Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mark McGwire and "Performance-Enhancing Drugs"


From the ESPN story on Mark McGwire's admission that he used steroids during his Major League Baseball career:

Told by Costas that certain Maris family members have said that they now consider Roger Maris' 61 the authentic home run record, McGwire responded: "They have every right to."

And yes, they do have every right to ... but the whole thing is just kind of silly.

McGwire used "performance-enhancing drugs" (steroids).

Maris used at least one "performance-enhancing drug" (tobacco) and died of a disease (Hodgkins' lymphoma) associated with use of another (human growth hormone), although if he was using HGH at any time in his career he was certainly among the earliest to do so.

I wouldn't be surprised if both of them consumed coffee or cola before games, too.

Athletes have used "performance-enhancing drugs" ever since there have been athletes and substances thought to enhance their performance.

I remember the 1998 season and the Jim Rome argument, which I hope he stands by to this day, and which I consider dispositive.

The argument? "70."



In 1998 I was a factory worker, on graveyard shift via a 45-minute commute. That meant that on any given weeknight, my radio would be tuned to the 50,000-Watt Blowtorch of South Texas, WOAI 1200 AM, for "The Jungle" -- The Jim Rome Show.

The big issue at the end of the 1998 baseball season was "who should be the National League's MVP?" Sammy Sosa had his advocates, and they'd make their arguments.

Or try to, anyway. Anytime a caller to Rome's show started in, Rome would cut the caller off with one word: "70." End of argument.

Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs in 1998. Not Mark McGwire and a robotic arm. Not Mark McGwire and a bat with cork in it. Not Mark McGwire and a ball with a metal core and an electro-magnet on the far side of the left field fence. Mark McGwire, period.

I've never been a huge Cardinals fan.

St. Louis and KC were pretty much equidistant from my childhood home. KC had a nicer stadium and I had better seats in it due to a story too long to go into here. Suffice it to say that at Royals Stadium, Vida Blue spoke to me once when he came out of the bullpen, whereas at Busch Stadium, I saw nine tiny dots (the Atlanta Braves) whip nine other tiny dots (the Cardinals). Also, I bet everything I had and then some on KC in the '85 series (I was at a school with a student body composed mostly of St. Louis Suckers) and they came through for me. And since the Cards' owners (aggregate net worth in excess of $10 billion) raped the taxpayers for their new stadium, I want nothing to do with them.

Then there was the player strike, and I lost interest in Major League Baseball pretty much entirely, and never really have got the bug back.

Except for the tail end of the 1998 season, that is. I tuned in to every Cards game I could that August and September, for one reason and one reason only: To be watching (or listening) when Mark McGwire hit home run #62. And yes, I was watching when he knocked Steve Trachsel's pitch over the left field wall at 7:18pm Central Time on on September 8th. You bet your sweet ass I was a Cardinals fan that night.

Did the steroids make the difference? I don't think so. Even if they bulked him up, there's a lot more than muscle mass to hitting a home run. If you think otherwise, I invite you to shoot yourself full of'em and see if you suddenly gain the ability to knock a professional pitcher's fastball over a wall 330 feet away (for example -- that was the left-field wall at the old Busch stadium) 62 times in a season.

Even if they did, I could argue that Roger Maris's cheek full of Red Man or pre-game Coca-Cola made the difference, too.

"What was the record for home runs in a season as of the end of 1998?"

"Well, in 1961, Roger Maris --"

"70."

"Should Mark McGwire be admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame?"

"Well, you know, he avoided questions on whether or not he used ste ..."

"70."

"70."

"70."

"70."

"70."

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