Mark McGuire admitted that he used steroids in the 1990s during his electric home run barrage that for a time anyway gave him the single season home run title. The summer of 1998 was one that captivated baseball fans and America as McGuire and Sammy Sosa slugged their way to what many would think would be baseball immortality.
First came the allegations by Jose Canseco that he had McGuire regular shot up with steroids in the clubhouse of the Oakland A’s whose manager just happened to be Tony LaRussa. McGuire vehemently denied his former friend and teammate Canseco’s allegations in the book Juiced even last night in his interview with Bob Costas, however McGuire now suffers a credibility gap after his denials back when Canseco published his book and later. The claim which can be boiled down to “Yeah I did steroids but not like that” doesn’t hold water to me as much as I want to believe McGuire who I really do think is a good person, fantastic ballplayer and a man who gave a lot back to baseball and his community during his career. Canseco was heavily criticized for the tone of his book but the allegations seem to be more right than wrong.
However, even as many dismissed Canseco’s charges and baseball turned its back on him others came under suspicion including Sosa and eventually Barry Bonds and pitching great Roger Clemons. As one superstar after another either was accused, implicated or had their name come up on a list of players who had allegedly tested positive in a screening done by baseball the scandal grew in proportion to McGuire’s massive arms. An entire era was tainted and every player even those who had not done steroids or other banned performance enhancing drugs were viewed with suspicion.
At the same time the self righteous attacks on the players by many in the media which in a sense rightly accused them of cheating missed a number of important issues. The first in my opinion of is the responsibility of baseball’s management and ownership which had turned a blind eye to what the players were doing and the fact that these players were not the first to cheat in one way or another. A secondary note is that for a time in the 1990s many of these substances had not been banned by the game and that some, especially HGH are legal in other countries and with the continual advances in pharmaceutical development may eventually be legal in this country. Thus what was yesterday’s “banned substance” may end up being tomorrow’s “miracle drug” but the players who were then “criminals” or “cheaters” will still have their names sullied by a culture’s inability to keep up with technology.
The responsibility of management is demonstrated by LaRussa who in his nearly two decade association with McGuire cannot have missed McGuire’s and others steroid use. Baseball teams are somewhat like small elite military units, players, coaches and managers live in a very small world, a world in some sense protected by the clubhouse door. Owners, managers, coaches and other staff in particular the physicians; trainers and strength and condition coaches know what is going on with their highly paid players. It would demonstrate the height of incompetence for a staff not to know what their players were doing. The fact that many claim ignorance of what players tells me that they are either lying or so incredibly unaware of their surroundings that it would be impossible for them to manage at the professional level. Add to this that LaRussa, a lawyer is no dummy; he knows people and can read what is going on and his claim that the first that he knew of McGuire’s steroids use was when McGuire called him yesterday it is hard to believe. However, in defense of LaRussa I do believe as he told “Mike and Mike” on ESPN that he believed that he felt bound by some of the things going on in the game regarding players unions and other factors that he and others were slow to respond. Other managers, coaches and team owners, while not lawyers are certainly adept at knowing people; and could not have been unaware of the use of steroids and other banned substances by their players. Good coaches know when players are lying.
This is not just a player’s issue it extends to management and also to the players union, the media members who on a daily basis associated with players, coaches and managers and even ownership who turned a blind eye to the obvious. If steroid abuse was a big deal that they thought was wrong they all, including the player’s union should have instituted stringent testing measures when the allegations about major stars began to surface.
Likewise there is baseball’s knowing tolerance of cheaters in the past, to include current members of the hall of fame. It was common knowledge that in earlier times players were using amphetamines to quicken their response on the field, while others played drunk or under the influence of illegal drugs. Then there were the players such as pitcher Gaylord Perry who in his biography after he retired from the game admitted using the “spit ball” which was never legal during his career and was still voted into the Hall of Fame. To now throw these players under the bus while not holding ownership, management, coaching staffs, team medical staffs and even the media responsible for not policing this and nipping it in the bud is absolutely hypocritical. If we want to apply a standard we have to be consistent in the way that we do it. If Gaylord Perry can be in the Hall of Fame after admitting to using an illegal pitch why can’t the players who used steroids? I can see little moral difference between the two.
Now did McGuire and others actions harm the game itself? In one sense yes, using these substances they did cheat, but they are not the first and will not be the last to do so. Likewise the fact that they used these drugs places the records that they set in the strange netherworld of trying to determine how much of their performance was effected by the use of these drugs. Unfortunately there is no quantifiable way to do so. McGuire says that he does not think that they did but apologized to the son of Roger Maris. In another sense no, like the players who cheated before them and were not banned from baseball, who did not have their records questioned and who in some cases are in the Hall of Fame did no real permanent harm to the game. Baseball still survived and maybe one day like Gaylord Perry they will be appreciated. I doubt that will happen anytime soon but it may.
That is the dirty little secret. I wish McGuire and all the rest of those implicated in any way with steroids had come clean years ago. I wish that managers like LaRussa had not tolerated this or had come up and said that they did not believe it to be wrong if indeed as LaRussa says that he believes McGuire when he says that he did it because of career threatening injuries. If that were to happen to me I am sure that I would use any means to stay in the game and I will not condemn McGuire for this. Instead baseball ownership, management, the player’s union and the media have tried to have it both ways. They turned a blind eye to what was happening and many are now crying crocodile tears and throwing the players who made them millions of dollars under the bus. At least LaRussa has brought McGuire who regardless of his use of steroids is one of the greatest hitters to play the game back into the game to be a hitting coach. I commend LaRussa for doing this as it shows that men like McGuire do not need to remain outside of baseball. I do hope that other organizations will have the decency to do the same with others of this era.
To me it matters not if any of them get in the Hall of Fame, however if they admit their use even belatedly they should be forgiven and allowed to be part of the game that for a time they were the centerpiece of its success. Who can ever forget the magical summer of 1998 and how we all were enthralled by what took place on the diamonds that year? Can anyone who watched the home run derby ever forget it? I won’t and I still will never forget the day that McGuire broke the record even if the record is tainted because of his use of steroids. The records are now tainted and nothing can change that. The reputations of McGuire, Sosa and others ruined. But for a time it was magic and it is now time to move forward as we cannot change the past but we can learn from it and make sure that it does not happen again. Baseball means too much to America to remain stuck in an era that is now an unfortunate part of the history of the game.
By the way, only a few weeks left until spring training.