I was tickled to hear that Mark McGwire was coming back to MLB as a hitting coach for the Cardinals. From everything I’ve ever read or heard about him, he was/is an excellent student of the game and would have seemed a natural choice as a hitting coach.
Nearly a decade ago – McGwire was still playing – I was interviewing several friends of the great slugger, and you couldn’t help but come away from the experience impressed by literally every word you heard uttered about him.
I won’t pretend that all parties were completely unbiased, but the depth and unabashed sincerity about their comments made it clear that McGwire was not your typical millionaire professional athlete.
If we concede that his 2005 testimony in front of a cabal of grandstanding politicians was perhaps a bit ham-handed, it can also be stipulated that much has changed in the steroid landscape since then. When I was kid it was never even remotely acceptable to invoke the “everybody’s doing it” defense with my mother, but it may just have to suffice in our ongoing debate over the tainted era of, say, the late 1980s to 2003 or so.
It will interesting over the coming days to see what tack McGwire takes in dealing with the media behemoth that now confronts him. One suspects that the only reasonable strategy would be to offer some admission in an attempt to deflect a never-ending stream of questions, and then politely insist that the topic needs no additional rehashing.
Even that much of a concession I wouldn’t have typically endorsed because there was no testing when he was playing, but given all that has come out over the past four or five years, “taking the fifth,” – figuratively speaking – doesn’t seem feasible. And as much as it pains me to do so, I have to admit that Jose Canseco’s batting average in outing his doping colleagues has been way higher than anything he ever recorded on the field.
But saying Canseco’s been right quite consistently is not the same thing as saying he was right in what he did. If you concede that McGwire has already paid an extremely high price in terms of the public’s perception of his career, you can’t help but ponder that Jose may be facing an even more onerous tally for being the guy doing so much finger pointing.
I am convinced that McGwire is going to get a second chance with first the public at large and, over time, with the BBWAA. Canseco, it seems, is never likely to be forgiven by anybody – not so much for his steroid antics, but for all the squealing on buddies. I’ll just betcha that’s the part that keeps him from getting a good night’s sleep.