Would the following people kindly shut the hell up about Mark McGwire?
1. Brian Williams, NBC
Good evening. Because this is a family broadcast, we probably can't say what we'd like to about the news today that Mark McGwire — the home run hitter, the family favorite from the St. Louis Cardinals — stopped lying today and admitted that he did it while on steroids. For those of us who were raising young baseball fans and baseball players who looked up to Mark McGwire, that summer of '98 was magical stuff, as he and Sammy Sosa vied back and forth for the title of single-season home-run king. He didn't tell the truth to Congress or to his fans until finally, formally coming clean today. He's been unable to get into the Hall of Fame and, apparently — even for him — the shame here was too much.
So Mark McGwire looked into the furrowed brow of Bob Costas and made the least surprising steroid confession ever, and now poor BriWi and his kid will never believe in magic and fairy tales again? Let's leave aside the fact that the guy manning Brinkley's old desk at NBC should've long ago stopped believing in magic and fairy tales. Do we really have to drag The Children into this again? Must every scary development in American life be filtered through the eyes of The Children? This move's straight from the pundit playbook that a decade ago had Cokie Roberts and her ilk wailing and wondering how America would ever tell its young ones about blowjobs. Because this is not a family web site, I'll say what I think of this: It's fucking stupid.
2. Bryan Burwell, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
As tortured as McGwire appeared to be as he went on his mea culpa tour, it's stunning to believe that he's still trying to convince us that everything we saw from him was all on the up and up, that his God-given gift of exceptional hand-eye coordination - not some chemical magic from the tip of a syringe - created those historic home run milestones. More practical people can't put much merit in McGwire's revisionist history.
Steroids are not magic. Steroids are not Popeye's spinach. Steroids are not a shortcut (in their most basic function, they allow one to work harder). Steroids do not help one hit a baseball with the fat part of a bat, and steroids do not necessarily help one hit a baseball far. Some smart people, in fact, think steroids had nothing to do with all those baseballs hit fat and far during the so-called Steroid Era.
3. Jayson Stark, ESPN.com
I'm totally convinced that hundreds of players ingested this stuff to get healthy, to stay healthy, to get back on the field, to stay on the field or just to make it through the lonnngggg season.
We've heard that alibi a million times now. I can't say I believe it every time I hear it. But in the case of a guy like McGwire, who'd become a medical mess, it's legitimately plausible — for me, anyway.
Stark is referring to the portion of McGwire's confession in which he told the top of Bob Costas's head: "The only reason I took steroids was for my health purposes. I did not take steroids to get any gain for any strength purposes."
That might very well be, but it's not a real distinction. Not in professional sports, at least, and not as a matter of morality. Gobbling or injecting a synthetic substance that makes one stronger is no different than gobbling or injecting a synthetic substance that allows one to return to the field sooner. That goes for anabolic steroids. That goes for cortisone shots. That goes for amphetamines and caffeine, too. Once you accept, as Stark and some of his colleagues seem to, that a ballplayer might plausibly use steroids for his health, then you can no longer argue, as many of those same sportswriters do, that steroids represent some kind of scourge on the American soul. What's the problem, anyway, with prolonging the careers of people who play sports for our entertainment?
4. Howard Bryant, ESPN.com
The most uncomfortable portion of McGwire's statement came when he said he wished he "had never played during the steroid era," as though he were swept up in a certain institutional momentum. The truth is that by using in 1989, McGwire was central to creating the steroids era. He is, even more so than Barry Bonds, the most pivotal figure in the history of his time. He was the first person to demonstrate the rewards of the new culture, and was evasive and unapologetic about it.
Bryant is an excellent columnist, and he has written incisively about performance-enhancing drugs in the past. But I'm sorry. Mark McGwire is no more responsible for inventing the Steroid Era than is Antoine Lavoisier, Timothy Leary, and Prof. Julius Kelp.
5. Jeff Pearlman, JeffPearlman.com
Where to begin? First, I'm glad McGwire finally admitted this, because—let's be blunt here—what he did was bullshit. Pure bullshit. Remember the home run chase of ‘98? The tears? The smiles? The history? Well, the tears and smiles might have been legitimate, but the history was not. Say what you want, Big Mac defenders, but you don't break Roger Maris' single-season home run mark by cheating (and, yes, steroids were cheating. Maybe not by baseball standards alone, but by federal law, where possession without a proper prescription was/is illegal). You don't hug his family with one arm while inserting a needle into the other. You don't, you don't, you don't—and apologists really need to look in the mirror and ask themselves why this sort of behavior continues to be defended. Because, in the context of the game, it's indefensible. Especially in the context of the history of the game.
What context is that, exactly? Does it include those eight guys who dumped a World Series for Arnold Rothstein? All those fellows in the '70s popping greenies like Chiclets? Gaylord Perry? The guy holding the telescope in the Giants' clubhouse in 1951? Whitey Ford and Elston Howard doctoring a ball until it looked like something coughed up by a very large cat? There are no saints on baseball's stained glass. And there is certainly no era of the game in which a sizable percentage of the participants didn't try to score an advantage somewhere just the other side of the rulebook (and occasionally the law). That's the most American thing about baseball, and, sometimes it's the only thing that saves it from all the embroidered American values nonsense that George Will and Ken Burns and this crazy lady drape over the sport like a hideous doily. Too many people, Pearlman included, labor under the misconception that baseball was once played by Hummel figurines. So drop Mark McGwire in with all the other rogues and scoundrels and outright cheats who've done time in a baseball uniform. In this context, McGwire and his Nandrolone or whatever are perfectly defensible.
If that makes me a Big Mac apologist in Jeff Pearlman's mind, so be it. Pearlman may be a swell guy and a dogged reporter, but he has been wrong about enough stuff over the years that I'm beginning to wonder if Charles Haley's dick is really all that big. And Pearlman never strays farther off the bag than when he's writing in his capacity as drum major in the Parade of People Freaking the Fuck Out About Steroids. Maybe McGwire did break the law. (And it's not even clear that he did. Jay McGwire claims his brother took Nandrolone; at the time he says he was pumping himself full of the stuff, it was neither scheduled as a controlled substance nor specifically banned by baseball.) Well, so what if he did? For one thing, if we lionized only those athletes who never broke the law, our halls of fame would be lonely places indeed. And for another, the law that McGwire may or may not have broken was a terrible one promulgated in the midst of a screeching anti-drug mania by opportunistic tubthumpers on both sides of the aisle (chief among them our current vice president). This law, as much as anything, brought our self-defeating drug war into the realm of sports; today, the steroids crusade of which Pearlman seems so fond is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the War on Drugs. You see it in the behavior of federal investigators who wipe their feet on the Fourth Amendment and launch an invasive and plainly illegal raid of a drug-testing facility (and who then, in all probability, leak some of the famous names harvested in the raid into the ear of The New York Times's super-duper anti-drug Boy Scout Michael S. Schmidt). We have now done more harm to the republic prosecuting our War on Steroids than steroids themselves ever did. And to what end? So facile people can feel good about a record book? Like the man says, apologists really need to look in the mirror and ask themselves why this sort of behavior continues to be defended.