Mark McGwire recently announced that he took steroids off and on for about a decade. He also announced that the sky is blue. It's no secret that Mark McGwire used steroids. In 1998 a reporter noticed a small brown bottle of Androstenedione, an over the counter steroid hormone which, at that time, was a perfectly legal supplement in baseball but illegal in the NFL, Olympics, and the NCAA.
It's been years since the embarrassing Congressional inquiry and the Mitchell Report. McGwire has been out of baseball since he retired in 2001. A member of the holy trinity of home run kings with Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, McGwire is now the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. One step in his redemption was admitting wrongdoing. Sure, he probably should have done it under oath but whatever. We're splitting hairs.
Once again, it's time for everyone to repeat the same tired complaints about steroid use during the 1990s.
Many sports writers and fans lament about the purity of the game and the legitimacy of records within the game of baseball now that the game has been "tainted" by needles and creams in the steroid era. We've come to the conclusion that during that magical time many players may have had an unnatural and unfair advantage. We're over it. Baseball has mandatory drug testing now and the 50-game loss for steroid use was much needed.
What people fail to realize is that people like McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, and others saved baseball. Disagree all you want, but baseball was on life support after the 1994 strike. Attendance increased steadily to record numbers. Why? Because guys like McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds were hitting massive amounts of home runs and the game became exciting once more. Your new stadiums were built on the increase of baseball awareness due to the increase of home runs. AT&T Park, one of the most beautiful stadiums in all of baseball, is truly the house that Bonds built.
The "purity of baseball" is a myth perpetuated by baseball historians and journalists who feign moral superiority about an imperfect game. Baseball is a cheater's game. It always has been and always will be. Allow me to introduce you to one Pud Galvin, a Hall of Fame pitcher from the dead ball era. He would inject himself with monkey testosterone. He was also the first professional player to be widely known for using performance-enhancing drugs over 100 years before the careers of any of the fervor of steroid use. During the 1970s, almost every player was using amphetamines, nicknamed "greenies." Just read Jim Bouton's Ball Four for all the stories about those.
Here's a little random fact. Did you know that Anabolic Steroids were originally synthesized in the 1930s? More food for thought: think about the fact that steroids were in fact available during the "clean eras"; the good old days of yore. A time when men were men and baseball players supposedly weren't injecting themselves before games.
Beyond steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, players and coaches have always done anything for an advantage no matter how slight. Gaylord Perry, Joe Niekro, Whitey Ford, and Don Sutton have all doctored pitches. Shortstop Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians was hit in the head and killed by notorious spitballer Carl Mays. The 1951 New York Giants, famous for their thirteen and a half game comeback and Bobby Thompson's "Shot Heart 'Round the World," had an elaborate sign stealing system involving a coach with a telescope and signals to hitters. More recently there have been stories about the Minnesota Twins messing around with the ventilation system in order to give the home team an advantage, rumors of players stealing signs in the playoffs, Chan Ho Park spitting on the ball this year, Kenny Rogers' brown spot on his hand in the 2006 playoffs, so on and so forth.
Baseball has never, ever been a pure sport and anyone who believes otherwise barely understands the history of it. Blacks weren't integrated until Jackie Robinson and even then teams like the Boston Red Sox intentionally discriminated against black players and refused to put them on the team. In fact, the Commissioner at that time, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the man whom the MVP award is named after, prolonged the segregation of Major League Baseball. People cite Barry Bonds' personality issues as a reason not to vote for him for the Hall of Fame, yet idolize players like Ty Cobb who was a racist, played dirty, and cheated to boot.
There is no doubt that steroids have hurt the legacy of certain players and may have damaged those who may have never injected themselves with any substance. Guilty by association. This outrage against McGwire and others who used steroids is absolutely absurd and has to stop. Was it a big deal? Absolutely. Did it set a bad example for the millions of children who idolize these players who gained an advantage through cheating? This continual obsession about steroids from people who have little if any understanding of the issues at hand needs to stop.
It's time to move on and allow these players to secure their legacies despite using questionable means. Everyone knows that steroids changed the game, perhaps for the worst. These players were still superstars. Steroids only decrease rehab from injuries and increase muscle mass. Talent in baseball takes much more than that. Most importantly, that time has changed. MLB has instituted a strict no steroid policy. They carefully test for a wide array of performance-enhancing substances, not just steroids. This is the legacy that Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, and others have left. Now there are rules in place so it never happens again. These are good things.
So are redemption and forgiveness.