McGwire's Confession Risks Nothing, Gains Nothing
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On Monday, former home run hitter Mark McGwire talked to sports broadcaster Bob Costas in an attempt to restore his good name.
He had a lot of restoring to do.
McGwire was one of those super-sized sluggers who were knocking out home runs at a record rate in the nineties. And, like his peers – Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa – McGwire was widely rumored to be taking steroids.
In fact, the FBI gave the commissioner of baseball a list of 70 players they discovered were taking steroids, including McGwire -- two decades ago. The commissioner, of course, promptly did absolutely nothing, because he was too hooked on the home runs that were saving baseball from itself after he had canceled the 1994 World Series.
And the hits just kept on coming. In 1998, McGwire broke one of the game’s most revered records when he shattered Roger Maris’s old mark of 61 home runs in a season by smashing 70. He was a national hero.
But the gig was up five years ago when McGwire’s former teammate, Jose Canseco, published a tell-all book in which he named names – including McGwire. You know you’re in a cesspool when the only guy telling the truth, Canseco, is a convicted felon.
Canseco’s book led to a Congressional hearing the same year. When it was McGwire’s turn to testify, he famously said, “I am not here to talk about the past.” Unfortunately, “the past” is usually what Congressional hearings are all about.
It was a public relations disaster. When the Hall of Fame voters turned their ballots in the next year, less than 25-percent voted for McGwire. A player needs three times that to get in. He’s not done any better since – and now he’s going to help coach the St. Louis Cardinals. He wants a clean slate.
Thus, Monday’s “Hail Mary” interview, in which McGwire said, “It was a mistake.” No, picking the wrong restaurant for dinner is a mistake. Injecting yourself with illegal steroids for fame and fortune is a deal with the devil.
He also said, “I regret I played in the steroids era.” That’s like Bernie Madoff saying, “I regret I was an investor during the Ponzi Scheme era.” Sorry, it doesn’t cut it.
But then, even more absurdly, McGwire said, with a straight face, that he didn’t take steroids to hit more home runs – no! -- but for “health purposes.” In other words, we should ignore the fact that his season-high home run total skyrocketed from 49 to 70 – or that he played with the faith of 300 million people, to update The Great Gatsby’s take on the Black Sox scandal.
It seems to me a real confession is marked by sincerity, not self-interest. Its value is directly related to how much the confessor risks by making it.
In McGwire’s case, he fudged so much that it’s hard to call it a confession at all, and he was risking absolutely nothing. Everybody already knew he took steroids, and his chance to be brave about it came and went years ago. We knew he was a fraud as a player. On Monday we learned he’s also a fraud as a person, as well. McGwire’s just trying to scam us -- again.
If we can apply Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief to McGwire’s mess, we can see he’s gone from stage one, denial, to stage three, bargaining – but he’s still a long way from the final stage, honest acceptance.
And he is just as far from the front doors of Cooperstown.
Copyright © 2010, Michigan Radio
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