McGwire’s Rhetoric Boils Down to Protecting the MLB System
Mark McGwire will no longer discuss his use of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone in baseball, so says a spokesperson for the St. Louis Cardinals, according to www.sportingnews.com.
And I say, Thank God. In my 50 years as a Missourian, I cannot recall a public persona capable of tainting this state like McGwire has since 1998.
St. Louis is laughingstock once more over McGwire, after he returned from years’ seclusion in California, hiding his doping secrets, only to receive an orchestrated standing ovation from loyal Cardinals fans at a benefit gala last Sunday. In so-called self-admissions since January 11, McGwire urges everyone to “move on” and forget the gargantuan fraud he generated from the city in 1998, abetted by a fawning media horde, as he launched 70 homeruns for the Cardinals to become world hero of the year.
The Cardinals franchise is slimed gain, badly, in the 12-year Big Mac Fiasco kept alive by cavalier manager Tony La Russa, himself a suitcase Californian inhabiting St. Louis part-time—and McGwire’s steroid enabler, defender and BFF since their affair began in the 1980s at Oakland. La Russa arrived as Cards skipper in 1996 and brought McGwire a year later in a trade with the A’s, spawning the most sordid chapter in franchise history. The ugly story isn’t over, of course, upon La Russa’s recent hiring of McGwire as team hitting coach.
Besides national scorn, infighting besets Cardinals Nation over McGwire, beginning with the fans’ split—many if not most blast him in public forums—and extending to the insider fraternity, especially between camps of La Russa and popular Hall of Fame skipper Whitey Herzog, who managed Jack Clark, the retired Redbirds power hitter. Last week Clark ripped McGwire and other steroid users in baseball, making hot headlines and, in St. Louis, drawing boos from the same fans who re-embraced Big Mac.
Herzog groused about it all to a reporter for The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wisconsin. “I’ve got nothing to do with him (McGwire),” Herzog said Tuesday. “I don’t want to comment on steroids because they’re all lying. And they’re still lying. … The people in St. Louis give Mark McGwire a standing ovation the other day, and Jack Clark said every steroid user should be banned for baseball, and they booed him. Now, what the hell is the matter with society when that happens?”
A society bereft of strong values is in play here, for McGwire is not unusual with his situational ethics, as an athlete or any professional. He’s just typical of win-at-all-costs culture in modern America. Many people cheer him because they understand him, including for injecting steroids and HGH to reach a zenith of athletic achievement. He feels no responsibility to anyone for his doping in entertainment baseball. He loves his wife and sons, but at age 46 couldn’t care less about widespread doping in sport, given his actions, nor the thousands of young athletes drawn into steroids every year. Many Americans wouldn’t care either, were we to follow the McGwire path through American sport, fame and fortune.
McGwire doesn’t aspire to be heroic anymore, merely pragmatic. A tempest rages about the man and we critics strike from every direction, our barbs labeling him a liar, cheat, poor role model—but his simple motive is to go back to work in baseball. That drives his outlandish statements; he does care about Major League Baseball. McGwire’s “admission” of doping while denying performance enhancement is certainly ridiculous, self-serving; most importantly, however, the flimsy rhetoric insulates the drug-ridden MLB system, where prevention is impossible, like in any sport, with testing a time-proven failure for gaping loopholes.
McGwire is a powerful symbol of steroids for performance enhancement, but he is no different than 99 percent of American athletes caught for muscle doping since the 1980s, in baseball, football, track and field, more sport. McGwire wants to return to his game and therefore takes a hit for the team, in jock cliché.
A few thousand drug-sullied athletes took the fall before, blaming themselves only in order to come back, and McGwire takes his turn now, following proven talking points for shielding the system and training responsibility solely upon him, the individual.
Blathering in established nonsense of the protocol, McGwire portrays himself to have been an “isolated” user—the enduring lie of sport figures to deflect attention from a systemic problem. McGwire claims he doesn’t know or remember much beyond using tissue-building hormones for most his career in the big leagues. He says he used HGH “maybe” once or twice. He claims he neither used nor discussed muscle drugs with other players or baseball personnel, no one, and especially not La Russa. McGwire summarily dismisses allegations by former A’s teammate Jose Canseco and an FBI informant that he juiced heavily to aid his power hitting.
McGwire says using steroids to become a richly rewarded superstar was “a mistake,” his “biggest regret.” And his absurd claim of no performance enhancement from the drugs—McGwire says the effect of injury recovery wasn’t an unfair advantage—serves the system by attempting to preserve the sanctity of his garish numbers, particularly the 70 homers in one season, later topped by the 73 dingers of doped-up Barry Bonds.
McGwire says he doesn’t feel unfairly singled out for drugs in Major League Baseball, and he seconds that by stating the game has no widespread problem, even if he couldn’t articulate well on Sunday in St. Louis. “Baseball’s done a fantastic job, uh, uh, doing uh, uh, doing—cracking down on the uh, with uh, drug policy…,” McGwire stammered in a hasty hallway meeting with two dozen reporters who were misled and herded for hours by Cardinals PR, another tactic for stifling information damaging to employer baseball.
McGwire struggled to finish about a clean MLB system, continuing: “Uh, doing the things they’re doing, and, uh, from what I’ve heard, they’re improving, improving it (testing and policy). Um… so, it’s—they’ve done a fantastic job, the players association, (commissioner) Bud Selig.”
And so went the Cardinals’ dog-and-pony presser for McGwire at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, a high-profile sideshow of the circus known as Winter Warm-Up fund raiser with fans, where autographs for left fielder Matt Holliday cost $100. In barely five minutes of questions from us reporters, McGwire uttered “uh” more often than Beavis and Butthead through an entire cartoon episode. This McGwire comedy naturally concluded with his protecting the system a final time, in response to another prying question.
“Mark, you really didn’t tell Tony (La Russa) that you used steroids?” a reporter asked.
“Absolutely,” McGwire began, before falling apart again. “Tony had, Tony… Tony La Russa—I kept this to myself. I… Ya know what? I, I spoke from my heart. And I spoke honestly the other night (with Costas). And, listen, that’s me. And I hope you all can accept this. And let’s all move on from this. Baseball, baseball…” McGwire paused for media yelling of further questions that he ignored while continuing: “Baseball is great right now. Baseball’s better, and let’s just all move on.”
Gladly, I thought, watching McGwire slip back through doors to a service corridor, in escape with his handlers. Please keep going until you hit California—and take La Russa with you.