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…. Out of order

SI’s Jon Heyman offers this explanantion for not voting for Mark McGwire on is Hall of Fame ballot:

…. McGwire denied taking steroids for years, right up until the point he was placed under oath. Then, with the circumstances changed and the stakes higher, he took a powder.

The only plausible reason to refuse to comment or cooperate to Congress is that he had plenty to hide. There is no other way to explain his performance. His defenders will claim he had a bad day. But if that’s true, what about the 21 months he’s had since then to explain himself? He continues to remain scarce, a contrast to the larger-the-life figure he cut in his later ballplaying years.

This isn’t a court of law and he isn’t on trial. But the question isn’t whether to punish McGwire, it’s whether to honor him. I can think of no good reason to do that now.

Some will claim steroids were not disallowed at the time, and that, of course, is 100 percent false. There was no testing for them during McGwire’s career, and no spelled-out punishment. But they were neither permitted in baseball nor legal in our society.

Some will say that everyone did them, and I’ll agree that many did do them. But I will say first that not everyone did do them, and most who did got away with it. While McGwire has never failed a test or confessed, in my mind he is caught. So on my ballot, his box is blank.

Every vote requires thought and judgment, and it’s hard to think any of other explanation for McGwire’s 70 home runs or his no-comment stance beyond steroids. If anyone can come up with something else plausible, I’m all ears. Until then, McGwire doesn’t get my vote.

Well, well, well. Alright, Jon, I’ll give it a shot. Here’s just a couple of things to consider:

His refusal to cooperate with those ridiculous, grand-standing Congressional hearings could have been because it was a complete circus, and if he was gonna get involved in such an important and weighty issue; he would have preferred to do so in a courtroom, or a grand jury hearing, or maybe even in a big meeting with MLB.

He could have wanted to protect players whom he had knowledge of, and didn’t want to unneccessarily embarass or betray his friends.

Or maybe he thought that once he started talking, there would have been no end; that no matter what he said, it wouldn’t have been enough. I mean, we are talking about a man who enjoys his privacy.

Maybe he thought that he’d have been a disappointment to his friends and family if he would have come clean, and didn’t to let anyone down.

Maybe he was taking one for the team, the team in this sense being all of baseball for the years he was there.

And maybe, just maybe, he realized that, no matter what he said, he would be judged as a cheater, as guilty by assumption. I mean, look where he is now? People say, “just look at him,” as if that’s enough. In fact, for the most part, he’s not being asked whether he did use steroids; he’s being asked to tell us that he didn’t. “While McGwire has never failed a test or confessed, in my mind he is caught.” How is McGwire supposed to overcome that? What could he say now, other than, “I did use steroids and I sorry.”

And therein lies the rub. He is in a lose-lose situation, with no way out. Here’s what I wrote about McGwire when it first became clear that he was caught in the crossfire:

…. Virtually any athlete in any sport will do just about anything to be the best of the best, and a manager or coach will push them to do so. Some athletes will push the envelope only so far, while others will throw it away, and risk their very lives, if they truly believed it would make a difference, the difference between winning and losing. We, as fans, not only ask this of them, we demand it. Their coaches demand it, their teammates demand it, the game demands it. Be the best, win at all costs, do whatever it takes; these are the credo of virtually every championship-caliber player, coach, or team.

And now, hysterical media-types are fanning the flames of controversy; “Oh no, it looks like so and so really did do whatever it takes. Shame on him!” Please. Don’t insult my inteligence. Of course he or she did, what did you expect? The only difference between what one athlete will risk as opposed to another is based on their own personal decision-making values. As for their choice, I’d ask you; is it appropriate for one person to decide what another should be willing to risk? Is it OK for you to tell me what I should be willing to do to improve my life, my career, my earning potential? Not in my book, it isn’t, not as long as my actions don’t harm anyone else, or take from anyone else.

In the five years prior to 1997, Mark McGwire played 139, 27, 47, 104, and 130 games. Was it his use of andro that allowed him to play 156, 155 and 153 over the next three, hitting 58, 70 and 65 home runs? During those five injury-riddled seasons, he hit a home run every 9.44 AB’s. In the next three, in which he played almost every game, he hit a home run every 8.17 at bats, not a tremendous difference. He stopped using andro sometime during the end of the 1998 season, right? Only one full season later, he was back on the injured list, and his career was over by 2001. If his use of andro enabled him to stay healthy enough and strong enough to get enough at bats to break Roger Maris’ record, how exactly was that wrong? Why should Mark McGwire give up his right to do whatever he can to help his body heal itself and stay strong enough to endure the rigors of baseball, his chosen profession? If there are risks involved, why shouldn’t he be the one to decide if they are worth it? It’s his life!

If it was steroids that allowed him to stay on the field instead of in the training room, the question still remains, whose life is it? Whose career are we talking about? Be the best. Do whatever it takes. Go the distance. He did. Was he wrong?


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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
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