January 18, 2010

Drawing my own conclusions on Mark McGwire

Mark McGwire’s return to baseball has me conflicted. On one hand I was kind of ignoring all the opinions and comments surrounding him. On the other hand, I feel like I need to form my own opinion and take a stand on not only McGwire, but the whole steroid issue.

You see whenever someone brings up McGwire or steroids, I never really know what to say. I have lots of different views on multiple levels regarding the whole subject and at the same time; I find the whole conversation to be somewhat tiresome.

Perhaps you are like me and are wrestling with the same issues. Well, I think it’s time (at least for me) to sort through all the thoughts running through my head and come up with a concrete opinion. Hopefully it won’t be nearly as painful as I’ve made it out to be in my head.

So here I go…

First of all when the word got about all the steroid use in major league baseball, I was very disappointed (to say the least). I always hate it when any sport makes more headlines off the playing field than on it. Never-the-less, I refused to let steroids steal my enjoyment of the game of baseball. I still continue to watch and immerse myself in America’s favorite pastime.

Only problem was I kept hearing this annoying chatter going on in the background about steroids that just wouldn’t go away. I’d think about it from time to time; get a headache and then go back to ignoring it. Well, I’m not going to do that any more.

I’m betting/hoping that some of you (who share my “pain”) can relate to the process I'm about to go through.

I think doing steroids is wrong on many levels. Most of all, it’s illegal and unhealthy. I believe those who have used steroids need to be held accountable for their actions and they should have consequences attached to what they’ve done. The problem is that’s easier said than done.

Fact is we don’t know who all those people are and many of us are uncomfortable with assigning judgment to players who have not been proven to have actually used it. Also, every time we start trying to form an opinion on one player, all the other players suspected of using steroids get lumped into the conversation, along with a whole host of “what if’s.” The discussion becomes confusing and at times overwhelming.

The problem even goes beyond that (okay, maybe this is more painful than I thought).

Judging people isn’t something a part of our society really enjoys doing much these days. For some, the lines seem to have blurred to some degree about what’s right and what’s wrong and the whole political correctness thing has gotten out of control. “Tolerance” is the new favorite word and it’s become “uncool” to pass judgment.

Well, that makes me crazy. For the most part, I don’t think the lines are really all that blurry, if you take the time to analyze things. Face it; darkness hates the light. Anytime you try to shed the light on the truth; those who want to cover it up try to turn out the lights.

Now I know this whole conversation could get derailed right here and we could get into this long debate about what’s right and what’s wrong and what standard is being used to make these decisions.

Forget that. I’m not here to do that. I’m going to assume we all have some basic understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong.

Before I move on, let’s get something straight. I know that no one is perfect (myself included). We all make mistakes and sometimes we use poor judgment in making decisions. That doesn’t mean we can’t recognize right from wrong or even call someone on it when they’re doing something wrong. Make sense?

I know this is yet another place where a lot of people get hung up. They think that since they’ve screwed up a time or two, they themselves have no right to tell others when they’ve screwed up. I say, get over it.

You know the old saying “two wrongs don’t make a right”? Let’s use that standard and it will make it easier for us to move forward. It’s okay to be against something we were guilty of at one time, as long as we recognize it was wrong then and it’s still wrong now. Wrong is still wrong.

So where does that leave us with Mark McGwire?

McGwire has admitted using steroids. He’s also apologized for it. Now as Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated points out – a lot of people have a problem with McGwire’s apology.

Posnanski wrote, “I didn't agree with or even follow everything McGwire said, but I never thought that was the point. I never thought apologizing was an Olympic sport with stoned-faced people judging how straight his toes were pointed and if he made too big a splash. McGwire is not a public speaker. He's not a philosopher. He's not a politician. He is not even an especially open person. He is a guy who dedicated his life to hitting baseballs hard. Expecting him to become Hamlet doesn't seem fair.”

Posnanski feels like it’s time to forgive McGwire and I agree with him.

That doesn’t mean I think he should be allowed into the Hall of Fame. For me forgiving McGwire means he should be allowed to pursue his work with the Cardinals and move on with his life. I don’t need to know all the details of his steroid use and I’m not going to spend time crucifying him for it either. He admitted it was wrong. No need for me to hammer home the point. I’m also not going to critique his apology and quite frankly; like Posnanski, find that exercise ridiculous.

Now that being said, I’m not saying McGwire shouldn’t be allowed into the HOF either.


Hear me out. There are so many different sets of criteria being used by those who vote on the HOF that the whole thing has become somewhat of a joke (at times). I mean one could go absolutely insane reading and listening to why a writer voted for or didn’t vote for a player. The whole process is very subjective.

So here’s my thing. If someone thinks that McGwire should be left out of the HOF because he used steroids, I’m fine with that. If someone believes that his numbers were HOF worthy in an era when the perception is that everyone was doing steroids, I’m fine with that too. I don’t necessarily agree, but I’m fine with people coming to that conclusion.

Remember, everyone has their own criteria for HOF consideration anyway. The process is already flawed; steroids just make it even more complicated and since everyone has their own process anyway; what does it matter?

To make matters more confusing, we also have suspicions about a lot of players, who haven’t been proven to use steroids and/or also haven’t admitted using them either. There is also the big “worry” that someone could get into the HOF that just didn’t get caught.

Well, I say you have to judge each player on a case by case basis. Think about this; doing so is actually no different than what HOF voters are doing now.

HOF voting is what it is. Some people think Bert Blyleven belongs in the HOF (me too) and some don’t. Those people are using different criteria (right or wrong) to make those decisions. Same thing applies to each individual suspected of using steroids. The whole process lacks consistency to begin with. Why should judging suspected steroid users be any different?

I know there’s this underlying need to have a blanket policy on all of this, but I don’t think that’s possible. It’s icky. It’s complicated. It’s a lof of things, but it’s also worth continued discussion.

Okay, so maybe you’ve noticed that I haven’t given my actual opinion on McGwire just yet. And maybe you’d like to push me a little and ask me if I would vote for McGwire (assuming I had a vote).

Well, I would vote no to the HOF. Why? It goes back to my belief that there has to be consequences for his actions. He received plenty of accolades for what he did at the time, but now it’s time to be held accountable. I believe there has to be a downside for what he did and the consequence should be no HOF induction.

This is where someone throws in the argument that some and possibly many or most of the pitchers he was facing were also using steroids. You’ve heard that argument… the “everyone else was doing it” argument. To that, I go back to that old saying that “two wrongs, don’t make a right.” No blurred lines for me on this issue.

If this ultimately means there isn’t a lot of representation in the HOF for the “steroid era;” so be it.

Next, one might ask what the consequences are for all the other players who used steroids that never put up HOF numbers. Quite frankly, I don’t know (health issues aside) and I’m not going to think about it much. I don’t have time to worry about all that. Cop out? Not really. I’d have to address each player on a case by case basis and that’s not an exercise I’m planning on engaging in on this post.

So, back to McGwire. In my opinion, he shouldn’t get into the HOF; however, I’m fine with him pursuing a life in baseball. For better or worse, he apologized for his actions and like I said earlier, I’m not going to critique his apology. He used steroids. He admitted it. He apologized for it. As for the timing and motives; only McGwire and God know the answers. McGwire didn’t have to say anything and I’m inclined to give him some credit for coming forward on his own. Time to move on.

As for all the others; it really does come down to making a judgment on a case by case basis. Let’s just say that if a player is known to have used steroids, I’d rather they didn’t get in the HOF (assuming their numbers qualify them). If they’re suspected of using steroids; I’d have to weigh the evidence for or against them. I know that being put on trial in the court of public opinion is hardly ideal, but the whole HOF process is a trial of sorts anyway.

Am I leaving myself open to criticism and possible mistakes? Yes, but you also have to remember, I’m not actually voting (unless you count my future contributions to the Baseball Bloggers Alliance).

So there you have it. I think using steroids is wrong, regardless of the era and culture of that time. I think those who use it need to face the consequences for their actions. If they are compelled to apologize, I will respect that and not try to give too much thought to their motives for doing so; especially if they come forward on their own accord, as opposed to being caught first (an important distinction in my mind).

It won’t change my opinion on whether or not they’re HOF worthy, but it will allow me to move forward.

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