Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Big Mac Comes Clean... So What's Your Problem?

As predicted by many, including myself in this space, on Monday Mark McGwire finally did come clean about his use of steroids and HGH throughout his professional baseball career. McGwire initially issued a statement to the AP on Monday afternoon, then sat down for an hour-long interview with Bob Costas that was broadcast live on the MLB Network later in the evening.

If you listen long enough to discourse about any public figure who has committed a major transgression, you will hear that America is a "forgiving country" or some variation on this theme. So why in the world are so many people so upset that McGwire's confession and apology are not enough?

Very few talking heads are giving the Big Red One a whole lot of credit for the steps he took yesterday, with Joe Posnanski being one notable exception. Why is that?

Mark McGwire is clearly a very shy and private person. He was never especially outgoing with the media and public as a player, and while many castigate him for disappearing after the infamous March 2005 Congressional hearings, let's not forget he had disappeared for the three and a half years after he retired and before he was summoned to Capitol Hill too.

McGwire became the first player out of hundreds or thousands who used steroids during the * era to do what he did, which was admit it, apologize for it and do so on live television, unrehearsed. Ken Caminiti was quoted in a magazine. Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez made no such admissions until they were caught. We all may have had suspicions about McGwire, we may have "known," but we did not know until yesterday. And we found out not because his chemist's office was raided or because his trainer got busted. We found out because he told us.

I watched McGwire's entire interview with Bob Costas, my wife even bringing dinner to me on the couch so I could remain and watch. In that hour, I saw a contrite man, one who was visibly broken on live national television because of sorrow and regret about decisions he had made years prior. I saw a man who took the extraordinary step of calling Roger Maris' widow to apologize for what he'd done, and wore the burden of a man who knew he had disappointed and let down millions.

So why are many media types, and fans at large, treating him like he's trying one of the diversionary tactics we've seen from many other accused, be it outright lying, denial of what you were taking or 'knowing usage', or my personal favorite, forgetting how to speak a language you are known to be fluent in. McGwire did none of this. He took sole responsibility for what he did, casting no blaming arrows or pointed fingers at anyone but himself.

There were parts of the interview that didn't track. He said he didn't want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Lou Ferrigno, but we all kind of thought he did in the '90s. He said no one knew about his use until Monday morning, but also said that Rep. Tom Davis, Chairman of the Congressional Committee McGwire had testitifed in front of, did in fact know that McGwire used and wanted to testify as such. McGwire appeared nervous, as seen in his several mistakes in syntax and conjugation. But this was live TV, a real apology, and there was no script.

I think part of the reason (maybe the main reason) that he's under fire today is because he would not say that the drugs had enhanced his performance. And you know what? He probably believes that. To be an athlete at that level, to be at the very top of the heap among the very best players in the world carries with it a certain degree of self-confidence that must border on arrogance, if not plunge right in. Find me one elite athlete who doesn't think like that. Michael Jordan? Tiger Woods? I don't think so. The mindset is part of what makes them great. If McGwire believes he would have been as great as he was without the drugs, and he said otherwise, doesn't that make him a fraud? Would we rather have a phony that sounds like we want him to than someone who is sincere and truthful? I wouldn't.

The other element that bothers me about media and fans alike complaining about McGwire's apology is that we are all complicit in this wrong, and we all participated in it. Did Tom Verducci, Ken Rosenthal or Tim Kurkjian or a host of others in the media think something was going on in the game back in 1998? Yes they did. And what did they do about it? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not a thing. So for them to have the audacity to sit on TV and criticize McGwire for how he apologed is absurd. The baseball media have no moral high ground to criticize McGwire for using steroids when they were complicit in it, and they certainly have no high ground to criticize his apology. When is the media going to apologize for laughing at jokes about syringes and expanding hat sizes back acne? When is the media going to take responsibility for what it didn't do and pay the price for it, the same way McGwire and others have?

And who else is just as guilty and stained by this era? You and I are. I remember being in high school on September 8th, 1998, watching the Cardinals- Cubs game in my family room as McGwire drove a Steve Trachsel pitch over the left field fence for his 62nd home run. A Phillies fan, I didn't care at all who won the game, but as the ball cleared the fence at Busch Stadium, I leapt up from the couch jubilantly at the sight of baseball history. Even as a teenager I had suspiscions about McGwire and Sosa, and several others throughout baseball. And you know what. I didn't care. The events were too big, the games were too fun, and hey, how could I really know for sure.

If you were a baseball fan in 1998 and you say you didn't have similar feelings to mine, there's a word for that: lying. You loved the home run race, you thought something might be off, and you didn't care. No one did.

And so as Mark McGwire, the one time *home run champ and real-life embodiment of Paul Bunyan, wept for a national audience, I felt a little bit of his pain. Because I knew I helped contribute, even if only very, very slightly, to putting him in that seat on that night.

And you did too.

Don't you dare criticize the apology for a wrong you helped commit.

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