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McGwire has work to do to make things right
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His apology was not enough. His tearful interview with Bob Costas on MLB Network was not enough.
By refusing to acknowledge steroids helped him as a hitter, McGwire unleashed a firestorm of criticism — not just from the media, but also Hall of Famers and even members of the Cardinals’ family.
That’s some terrific advice McGwire received from Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary to former President George W. Bush. Big Mac, after stonewalling Congress in 2005, waited nearly five years to tell his story. And he still couldn’t get it right.
McGwire admitted his past steroid use only because he was re-entering public life as the Cardinals’ new hitting coach.
His initial series of interviews, designed to put the issue to rest, achieved precisely the opposite effect. Unless McGwire moves to change the conversation, the noise is not going to subside, distracting the team in spring training and beyond.
McGwire, then, faces a choice.
Resign as hitting coach and return to seclusion before even tinkering with one swing — a copout. Or hold an actual news conference — his six-minute effort at the Cardinals’ winter warmup hardly qualified — and concede that, sure, steroids helped him in some way.
Alex Rodriguez actually created a blueprint for McGwire a year ago. A-Rod, after giving vague responses in his initial television interview with Peter Gammons, offered more detail — if not all the answers — in a news conference at spring training eight days later.
Was everyone satisfied? Of course not. But McGwire, as a retired player, does not even need to be as forthcoming as A-Rod was.
Few are interested in which steroids McGwire took or where he got them; Curtis Wenzlaff, a convicted dealer who says he supplied McGwire, laid all that out to ESPN.
All anyone wants to hear is Big Mac acknowledge the drugs made a difference in his performance.
Any other explanation insults our collective intelligence, which is why even old Cardinals — from Jack Clark to Whitey Herzog to Adolphus Busch IV, a descendant of the family that owned the team from 1953 to ’96 — keep flipping out.
Yet, for all the criticism of McGwire, only the heartless want to continue bashing him.
McGwire’s anguish was evident in his interview with Costas. He certainly is not the only star athlete to use illegal drugs. We can debate whether he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame — I say no — but most of us would agree he at least deserves a chance to be a hitting coach. Enough is enough.
The problem is, McGwire made it difficult for those who want to forgive him. He might very well believe he could have been the same hitter without steroids — great entertainers, surrounded by sycophants, often descend into self-delusion. Fleischer, the paid expert, was supposed to anticipate Costas’ line of questioning, steer McGwire toward more acceptable answers, save him from himself.
All McGwire had to say was, “I’m sure the steroids had some effect, but I don’t know how much. There is so much that is unknown about all this. I was a great home-run hitter from the time I was young. Some of the pitchers I faced were using steroids, too. I can’t tell you the exact impact on my performance. I’ll leave that for others to decide.”
In a news conference, McGwire would not need to go much further, if at all. He could apologize for his initial answers to Costas, saying he fought the idea — and continues to fight the idea — he was simply a product of the drugs. People could relate to such inner conflict, empathize with it. McGwire, after sounding quite sympathetic for much of his interview with Costas, would seem even more human for taking this next step.
If McGwire faced only a media backlash, the best advice for him would be to ride it out. But the most pointed criticism is coming from those who came before him, former players who are offended by what he said.
Their viewpoints should not be dismissed. Neither should those of Herzog and Busch.
Frankly, the Cardinals should have known what they were getting into, but manager Tony La Russa wanted McGwire and now there is no turning back. Busch, the descendant of the former owners, took a shot at La Russa, saying he was being “paid millions to perpetuate a fraud.” No doubt, La Russa’s image has suffered. But he remains only a secondary player.
McGwire needs to recognize the problem and address it, for the sake of his team and his own reputation.
He needs, once and for all, to get it right.
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