Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Big Mac Admits What We Already Knew

Mark McGwire has finally admitted what everyone has expected for the better part of 10 years: that he used performance-enhancing steroids while he was playing baseball. The fact that he went from a guy who had the physique of a basketball player to a guy who looked like he could punch through an engine block all but convinced everyone that McGwire was on the juice. Five years ago, when he was called in front of Congress to testify about steroids, he bebopped and scatted all around the issue (as opposed to Sosa and Palmeiro, who outright lied). Since he retired, he's been in virtual seclusion, lending more credence to the fact that maybe he had something important weighing on his mind. And now, he's come out and spilled the beans. And I'm going to do something nutty and defend the guy a little bit.

Remember Skinny McGwire, the one that went to three World Series in the late '80s/early '90s?

That McGwire averaged 36 HRs and 100 RBI a year. Obviously, he had some power hitting ability. And this was before the juice.

But then, in '93, McGwire had a foot injury that put him out of commission for two years. This is approximately when McGwire admits he started using steroids in order to speed up his recovery.

Now, steroid treatment, particularly after surgery, is a very commonplace recovery therapy. I'm willing to bet that a lot of people have taken the steroid Prednisone at some point in their lives. Remember when Jerry Lewis got really fat around the turn of the millennium? That was from Prednisone. That's one of the side effects of steroids: You bulk up. When McGwire took steroids, he bulked up too. The difference between him and Lewis was that McGwire took better steroids and hit the gym like a motherfucker.

Which led to Incredible Hulk McGwire:

(Nice mustache, douche.)

This is the McGwire that would break Roger Maris' HR mark of 61 twice in two years. This is the McGwire that hit 284 HRs over the next five years, almost 50 more than in the previous nine. Now he really had some power hitting ability.

But...what if?

What if he hadn't gotten injured? What if he hadn't needed the steroids to recover? What if he'd continued along the path he'd set in his early years? He'd still have about 530 HRs, plus he might have played longer than 16 years, as nagging injuries wouldn't have shortened his career. In this bizarro world, where baseball players don't take steroids, McGwire may have hit 583 HRs without any sort of performance enhancement.

See, the thing with steroids is...as soon as that word "steroids" comes out, everyone immediately forgets that the offending player had any baseball ability to begin with. It's as though a 98-pound weakling who couldn't even lift a bat took steroids and was suddenly better than Hank Aaron.

But that's not the case. The shitty players that take steroids, like Jason Grimsley and David Segui, for example, continue to be shitty. As I've mentioned before, if I took steroids, I'd probably turn into a fatass. But if I got really motivated, I could hit the gym and turn that bulk into a serious muscular situation. In my current drug-free form, I can't hit a goddamn ball off a tee; what's adding 40 pounds of muscle mass going to do to improve that?

The All-Star players that have all been busted for or accused of steroid use, like McGwire, Petitte, Clemens, Bonds, A-Rod, etc, etc, were great before they even got on steroids. The steroids made them greater. But, without that initial greatness, they'd just be average Joes trying to get an edge. I know this is hard for many to believe, but, if that list of 104 that tested positive for steroids is ever made public, I don't think it will be composed entirely of the last 15 years' All-Star lineups. It's a handful of superstars, most of whom we already know, and a whole lot of guys who are more likely to make the waivers list than the All-Star team.

And this is where we come back to McGwire. Would he have been great without steroids? He was a six-time All-Star before he used steroids. He was one of the best HR hitters in baseball. But, as I mentioned earlier, that all gets forgotten as soon as he's labeled a steroid user. He wouldn't have hit 70 HRs in '98 without steroids, that's for sure. But he would still have hit a ton. And that's the tragedy: All of his accomplishments, clean or not, get shit on. His whole career gets tainted, regardless of when he started the steroids.

That's a damn shame.

Speaking of shames, I don't think it's a coincidence that McGwire made this announcement less than a week after his fourth consecutive poor showing on the Hall of Fame ballot. I think he figured he's not going to make it anyway, why not forego the inevitable and completely close that door. Yet these sportswriter dummies, some of whom can't even be bothered to fill out their ballots, are still talking about whether or not this steroid revelation will hurt his Hall of Fame chances. I'm going to answer that question with three short words: not at all. What really hurts his Hall of Fame chances is the fact that the non-HR part of his stat line stinks. Rob Deer hit a lot of homers, and, well...did he even make it to a second ballot?

Sorry, Mac. You were a great player, but 1600 hits just doesn't cut it. And that's got nothing to do with steroids.

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