Tuesday, January 12, 2010

McGwire Admits Roid Use; Does It Matter?

Mark McGwire's admission to steroid use on Monday -- both to the Associated Press and to MLB Network's Bob Costas -- was neither shocking nor particularly revealing. It was widely assumed after McGwire's testimony before Congress in March 2005 that he had used; not just because he essentially pleaded the Fifth, but because his frame was nowhere near as bulking as it had been during the prime of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Which makes one wonder: why is it such a big deal?

If we all pretty much assumed McGwire used, then why are we foaming so readily at our collective mouths over his admission? There was no way McGwire could return to baseball as the Cardinals' hitting coach without talking about his past at some point, so Monday's story was largely inevitable. This wasn't a bombshell by any means -- not like it would've been had, say, Ken Griffey Jr. called a press conference to admit steroid use.

McGwire is on the Mount Rushmore of the Steroids Era, right there with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and take your pick between Alex Rodriguez, Jose Canseco and Rafael Palmeiro. All he did on Monday was say what most people around the sport already knew. McGwire's admission is nothing more than a needless footnote in one of baseball's most sordid eras.

Not that McGwire's admission was completely pointless -- I will never discount someone unburdening themselves of a truckload of guilt. There's no doubt that McGwire is freer today than he was before Monday -- just like Rodriguez was a freer, more relaxed person after he admitted to Peter Gammons last February that he juiced.

Rodriguez went on to help the Yankees win the World Series. Something tells me McGwire's going to live a better, less stressful life now that he's unloaded everything. And that's not nothing.

But in terms of baseball, how McGwire's admission affects the game as it attempts to rebound from the "Steroid Era," that's more abstract. I don't care about the logical inconsistencies of McGwire's admission, nor do I really care when he did or didn't use. He used, and he (eventually) fessed up to it -- as much as we might want to go back in time and re-write the record books, this is really the best we can do.

McGwire hit 70 home runs in 1998, which at the time was the single-season home run record. Purists may want the record, now Bonds' at 73, returned to Roger Maris -- who hit 61 in 1961. But that's a slippery slope; if you erase the records of McGwire and Bonds, then why not erase records set by everyone during this era? Without everyone who ever used doing like McGwire and fessing up -- or some foolproof scientific way to see who used and who didn't emerges -- how do we separate the users from the non-users?

It's the same concept with the Hall of Fame; if voters really want to keep out all steroid users, they might have to keep out everyone from the era -- which would eliminate players like Griffey. Again, how can we tell definitively who did and didn't use?

Ultimately, I don't see Monday's admission propelling McGwire to the Hall of Fame -- and I don't think he really cares. Aside from the personal relief McGwire feels now that he's finally admitted his past deeds, I can't really see how this affects baseball. The Steroids Era still happened; there are still players, current and former, who benefited from it who may never be caught. Major League Baseball has steroid testing now, but the policy is filled with loopholes and there's no test for human growth hormone -- arguably the drug of choice for athletes now.

Fact is, scientists who create these performance-enhancing drugs will always be one step ahead of the leagues and agencies tasked with finding and eliminating said drugs. The Steroid Era might soon pass, but it will only be replaced by the latest, strongest designer PED. The sooner we realize we will never again live in that utopic society where every athlete is completely clean, the better off we'll all be.

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