Was going though a closet this week and came across The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated from September, 1998.
Mark McGwire was the cover story for both – and hero worship was the order of the day. SI’s headline was ‘The Record: What it means to Mark McGwire – and to America’. The Sporting News simply shouted ‘Hero!’ in huge type.
Since then, the world has piled on McGwire, who faced the U.S. Senate and had the gall to say he wouldn’t talk about the past.
Other than that and Jose Canseco’s book, hard evidence has yet to be unearthed on McGwire and steroid use. Oh, he was quick to acknowledge using Andro early on – but that was when Andro was available at Walmart.
As for me, I found McGwire always to be thoughtful and candid, and after the World Series game in which Kirk Gibson beat Oakland with that home run, I sought him ought in the Athletics clubhouse.
“That’s why we all love baseball,” he said. “Imagine what that must have been like, dreaming of playing in a World Series, hitting the game-winning hom run – then actually doing it. Man, that was a great moment.”
And McGwire’s team had lost that game.
McGwire was one of those players who loved baseball and felt fortunate to play it for a living. And I’ll confess it here: I liked him immensely, and still do.
Each December when the Hall of Fame ballots arrive, I’ve voted for McGwire. Do I know he’s innocent? No. Nor do I know he’s not.
And now he’s the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. Good. His return won’t be greeted with the over-the-top joy that his home run record was, but neither he nor we are he same as we were in ’98.
Baseball has lost its innocence in the interim. We have turned away, with much justification, from players we once cheered – Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds.
McGwire is coming back not as a star but a coach, and the money he has in the ank will earn more in interest next year than what his St. Louis salary will pay him. It’s not about money. It’s not about climbing back in the spotlight.
It’s about baseball. I’m glad to see Mark McGwire back in the game.