Mark McGwire: My Reaction
I opened my e-mail this morning to find a message from my good friend Scott The Cub Fan. It consisted of just one sentence: “Honestly, what did you think of his interview with Costas?”
My reply to him was as follows:
The part about not thinking steroids helped him hit the ball farther is a tough one to swallow. First, he said he used them during the 89-90 offseason and then stopped until he started getting hurt all the time in the mid-90’s. I can buy that. You don’t magically get big from using steroids; that’s not how it works. Steroids help your body heal and recover faster so you can train more intensely and for longer periods, which is what builds the strength. On the other hand, he said he used during the ’98 season. He wasn’t hurt then. He wasn’t hurt during the ’97 season, either, when he was traded to the Cardinals and hit a total of 58 HR. So there’s the first contradiction; the “I only used them to get healthy” argument doesn’t exactly hold water. Maybe saying “I started using them to get healthy but was afraid if I stopped I would also stop being healthy” would be more believable. Now, correct or incorrect, I can almost buy the “I could have hit the home runs without steroids” in the following context: professional athletes, for the most part, are among the largest ego’ed of all human beings. I can see where he might think he could hit 60 or 70 home runs in a season because he believed in his ability that much. I mean, it’s not like he started hitting home runs when he started taking steroids…he started hitting monsterous homeruns when he started taking steroids. So what’s the difference between a 410 foot home run and a 510 foot homerun? It’s still one hit, one run, and one RBI. Now we could sit here and argue about how many warning track fly outs turned into homers and how many line-outs became doubles off the wall, and those are valid arguments to have. But a guy that was known coming into the league as a home run hitter, hit a still-record 49 home runs as a rookie, became a World Champion as a home run hitter, and then (if his timing is to be believed) started experimenting with ‘roids…sure, I can buy that he believes he had the talent and ability to hit 500 homeruns in his career and 70 in a season.
Could we have gotten more from McGwire? Certainly. He could have said, “Even though I started taking them to get healthy, I noticed I was also stronger. I didn’t take them thinking they’d help me hit 70 home runs in a season, but my increased offensive output helped the team win so I just kept using.” Or he could have been less even-handed about it: “…once I was healthy, I was also able to crush the ball. What else was I going to do in baseball…bunt for a hit? Of course not.” But the basic gist of “I took steroids, and even though it wasn’t my original intention, I did notice that I was bigger and stronger and I was able to hit the ball distances I never dreamed of” would have been about the best thing added to the interview that we did not hear.
All in all, even omitting what I wanted to hear but didn’t, I honestly heard a lot more than I thought I would regarding this subject. I expected a very contrived, scripted press conference where he took no questions and tried to bury as much of the detail as possible. Compared to that scenario, I think we got an extraordinary thing from McGwire yesterday. Even if he’s slightly delusional about his abilities or the overall effects steroids had on those abilities, he seemed genuinely sincere in his regret last night. And I have no reason to believe Bob Costas would have done this interview with a bunch of pre-conditions and scripting.
If I had to grade the interview, overall, I’d say B+.