Mark McGwire Saved the Game of Baseball
Breaking news from the baseball world; Mark McGwire, the superstar slugger that shattered Roger Maris’ home-run record in the summer of 1998, admitted to the MLB Network yesterday that he used performance enhancing drugs for close to a decade. Just when Major League Baseball thinks it escaped its steroids problem, an earth-shattering admission by a potential Hall of Famer puts the problem right back on the map.
Now, for those of us that have a sports addiction (like myself), the news about McGwire is not that shocking. Throughout the end of this career- which came to a halt in 2001- sportswriters, radio hosts, and physical trainers always had a suspicion that the home run king used steroids at one point during his career. Heck, just look at the guy; it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that Mark may have participated in some extracurricular activity outside the weight room.
Even members of Congress were doubtful that McGwire- along with other power players in the league- was squeaky clean throughout his time on the St. Louis Cardinals. Mr. McGwire’s constant use of the Fifth Amendment during a 2005 congressional hearing did not exactly strengthen his defense (at least he invoked a legal right not to speak, in contrast to Sammy Sosa’s “I don’t speak English” argument).
But now the doubt is confirmed; McGwire did in fact use steroids on multiple occasions.
I am sure many Americans are outraged over McGwire’s behavior. Some want to ban the former Cardinal player from participating in Major League Baseball altogether; a judgment that would all but destroy McGuire’s future coaching career. Others want to block his ascendance to the Hall of Fame (a measure that I actually support). Mainstream baseball supporters are just upset that the most cherished record in the league’s history was broken by a cheater and drug abuser.
But outrage aside, we have to look at the big picture; Mark McGwire, however guilty he is, actually saved Major League Baseball.
Before his run in the summer of 98’, the League was experiencing a whole host of problems. Internal revenue was on the decline, its fan base was steadfastly decreasing from its peak, and the MLB front-office was still recuperating from the 1994 strike. Football- a sport that was already generating hundreds of millions of dollars- was overtaking baseball as America’s most favorite sport. For a while, it seemed as if the country’s “pastime” was eroding to the point of oblivion.
Then came the electrifying home-run race between McGwire and Sammy Sosa (another alleged steroid user) in the beginning of the 1998 season. Fans that were hungry for some excitement finally got their wish. Day in and day out, newspapers and television shows from all across the country began broadcasting the home-run update. One day Sosa would blast one out of the park, while the next day you would witness McGwire’s crushing 500-foot bomb over the centerfield wall.
The sales that baseball officials were so used to making decades ago finally returned in that summer.
Most importantly, the sport of baseball was once again embedded within the American conscience. MLB fought back to its prominent position in the United States. In fact, the sport enhanced its status globally in ways that players and fans could not have imagined years before. Just as McGwire was juicing-up, the repertoire of Major League Baseball underwent its own slugging transformation.
Sure, McGwire used performance-enhancing drugs during his career. And yes, many other superstars did the same thing (a.k.a. Andy Pettitte and Jason Giambi). But as fans, we have to take the big-picture into account.
Without people like McGwire, Sosa, Giambi, and (Rafael) Palmeiro, baseball fans may still be sitting on their recliners waiting for some action.
-Daniel R. DePetris