Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Steroid Mania!


Mark McGwire in Oakland and later with St. Louis

There's been much talk in the sports world recently about former baseball player Jose Canseco's new tell-all book, most of it centered around his allegations of steroid use by potential Hall of Famers like Sammy Sosa, Ivan Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, and, most notably Mark McGwire.

That Canseco writes about injecting McGwire in the buttocks while both were members of the Oakland A's is particularly interesting, not so much for the shock value of one 250 lb. man injecting a substance into another 250 lb. man's ass (after all, Canseco claims this took place in the Oakland locker room, in the heart of the Bay Area) but because, unlike fellow home run record-breakers Sosa and Barry Bonds, McGwire had generally been considered as a clean player, at least as far as steriods were concerned. (McGwire admitted taking androsterone, a supplement later outlawed by Major League Baseball, during the season he broke Roger Maris' home run record. Canseco thinks McGwire put a bottle of andro in his own locker as misdirection, to ward off talk of steroid use.)

Tony LaRussa, the man who managed McGwire and Canseco in Oakland, came to McGwire's defense as soon as Canseco's allegations surfaced in the media. Wednesday, he told 60 Minutes II (yes, that fine institution) that he knew that Canseco had been using steroids; earlier he went on record as saying that McGwire's growth was natural. But we're not convinced.

As a rookie, McGwire hit 49 home runs -- an incredible number during the 1980s. He was clearly a talented player with seemingly preternatural slugging ability. But that doesn't mean he didn't take advantage of that ability -- intensify it -- by using steroids.

Whether or not you believe Canseco is a credible source, it's clear that among baseball players, steroid use was not a taboo. It wasn't looked down on. No one, including managers like Tony LaRussa, stepped in a told players to stop.

How likely is it, then, that while Canseco was reaping the benefits of juicing up, his teammate McGwire watched and then, instead of trying to take advantage of Canseco's secret weapon, he went off to the weight room to try to match Canseco's unnatural physique in a natural manner? When there was no peer pressure in baseball not to use steroids.

McGwire (and anyone in similar circumstances) would had to have had an incredible moral compass for that to be the case, a rock solid sense of right and wrong. But great athletes -- and McGwire certainly qualifies as that -- are not always the mythical, moral heroes we make them out to be; they're very human, with flaws just like the rest of us. So to expect McGwire to resist such a temptation -- well, it's not the first conclusion we'd jump to.

That's not to say that McGwire didn't resist. We're just acknowledging it existed (in the form of Canseco, who says that McGwire did succumb), and that our common sense says Canseco is probably telling the truth. Remember, McGwire's ability rapidly deteriorated after his record-breaking season -- a sign of possible steroid use.

We'll probably never know the truth, and as far as we're concerned, that's just as well. What matters, at the end of the day, is not that McGwire did or didn't take steroids. What matters is that the hundreds of thousands of kids trying to emulate his physique know that using steroids is not a safe way to do that.

1 Comments:

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