Ahead of the Curve
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The off-season hiring of a batting coach usually flies under the radar and never creates controversy.  But when that coach is Mark McGwire, it's a news story that has legs.

Writer Tom Verducci (SI.com / 12-9-09) believes Big Mac's return to St. Louis is an "encouraging sign that the emotion and vituperation (?) of The Steroid Era has waned."  I think that's poppycock.  Just this year, steroid scandals were swirling around the game's two biggest stars, Alex Rodriquez and Manny Ramirez.

And then there's the elephant in Tom Verducci's news room.  Big brother of the steroid pachyderm shadowing Mark, Tom's is called the tale of HGH (human growth hormone): the holy grail of PEDs.  He's not a user, of course.  You might say he and his peers are enablers.  By not pressing the story on MLB's failure to test blood, another tainted season is in the books.

Until the money men of baseball believe that a clean game is best for business, the complex PED problem is here to stay.

McGwire's hiring has nothing to do with emotions on steroids and everything to do with the friendship between Tony LaRussa and his former player.  LaRussa cares about his friend and wants to help McGwire get back on his baseball feet.

I agree with Verducci that Mark need not apologize for using steroids.  Fan's played dumb about their influence on the game while those in the business of baseball gave tacit approval by honoring a code of silence, broken only when Jose Canseco came out with his book Juiced.

But stonewalling Congress?  For an athlete who retired young, earned millions, has a sweet pension and wants back into that cushy world (when so many others are jobless), I don't think an explanation on his refusal to speak to the people is asking too much.

Tom writes: "(Mark) does owe...his new employer (an explanation)."  How very elitist.

An "admission" to using steroids isn't key for what it adds to the "body of evidence," but for the sincerity, the character it demonstrates.  Character (or it's absence) factors into decisions on the MVP, Hall of Fame and every job application from bus-boy to writer.

We all sympathized with players who were compelled to go before Congress because we knew they were scared and made scapegoats.  But when thrown to the lions you've still gotta' step-up and fight.  If Tom Verducci really wants to help his friend, he'll encourage Mark to take some responsibility, silence his lawyers and apologize for his arrogance.

Bill Buckner couldn't have apologized enough to appease critics for his gaffe.  But fans want to forgive Mark.  Go figure.  He just needs to be brave enough to give them the chance.

Steven Keys

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