If I had the chance to sit down with Mark McGwire, I would have many things to say. Questions to ask. Personal thoughts to convey. As most, if not all, who have followed Baseball through the mid 90's know that "Big Mac" has been surrounded by controversy. Those that I have talked to have a strong opinion about McGwire and his place in Baseball history, and it's not a favorable opinion.
I, on the other hand, look as his situation in a different light. We all know that McGwire admitted to using Androstenedione in 1998, which was legal at the time in the MLB. That is the only concrete proof of McGwire and his steriod use. Everything else is hearsay. So let's take a look back......
In McGwires' rookie season for Oakland in 1987, he set the single season home run record for rookies with 49 and won the A.L. Rookie of the Year. He won a Gold Glove in 1990. Voted to 9 All Star games while with th A's with a stretch of 6 consecutive appearances from 1987 thru 1992.
On August 12th of 1994, Major League Baseball went on strike. A strike that would last 232 days, cancel the postseason and World Series for the first time since 1904. Matt Williams was on pace to break Roger Maris' single season Home Run record. Tony Gwynn was on pace to end the season at or above the .400 mark, with a batting average of .394,which has not been done since Ted Williams. A team was having their best season in their history, the Montreal Expos, and were considered by many to be World Series contenders. And perhaps one of the strangest trades in history took place that strike season.The trade, in short, ended up being Dave Winfield from the Twins to the Indians for a player to be named. A player was not named before the strike and to settle the deal, the two teams' executives went to dinner and Cleveland paid for dinner. Winfield was traded for dinner!
Fans were angry at Owners and Players. Reports at the time said that baseball would take 10-20 years to recover, if ever.
Then came the 1998 season.
Sammy Sosa and McGwire engaged themselves in a season long home run contest. A contest that would captivate baseball fans, bringing back some of the very fans that swore to never go to a game again and bringing in new, young fans. Sosa and McGwire battled back and forth all season. Then on September 8th, McGwire crushed a pitch off of Steve Trachsel of the Cubs, Sammy Sosas' Cubs, to Left field breaking Maris' record of 61. Sosa came in from the outfield to congradulate McGwire. That chase is widely regarded for saving baseball.
Mark stepped away from baseball after the 2001 season. Rumors ran amuck about his steriod use. Then came 2005 and a trip to Capitol Hill to face a Congressional Committee and a hearing on steroid use in baseball. Jose Canseco had written a book with various claims, including McGwire and his alleged use of steroids since the 80's. A book that, at the time, was considered as a way for Canseco to make money and had no factual proof to go with his claims. Then the Mitchell Report came out. That report seemed to verify some of what was written in Cansecos' book, Except McGwire was NEVER mentioned in the report. On March 17th, McGwire was in front of the Committee and had this to say as his opening statment:
" Asking me or any other player to answer questions about who took steroids in front of television cameras will not solve the problem. If a player answers "No", he simply will not be believed; if he answers "Yes", he risks public scorn and endless government investigations...... My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jepardizing my friends, my family, and myself. I will say, however, that it remains a fact in this country that a man, any man, should be regarded as innocent until proven guilty"
When asked if he was asserting his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself McGwire responded:
" I'm not here to talk about the past, I'm here to be possitive about this subject."
Everyone, including myself, was expecting anything but that. At that time, I was upset that he didn't deny or admit to anything, But he didn't have to.
Now his brother, Jay, who has a strained relationship with Mark and the two have not spoken for some time, is pushing a book that he wrote to be published that claims he introduced Mark to steroids in 1994. Wait, didn't Canseco claim that McGwire was doing steroids in the 80's? Anywho, at this moment, nobody is willing to publish this so called book. Good. Jay claims that he is doing this for Mark. If so Jay, every dime you make, donate it to the Mark McGwire Foundation for Children.
Many people think that, if there was never a steroid scandal, Mark would have still dissappeared from public eye. But now he has been publicly tried and convicted by the public and more importantly, the media. Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa has come out in support of Big Mac. LaRussa has offered McGwire coaching postions which Mark has turned down. How unfortunate. LaRussa has said that McGwire should be in the Hall. I agree. If for only the fact that McGwire played a HUGE part in saving baseball. On the field.
Recently, McGwire has been working with Oakland A's outfielder Matt Holliday and short stop Bobby Crosby. Crosby has been on the outs in Oakland, mostly for his lack of offensive production, and lack of health. McGwire has helped Crosby with his mechanics at the plate prompting Holliday to say, " I don't know what he (Crosby) looked like before, but from the first day he hit with us to now.... He's pretty drastically different." and " I don't know Bobby career wise, so I can't say what he used to look like, but he looks great to me. I think Mark's helped him alot, so I'm excited for him."
So if I had the chance to sit down with McGwire, I would say........
Thank you for saving baseball. Thank you for one of the greatest seasons in baseball history. Thank you for offering your wisdom of hitting. Thank you for the memories that captivated a country. You are and always will be one of the greats to me. If you feel shamed, don't. You didn't create this mess, Bud Selig did. You're just a casualty, but don't ever hang your head. You still have fans that love and respect you and I am one of them.
Thank You Mark McGwire.