It's hard to recognize that young man when you look at the images of Mark McGwire from his last decade of playing. He grew to such proportions that it was cartoonish (and The Simpsons did a great job of lampooning him in a few of their episodes).
Did Mark and Sammy Sosa save baseball in '98, when they were swatting dingers at a daily pace? Maybe. Probably, for mainstream America. I love baseball dearly, and I'll stop to watch a little league game at Ed Austin Park if I'm there with the girls. I attend spring training every year in the Grapefruit League, and I probably watch seventy to eighty games a year on television.
So what I'm saying is that I was going to come back to baseball regardless of that amazing summer. But I think there are many who would not have returned if that homer race hadn't happened. I mean, it was one of the most compelling things I've ever seen in sports, and it was spread out over almost two months. Sosa and McGwire were so good about the race, and congratulating each other (they both seem like genuinely nice people, by the way), that it was a true feel-good story.
I was in graduate school and working at The Keg in Lake Oswego when those two were duking it out, and simply crushing balls 430 feet. Every night, we'd gather in the bar and watch the highlights on ESPN. It was thrilling.
Now, to know what we know about how those physiques were manufactured, it's pretty sad. Call me naive, but I had no idea about the world of steroids fifteen years ago. I didn't know how they worked, or what people who used them looked like. I just figured these modern athletes were putting the best of exercise physiology and nutrition to work for themselves, and it was yielding legitimate results.
Now, we know better, and we're all a little chastened for it.
Yesterday, the Baseball Writers Association of America denied what is arguably the most accomplished ballot of first-time ballplayers entry into the Hall of Fame because of their various links to performance-enhancing drugs.
I applaud them.
Last night, I heard Rob Dibble and Amy Van Dyken rip the writers for doing this. One of there arguments were that the MLB had never banned or tested for steroids. But still, with the exception of medical purposes, those drugs are not legal in America. That's a poor argument.
The argument that everyone was doing it doesn't hold water either. If even one play didn't use them to get an advantage, then it's a moot point.
I also heard them take the writers to task for writing glowing columns about that homerun race back in '98. That's another poor argument. I guarantee that if any of these writers knew the truth of what they were witnessing, and if any could prove these players were taking PEDs, that they would have absolutely written about them. It would have been a scandal.
But the players hid their use. That's a lie. That's not okay that these cartoonish characters put up cartoonish statistics that made a mockery of baseball's most hallowed records. No professional sport is more enamored of it's stats than is pro baseball, and these guys took a dump in the outfield and wiped their asses with the record book.
Sammy Sosa hit 211 homers in the first nine years of his career. In the next four years, he hit more than sixty four times in a row.
Anyone remember Roger Maris's 61 dingers? Remember the death threats Roger got when he was approaching the Babe's single-season record?
That number used to have a special place in the world of sports, but Bonds and Sosa and McGwire made it look puny. It's not puny. It's the single-season record, in my book.
I like defensive baseball, and I loved how baseball was played in the 1980s. Give me a 5-4 game over an 11-6 game any day of the week. My favorite player of all time is Cal Ripken, Jr., but I also loved guys like Molitor, Yount, Puckett, Brett, and Mattingly. I loved Ken Griffey, Jr. and Frank Thomas.
And I think the writers messed up by not voting for Dale Murphy and Craig Biggio. Other than that, I fully endorse their rationale. I respect Rob Dibble very much, but I wholly disagree with his views here. It's not hypocritical to keep these players out of the Hall of Fame.
It was hypocritical of them to cheat to ensure their gaudy numbers. You can't say you love baseball and then turn around and dishonor the sport...