on long enough.It happened.Players took performance-enhancing drugs.I don't like it any better than the next fan, but it's time to stop clutching our pearls and start running realistic numbers that will help us understand the performances we saw, enhanced or not.
The confession itself, then, the fact that it was made at last, I welcome, because air-quoting the word "allegedly" and shoehorning it into every conversation about McGwire had become absurd.
But I did not want to hear excuses about McGwire's injuries.I did not want to hear a recitative of the many McGwire home runs dating back to Legion ball, of which people still speak in awed tones.I did not want to hear about his maturation as an educated hitter.I did not want to hear an unprovable assertion that McGwire wanted to come clean five years ago, but let his attorneys talk him out of it.
"I took steroids.I had my reasons for doing so, but these reasons are not excuses, and in retrospect, they do not seem worthwhile.If I had it to do again, I'd make different choices.I apologize to [insert laundry list here], and I take full responsibility for my actions, including the decision not to tell the truth until now."
That is what I wanted to hear.
Watching Hot Stove last night, watching McGwire face Costas, I felt for the guy, because make no mistake — he's getting punished.He had to call his dad and tell him that he'd cheated and then lied about it.He had to call his kid and tell him that; he had to call the Maris family and tell them that; he had to sit, some more, with knowing that it was true. I get the impression that the prospect of this gauntlet is a large part of why McGwire dissembled for so long, that he would have to relinquish the rights to his family's pride; it's an appropriate consequence, but a grown man gritting his teeth and telling his father that he fucked up big-time is a painful spectacle.I have compassion for McGwire.
But I feel equal or greater amounts of impatience.I don't mind the idea of McGwire in the Hall of Fame, if his statistics support it, because whatever I think about it now, that home-run race in '98…have you ever seen footage of Secretariat in the '73 Belmont?You don't get quite the full effect on YouTube, but as Secretariat starts to open up that legendary lead on Sham, and as the camera struggles to keep any other horse even in the frame with Secretariat, and as the announcer is counting off the lead, stunned, "Twelve lengths — thirteen, fourteen lengths," you feel overcome by the achievement.It's just a thrill to see, to witness it, and that's how I remember that home-run race, hearing #62 on the car radio as I drove down the Major Deegan and honking and laughing out loud, and everyone else on the road honking too, happy for ourselves that we got to see it happen in our lifetime.You could argue that that memory is besmirched now; it has a shadow across it for me too, but I had wandered away from baseball somewhat in college, and then the strike happened, and that summer, the McGwire-Sosa chase, reminded me — and a lot of other people — why it is that we care about the sport at all.Josh Hamilton in the Home Run Derby, same feeling.Sometimes it's just fun, and sometimes it's downright dull, but now and then, it's a privilege.
I'd also note that steroids 1) were not banned when McGwire took them, if anyone still cares to split that hair, and 2) will not — cannot — make a Mark McGwire out of a Mark Belanger.The guy could already hit, and I think his contention that he learned plate discipline and mechanics over the course of his career is not incorrect, strictly speaking.
But it's not for McGwire himself, right now, to point those things out, and that he doesn't appear to understand that is annoying.It's not for him to sit there and tell Bob Costas, who was not born yesterday, that he thinks he derived no statistical advantage from his use of PEDs.It's not for him to insult Ken Griffey Jr. by overusing the unclever term "MASH unit" to whine about his injuries.Griffey got hurt a lot too, and if I recall rightly, 15-20 years ago, we talked about him as the best hope to break Maris's record.Hard to pull off when you only play 120 games a year because you broke your leg again and you stuck to Tylenol.Athletes get hurt; don't act like that forgives anything.Don't tell me a grown-up can't instruct his attorneys, who work for him, that he's giving a statement and hoping for the best instead of Fifth-Amendmenting the problem to the satisfaction of no one.And don't tell me about your goddamn Little League home runs.You want to leave things "in the past," start with shit you did at age 8, because the other thing 8-year-olds do is a lot of "but he started it" this and "it was like that when I found it" that.
Like Steve Carlton once said, "Never complain, never explain," and McGwire should have taken a page from the book of a guy who rehabbed by running in a vat of rice.I understand McGwire's position — he's embarrassed and sad, but also a little resentful that he stands to lose his entire legacy, which is also unfair in its way. But he should have confessed, apologized, left his chin open to shots for two weeks, and then said something like, "I regret, among other things, that my use of these substances makes it unclear what my numbers mean.I look forward to working with sabermetricians to find out how we put the numbers in perspective."Yeah, he'll get some blame he doesn't deserve, but he took credit he didn't deserve for some time — and the only way to make that right is to act like an adult and stop lying and spinning.A lot of people take as much issue with McGwire's refusal to tell the truth as they do with the drug use itself, and it adds up to his having no faith in us: either that we wouldn't know he was dissembling for years on end, or that we wouldn't be able put that in perspective with his successes once we found out the truth.Rogers Hornsby was a disgusting pig, but it's still awesome that he hit .424.
"I just wish I was never in that era," as though the era is at fault.I mean, shades of "that woman," no?Not what I wanted to hear; not what's going to help.The discussion is doors-deep in the same mudhole as two days ago, and the only new information we have is that McGwire really really needs to start using sunscreen on his neck.(What is that Candice Bergen nonsense?Did anyone else notice that?)
Tags: Barry Bonds Bob Costas Candice Bergen chicks dig the long ball Congratulations: You're That Guy Ken Griffey Jr. Mark Belanger Mark McGwire news Roger Maris Rogers Hornsby Sammy Sosa Secretariat shut up steroids Steve Carlton