We knew Mark McGwire was on whatever it is that we’re calling “steroids” now. We knew it when he broke Roger Maris’ single season home run record in 1998. We knew it when he dodged the U.S. House Government Reform Committee in 2005. And we knew it before he came forward yesterday and finally admitted it. But what did McGwire gain by coming out now? What was he thinking? Here are my best guesses:
To dodge the media. McGwire was hired by Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa to be his hitting coach going into 2010, and you can make the pharmaceutical training jokes on your own. But with McGwire heading back into the public eye–not to mention a major-league dugout–it was high time to introduce the elephant in the room. Nobody since Amelia Earhart had fallen off the map like Mark McGwire had, and the only thing more impressive than that self-imposed exile was his decision to end it and finally give the media the story that they wanted.
To dodge the Feds. One news agency reported that the statute of limitations that the federal government had to prosecute McGwire expired in 2007. McGwire pled the fifth in front of Congress with his now famous quip, “I’m not here to talk about the past.” He may as well have been saying, “I’m not about to go to jail and take it in the ass.” That sort of transaction was saved specifically for the trainer’s room. But that little dodge seemed to save him all the grief that followed around Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both of whom said under oath that they didn’t take any so-called PEDs.
To get into Cooperstown. There’s already been talk of McGwire pinch-hitting this year, which would re-start the clock on his eligibility for the Hall of Fame. If McGwire appears in a 2010 game, his name would come off the ballot for four years, and then re-appear on the next eleven, or until he received less than five percent of the vote. It’s on par with the level of craftiness one would expect from Tony LaRussa.
McGwire’s admission also gives baseball an opportunity that it desperately needs: to look its soiled, chemically-enhanced past squarely in the face and come to terms with it. Because those inflated home run numbers won’t be going away anytime soon. Neither, apparently, is McGwire, whose curiously-timed re-entry into the game will be something to watch this season, and probably will be for seasons to come.