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Mark McGwire, Steroids and the Hall of Fame

1/13/2010 in Sports

Mark McGwire ALMOST got his image-building public relations campaign right. 

He answered one of the biggest questions: Why did he essentially "Take the Fifth" at the Congressional hearing on steroids in 2005. He was believable when he said he asked for and was not granted immunity. Thus, his lawyers advised him to stay silent. Any reasonable person would follow that advice. He also came off as contrite -- the polar opposite of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.

McGwire tried to follow Andy Pettitte's path. The Yankee pitcher's reputation has not been as damaged by his admission of performance enhancing drug usage in the way that Bonds, Clemens and others have. The retired slugger said the drugs enabled him to bounce back from injury (and avoid the scorn of teammates), play in more games, and see the ball better. That sounds like a recipe for putting up better numbers. In a widely watched interview, Bob Costas pressed him several times on this stance. McGwire did not change his answer. But he never explained why he felt compelled to call and apologize to former HR king Roger Maris's widow. Thus, the Costas interview and subsequent others have not helped McGwire restore his reputation in the way he had hoped.

However, I believe McGwire doesn't deserve the vehement scorn he has gotten about his steroid and HGH use. Players knew, owners pretended not to know, and reporters and fans suspected. Big Mac & Sammy Sosa re-energized the game in 1998 and helped repair fallout damage from the strike and canceled World Series. It was exciting -- fans loved the HR chase and wanted to see history, owners loved the receipts from ticket sales, and reporters loved the great story. (And yes, they alluded to McGwire as a "Paul Bunyon-esque" figure.) To treat Mac & Sosa as pariahs now seems a bit disingenuous.

McGwire hopes to earn the support of the St. Louis fans when he begins his new job as a hitting coach for the Cardinals this spring. I hope he does. The man has apologized and admitted his mistakes although maybe not to the extent some would like. Should he have come forward sooner? Yes. Is this related to his poor showing in Hall of Fame votes despite his 583 career home runs? Probably. And clean players past and present are entitled to be angry with him. But everyone deserves a chance at forgiveness.

Gaylord Perry admitted cheating and was coy about it during his playing days. Yet there is no groundswell to have him removed from Cooperstown. There are Dead Ball Era players who were known for cheating. And one has to wonder if there are future -- and dare I suggest current -- Hall of Famers who simply didn't get caught and who have no incentive to come clean now.

Jose Canseco has indeed been open about steroids, but he is so obviously driven by money from book sales and a desire to stay in the public eye. The only person to get this right was football player Lyle Alzado, a dying man who came clean and said his motivation was to help warn others of the dangers of taking steroids.

What do you think?

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