March 18, 2005


McGwire a sad figure (Dave Sheinin, 3/18/05, Washington Post)

On an extraordinary day of words and images, a House committee investigating steroids in baseball forced the sport to confront its past and rethink its future -- encountering resistance on both counts.

But the most extraordinary image of all was that of Mark McGwire, once the game's most celebrated slugger but now the face of the steroid scandal, reduced to a shrunken, lonely, evasive figure whose testimony brought him to the verge of tears. [...]

Asked repeatedly by committee members whether he had used steroids in achieving unprecedented power numbers before his retirement in 2001, McGwire deflected each question -- his non-answers standing in stark contrast to the unabashed frankness of Jose Canseco, McGwire's former Oakland Athletics teammate and an admitted steroids user.

While McGwire acknowledged "there has been a problem with steroid use in baseball," he responded to questions about his own involvement by saying, "I'm not here to discuss the past," or, "I'm here to be positive about this subject."

The American people will forgive an awful lot if you just take responsibility for your misdeeds.

Players of Stature, Feats of Clay (Thomas Boswell, March 18, 2005, Washington Post)

Just to get a sense of proportion concerning what happened in a hearing room on Capitol Hill yesterday, imagine that we could turn back time 70 years. Concoct a scene in the 1930s in which Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Mel Ott are subpoenaed to testify before Congress because all of them are suspected of or had admitted to massive cheating throughout their careers, which would call all their records and heroics into question.

To add diabolical spice, imagine that Ruth had confessed his sins and was accusing Gehrig of doing the fraud -- with the Babe as a witness. Or vice versa, that the Iron Horse was calling all the Babe's achievements a sham. After all, they were the Bash Brothers of the Roaring Twenties, winning pennants, greeting each other at home plate but barely maintaining civil relations.

Why, if such a thing had happened, especially if one of the four men had almost broken down, taken the equivalent of the Fifth Amendment more than a dozen times and left the hearing room with his reputation in tatters, we'd still be discussing it, churning out books and, probably, revising the history -- recasting the villains and heroes and scapegoats -- to this day.

When the indelible days and torturous portraits from baseball history are described and retold, the saga of Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and the man who accused them all, Jose Canseco, will grow in significance, depth, sadness and moral complexity.

McGwire is a bashed brother (Dan Shaughnessy, March 18, 2005, Boston Globe)
At the end of baseball's dark day on Capitol Hill yesterday, Mark McGwire was forever tarnished in the eyes of the nation. He would not answer questions about his alleged involvement with steroids. We'll never look at him the same way.

We live in a wonderful country governed by perhaps the most perfect document in the history of mankind. One of our constitutional laws allows an individual to refuse to answer questions on the grounds he may incriminate himself. Lawyers often advise clients to take the Fifth and doing so is not an admission of guilt.

But the court of public opinion is another matter and yesterday, on a day when Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, and Frank Thomas testified before Congress and emphatically denied using steriods, McGwire refused to answer the question.

In his opening statement, McGwire cried. He offered condolences to families who lost children to steroids. He offered to help the committee. He said he would dedicate himself to the problem. He said he would direct his foundation to educate children about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs. He said all the right things and did what his lawyers wanted him to do.

He still looked dirty.

Jose Canseco, Hero (MICHAEL CHABON, 3/18/05, NY Times)
BEFORE I start arguing that it's muddleheaded, and misses the point, to disparage the greatness of a baseball player for his want of goodness as a man - before I rise to the defense of Jose Canseco - let me begin by offering one example of my own muddleheadedness in this regard.

A big part of what I have always admired about Roberto Clemente as a ballplayer is what a good, strong, thoughtful man he seems to have been - his stoic dignity in the face of ignorance and bigotry, how he died in a crash while flying to help the victims of a Nicaraguan earthquake, and so forth. I choose to view Clemente's grace on the field as reflecting and being reflected by the graceful way in which he conducted his public life (when one has demonstrably nothing to do with the other), and both together as lasting proof of some private gracefulness as a man, when I have no way of ever really knowing what form the true, secret conduct of his life may have taken.

I have no idea what Clemente's feelings would have been about performance enhancers like anabolic steroids, but I would like to think that he would have viewed them with disfavor, and that he was faithful to his wife, temperate in his habits and modest about his accomplishments. Yes, I would like to think that - because, instinctively, I'm just foolish and mistaken enough to think that great baseball players must also be good men.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 18, 2005 6:28 AM

And smaller.

Posted by: ratbert at March 18, 2005 9:38 AM

They didn't catch him at it when it mattered. Now, whatever he did is irrelevant and unproveable. If he were Black or Hispanic, nobody would be attacking him today.

It is nice to see Dan not bash the RedSox for a change though.

Posted by: at March 18, 2005 9:47 AM

Two words explain why McGuire will never fess up: "first ballot."

Posted by: Rick T. at March 18, 2005 10:02 AM

For lawyers, the McGwire appearance is a great object lesson. Whoever advised him did a great job of lawyering -- getting away with not taking the Fifth, but not answering questions -- but a terrible job of advising.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 18, 2005 10:26 AM

I don't know quite how to judge McGwire's testimony yesterday. Part of me thinks the questioning was along the lines of "Do you still beat your wife?".

Posted by: MB at March 18, 2005 10:26 AM

McGwire and his attorney may think stonewalling the steroid question will preserve his viability for next year's Hall of Fame election, but as long as players involved in the current scandal remaim active in MLB -- and especially if Barry Bonds is poised to break Hank Aaron's home run mark next year -- there's no way McGwire is getting anywhere near the Hall of Fame, unless he takes a drive on U.S. 20 through upstate New York.

Posted by: John at March 18, 2005 11:30 AM

How is his position different the President's recorded comments where he refuses to acknowledge or deny past drug use?

Posted by: Pat H at March 18, 2005 12:05 PM

Roger Maris is smiling. Almost imperceptibly, but smiling nonetheless.

Posted by: ghostcat at March 18, 2005 12:05 PM


Is there an accusation that the President achieved something illegally?

Posted by: oj at March 18, 2005 12:22 PM

Pat -

Moreover, the President has admitted (in various levels of detail) having made mistakes that he now regrets. McGwire's main problem is that he does not want to (or believes he can not) admit to anything in any level of detail. This makes him a questionable advocate for the good life: he does not elicit credibility (as a Carl Ripken would) nor empathy (as a repentant sinner would).

Posted by: Moe from NC at March 18, 2005 1:22 PM

He showed empathy in his statements, and yes GWB admits to mistakes in his past, leaving open iterpretation to what mistakes. Everyone knows about the alcohol, and many of us have had some level of familiarity with drugs and would not hold that against the President. But the following quote secretly recored shows his position on discussing specific past mistakes with drugs:

Mr. Bush, who has acknowledged a drinking problem years ago, told Mr. Wead on the tapes that he could withstand scrutiny of his past. He said it involved nothing more than "just, you know, wild behavior." He worried, though, that allegations of cocaine use would surface in the campaign, and he blamed his opponents for stirring rumors. "If nobody shows up, there's no story," he told Mr. Wead, "and if somebody shows up, it is going to be made up." But when Mr. Wead said that Mr. Bush had in the past publicly denied using cocaine, Mr. Bush replied, "I haven't denied anything."

He refused to answer reporters' questions about his past behavior, he said, even though it might cost him the election. Defending his approach, Mr. Bush said: "I wouldn't answer the marijuana questions. You know why? Because I don't want some little kid doing what I tried."

So he intimates in secret that he may have tried marijuana, but that he would never publicly answer the question, one way or the other, for a very specific reason.

Posted by: Pat H at March 18, 2005 3:07 PM


What does it have to do with anything though? No one cares if McGwire did blow or smoked dope.

Posted by: oj at March 18, 2005 4:31 PM

pat_h: if i bring up ivan the terrible, are you going to try and tie him to bush, too ? what is your point (and i am giving you the benefit of the doubt that you have a point) ?

Posted by: cjm at March 18, 2005 4:33 PM

I thought the point was clear, and I am a Bush supporter. The point is that MM is being criticized for refusing to answer questions that he doesn't want to answer for his own reasons. I don't find that strange. I want steroids out of sports and out of the schools. A good drug testing program in all sports is a must. But MM didn't create the problem.

he used illegal drugs. Kids find such use attractive. He refuses to answer. You don't find it similar?

Posted by: Pat H at March 18, 2005 7:24 PM

I agree with Pat's point, which is that McGwire (like the governor of Texas) is an admired public figure and so he doesn't want to inadvertantly inspire children to mimic his bad behavior, hence his reluctance to publicly admit that behavior. McGwire's statement is almost identical.

Regarding the likelihood of McGwire getting into the Hall of Fame, I agree with John that a person voting on that issue should feel free and be encouraged to vote NO. I think it is unlikely for McGwire in the near future.

"Is there an accusation that the President achieved something illegally?"

No but there is an accusation ( or implication anyway) that Bush would not be President if the public knew of is illegal actions. I think the public would have voted for him anyway, but you can't ignore that Bush might have had two motives (like McGwire) 1. Not be a bad role model. 2. Become President or get in the Hall of Fame.

Posted by: h-man at March 18, 2005 7:34 PM

He's taking the 5th.

Posted by: oj at March 18, 2005 7:48 PM


If W refused to answer an Air Guard disciplinary board about using drugs & flying then yes it would be similar.

Posted by: oj at March 18, 2005 7:50 PM

By the way what law did McGwire break? Has anyone ever gone to prison for admitting Steroid use?

Schwarzenegger is Gov. of California BECAUSE of steroid use.

Posted by: h-man at March 18, 2005 7:54 PM

Which he admits.

Posted by: oj at March 18, 2005 8:01 PM

Did he admit that he took it while it was against the law? If in fact it's against the law?

Your point regarding the difference between the President's action and that of McGwire relates merely to the legal implications. Motivation in both cases was to attain a goal (and set a good role model), by not answering questions about past behavior. (relevant questions I might add) Therefore morally both incidents are the same.

Posted by: h-man at March 18, 2005 8:15 PM


When can you take the Fifth?

Posted by: oj at March 18, 2005 8:25 PM

You can take it in order not to give evidence that can be used against you in a criminal case. So what. Doesn't change the moral calculations of the President or McGwire. You would only be saying that McGwire would suffer two negatives (1 failure to get into the Hall of Fame and (2 possible criminal trial. (although you haven't stated that there would have been a law violated)
Governor Bush would suffer only one negative consequence, not being elected President. Besides now that you make the point, did the president not want to admit to breaking the law. (depends on how long ago he smoked the hypothetical marijuana)

My question to you related to Schwarzenegger's admission. Did he admit to taking steroids when it was illegal or did he not? Besides are you saying that Schwarzenegger is more forthcoming with the truth than the President.

How can you criticize McGwire and not criticize the President for doing precisely the same thing? You seem to think it is relevant that the President never took the 5th. I don't think it effects the moral calculation at all. Neither would answer questions about past behavior because answering would have keep them from attaining the goals they desired.

(I know it was illegal to smoke marijuanna, I am unsure as to when it became illegal to use steroids)

Posted by: h-man at March 18, 2005 8:53 PM


You can't take the Fifth in front of Congress to protect your Hall bid.

Posted by: oj at March 18, 2005 10:13 PM

Well, it certainly wouldn't seem to enhance his prospects for induction.

Posted by: ghostcat at March 18, 2005 10:25 PM

I'm glad he'll be the only dirtbag in the HOF. (Sarcasm intended)

Steroids have been an issue in pro sports since at least the mid-60s. Are we going to invalidate every record made since then or are we merely going to decide that if someone 'looks like he's on steroids' then we are going to deny him his due? That's some standard.

Let's give everyone who has retired a free pass and focus on prospective changes in the matter.

Posted by: bart at March 19, 2005 6:27 AM