McGwire 3: The Advisor

In The New York Times, my friend Rich Sandomir has an extraordinary piece on the arranging of the Costas/McGwire interview, and the rest of yesterday’s ‘limited hang-out,’ as a component of the Mark McGwire Contrition Tour.

Sandomir doesn’t address if this was McGwire’s batcrap crazy idea, or it was designed by somebody else: that everybody will believe he took steroids, often by injection (“I preferred the orals”), solely for the purpose of healing his tortured body, just so he wouldn’t waste the gift “from the man upstairs” and to avoid the shame of hearing “teammates walking by saying, ‘he’s injured again.”
But he does reveal that there was somebody involved in this strange dance, conveniently transcripted here. McGwire has a damage control advisor, and he’s Ari Fleischer, the former Press Secretary to President Bush. I vowed long ago not to mix baseball and politics here, and I’m confident that I’d be saying the same thing if this were Robert Gibbs from the current White House: if this was Fleischer’s plan, he owes McGwire a refund. If it wasn’t, he needs to tell Mac never to suggest it again.
It will to some degree fly with a small percentage of the public, and l point to the irony of a comment yesterday by somebody posting under the name “Mantlewasarockstar.” Let’s accept McGwire’s premise – even though this took place long after the heartbreaking death of Lyle Alzado, and the sudden retirement of Florence Griffith-Joyner, and the other horror health stories of steroids abused. Last night he told Costas he had started his heaviest use of steroids in the winrer of 1993-94, to try to regain his health.
But by McGwire’s admission, he “broke down in ’94. Missed three quarters of the year. I go into ’95 and I broke down again. I could have been – but for some reason I kept doing it.”
He did it to get healthy, got less healthy, but kept doing it? From 1993 through at least 1998? This has now sunk to the level of the Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds denials: ‘I, as a top athlete dependent on my body for my multi-million-dollar income, had no idea what I was putting in my body. Coulda been dangerous pharmaceuticals. Or flaxseed oil. Or something Miguel Tejada got at a sample sale at a Dominican drug store.’
More over, if you’re buying this, Mr/Ms Mantlewasarockstar, and it really still was some kind of firm conviction this was about body repair and not artificially-increased home run power – body repair is by itself artificially-increased home run power! Consider the name under which you comment: Mickey Mantle. 
What would Mantle have been like with a miracle elixir that let him come back from injuries? What would Maris have been like (it wasn’t just the bad taste of public reaction that led him to retire seven years later – he only played two full seasons after he broke Ruth’s record)? Or Albert Belle? Or every sore-armed pitcher whom McGwire faced, or faced at less than full strength, or would never face at all?
If something improper, immoral, illegal, or unethical was used by Mark McGwire to get himself back on the field, and if it really did nothing whatsoever to add enough power to get transform just thirty of what had been his fly ball outs, into the stands each year – it, by itself, was a performance-enhancing drug. In some ways it becomes even more of a performance-enhancing drug: it didn’t just improve what he did from, say, 40 to 70.
It increased it from 0 to 70.
Plug: we’ll deconstruct parts of the MLB Network interview with McGwire, tonight on Countdown.
UPDATE: You’ll notice a comment comparing the euphoria effects of amphetamines to the hypothetical effects of steroids as McGwire misunderstands them. Clearly I wasn’t explicit enough, so consider that the sentence I wrote above, “What would Mantle have been like with a miracle elixir that let him come back from injuries?” as actually reading, “What would Mantle have been like with a miracle elixir that let him come back healthy from injuries, as opposed to a drug that temporarily left him too stoned and/or strung out to care.”
Also, “FAIL”? When did the condescending use of this word as an argument-ender jump the shark, 2006 or 2005?

18 Comments

FAIL.

“What would Mantle have been like with a miracle elixir that let him come back from injuries?”

Ummm…. there was, and Mantle admitted to taking it — amphetamines.

Perhaps one of the folks more familiar with the glory of the good old days can tell me how how taking a schedule II drug that allowed one to recover from an overly active night life while providing a pronounced energy boost shows more integrity than taking a schedule III drug that vastly increases returns on training and speeds recovery from injury.

Amphetamines actually decrease the body’s ability to heal. Ever see a methhead? Their skin isn’t like that just because they pick at it; it’s like that because meth depresses the immune system. Even a methhead who doesn’t pick will look older and more haggard because the body suddenly can’t repair day-to-day damage.

Gee, zonk… nice to know you can be civil. As to the “substance” of your remarks, amphetamines, even if Mantle did take them, wouldn’t make him stronger, and they wouldn’t actually make him play better – he would be more awake, yes, but likely to be more erratic. He might feel like he was playing better, but that wouldn’t necessarily be true. Amphetamines don’t heal the body. They don’t add bulk or muscle, either. That doesn’t make taking them the right thing to do, but it isn’t in the same category. Steroids make a more permanent change in one’s physiology, one that skews the statistics for those who are taking them. The changes made by amphetamines are smaller and only last a few hours. Neither one is right, but the difference is substantial. If there is any “FAIL” here, it is your inability to discuss the issue with some modicum of civility.

As contemptuous as McGwire has been through the apology process, I’m confused as to the reaction of so many in the baseball world. Not minutes after the statement had been issued to the AP, Tony LaRussa was on the air claiming that McGwire coming clean was an illustration of McGwire’s “character”. I’m sorry to have to inform a man of Tony’s age and stature that admitting to something ten to twenty years after the fact, and only when you have to because of your new job, is not a sign of character. If McGwire were the least bit sincere about having wanted to come clean, he would have done so the minute the statute of limitations ended in 2006. The fact that he was more than willing to sit in silence and allow people to believe that he was the hero he still believed himself to be is proof that he doesn’t understand the situation he finds himself in. It is not impossible to see how a player, especially one so mythologized, can delude himself into believing in his divinity. But for members of the media, let alone the manager whose own career is now blotted by having presided over the reign of one of the most decorated cheaters in baseball history, to claim that McGwire should deserve praise for lying to the world for a decade until it was convenient for him to stop, that’s the kind of blind stupidity baseball doesn’t need another dose of.

Comparing methamphetamines to a pure amphetamine is nonsense. One is a bastardized stimulant that was concocted solely for its psychotropic effects, the latter has limited medicinal uses (hence, its classification as a schedule II rather than schedule I drug).

Amphetamine usage (and abuse) was in widespread up to and including WWII (both allied and axis armies supplied their troops with amphetamines for the alertness and energy). It wasn’t until a decade after WWII that science confronted the fact that amphetamines are also quite addictive and have a number of deleterious side effects — finally making their unprescribed use and possession illegal in 1965… so I guess technically, Mantle was only using an illegal performance enhancer for the last few dreg years of his career (and make no mistake — Mantle himself copped to amphetamine use during his twilight years, after he got sober and much to his credit, went on speaking tours about substance abuse).

Who’s to say that without a chemical agent that can temporarily counteract the effects of long nights out — something Mantle was famous for – Mantle doesn’t drink himself out of baseball by the time he’s 28?

Who’s to say Mickey Cochrane’s knees don’t last longer if he had cortizone available to him?

Who’s to say George Sisler doesn’t beat his own former record for hits in a season – putting it out of reach for Ichiro – if lasix eye surgery is available to him.

Keith’s whole argument- hardly unique – is just the same old tired “you damn kids get off my lawn” mau-mauing.

Medical science advances. Society changes – quite often without real evidence or logical basis – which pharmaceuticals it considers illegal and which it condones (and if medical science finds a way to synthesize steroids but eliminate the harmful side effects, I guarantee they won’t be illegal for long).

You want to draw the line at “illegal”?

Fine… first – though – google “Dr. Feelgood”, “1960s”, and “New York Yankees”… you’ll find scads of reporting on the favorite chemist of the fabled Yankees, and his concoctions (which, by the way, were also purported to contain primitive steroids). Then google around for Hank Aaron – God bless him, he’s been the biggest voice of reason in this whole mess – and his own admission that he, too, used amphetamines.

Civility?

Bah…

The self-righteous “back in my day” patrol has had plenty of time — YEARS already – to pile on its rose colored glasses of wankery.

It’s time to grow up.

Baseball is and has always been a perfect game played by imperfect people, controlled by imperfect owners, overseen by imperfect commissioners, and watched by imperfect fans.

Amazing, zonk… You say this: “The self-righteous ‘back in my day’ patrol has had plenty of time — YEARS already – to pile on its rose colored glasses of wankery.” and this: “same old tired ‘you damn kids get off my lawn’ mau-mauing.” And then you say:
“It’s time to grow up.” Pot, meet kettle.

Well, my plan to distract the PED jihadists by giving them a different shiny object to fixate on is working perfectly.

As for ‘fail’ being so “2005 or 2006″ — that still makes it about 3 or 4 years fresher than the same tired steroid rhetoric contained in this post.

Watching these players come clean is so interesting to me, because they realize they have to come clean, but they only want to do it on their own terms. And it’s always undone when they get tripped up on the inconsistencies of their own stories.

The narrative that McGuire had put in place in his own maladroit head (and rationalized) was meant to be a simple, linear means of backhandedly justifying his own actions in an attempt to both take the blame for his actions and then to pass it along with vague hand-waving to the “steriods era” or injury concerns. But under the scrutiny of someone to whom “the man upstairs” gifted a greater intellect than McGuire received (here I’m thinking Bob Costas), his story is clearly seen for what it is: diaphanous, contradictory, and full of holes.

The most flagrant example of this, I thought, was the point where McGuire acknowledged that those in the Maris family who believe RM’s single-season home run record to be intact had a valid point. Yet, not five minutes earlier, McGuire had claimed that he would have broken that record even without steroids.

Don’t want to jump into the middle of the debate, just have a couple of random comments. I know someone who was a big league ball player. He played for LaRussa and said he was the biggest horse’s ptoot he had ever known. I am thinking of the irony of Albert Pujols having McGwire as a coach, when as far as we know, Albert is clean. Is he now guilty by association? I am not that naive; ball players have forever done bad things to their bodies and will continue to do so, for whatever reason. They are after all , human beings, not mythological/ supernatural creatures who play a kid’s game.

When I see a tall rookie ( weighing only 215 lbs hit 49 HR in a very tough Park to hit HRs, (Oakland) I certainly cannot say he couldn’t have hit 60-70 HRS in later years without Steroids with natural weight and strength gain. His physical stature towers over Roger Maris’ who hit 61 HR. That rookie HR record still stands, so what McGuire says about his ability w/o steroids could be correct. Oberman can not say he couldn’t do that and the steroids were what increased his HR production. I thought Oberman had some sports knowledge. The man was a large man with a HR uppercut swing when he broke in. A better hitter than Dave Kingman who hit 40+ HR many times. Go back and look at some of the long HRs that McGuire hit in Oakland his rookie year at 215 lbs. There is no clear conclusion that McGuire used Steroids to increase his production although it may have. A 400 foot home run counts the same as one that goes 450 ft. It counts as one HR. THe later just causes more ahhhs. Mike Schmidt and Hank Aaron hit a lot of 375-400 foot home runs. They all count as one HRs.

Oberman must examine McGuires early home run success and expect it to get better as he matured as a hitter, gained natural strength and got to know the pitchers. Steroids may have helped his HR numbers, but then they may not have. McGuire truly believes it didn’t and he may be right. No way to know. This isn’t a case of a thin Luis Gonzalez who averaged 15 HRs per season for 10 years and then a bigger Luis Gonzalez hitting 57 all of a sudden. That’s the kind of stuff that should be looked at. It wasn’t like McGuire was hitting a lot of track outs like Luis Gonzales that all of a sudden became HRs.

I waited until I had seen your report on Countdown before I commented on this, because I wanted to see Mark McWhiner’s facial expressions, as well as hear his words. We don’t get MLB Network in my neck of the woods, so thanks for providing that video on your show.

Now that I’ve seen it, I can only say…wow. This dude’s divorced from reality, and drowning in denial, as he pulled every lame excuse possible out of his backside, flinging them at the public – much like an angry monkey would do with…you know. Baseball is only his #2 gift “from the man upstairs”. His main talent is for rationalizing his own misdeeds, a talent so pure, that he could have a bright future in running for public office. When he started crying crocodile tears, I expected that, at any minute, he would either say, “I have sinned!” or “I love my country, and I fear for it.” If newsgroups were still in vogue, there would be one devoted to him, called alt.pathological.liar.

Your observations are right on the money, especially the part about his performance being pushed from 0 to 70. Lots of players get injured, but using drugs improperly to have an advantage in healing can be boiled down to one word: Cheating.

Maybe somebody ought to start pumping these dopers full of flaxseed oil. Since these guys are so full of something else that I won’t mention, flaxseed oil’s laxative effect might offer them some measure of relief.

One quick note, Keith: “Fail” is still in use (Rachel Maddow just used it on her show tonight), most likely because of the hilarious blog, failblog.org. In which case, it’s appropriate for me to term zonk84′s asinine arguments as EPIC FAIL, for the reasons others here have already expressed. ;-)

@ssimon721, there are better ways to express disagreement than to write, “I thought Oberman had some sports knowledge.” Suggesting that a baseball expert has no sports knowledge only undermines your own credibility, as does your repeated misspelling of Keith’s name. It has an L, and TWO N’s. I wouldn’t point out a mere typo, as that would be nitpicking. However, repeatedly disregarding such an obvious detail, combined with your ludicrous statement, makes it harder for one to trust your judgment about other details, as well.

Finally, I’ve alerted the “usher” about the troll posts, and if anyone else would like to do the same, I wouldn’t refuse your backup. :-)

I have no problem with McGuire in his capacity as a batting coach for St. Louis. Damage control towards the coming season.Two months from now McGuire will be a distraction at Spring Training, but by then the story will be old enough, and McGuire in the coaching staff background enough, to minimize the prospect of an uncomfortable sideshow. And this coming season is what this is about. There’s the Hall of Fame in the background, of course, but McGuire or his handlers are deluding themselves if they believe McGuire can overcome the damage from his testimony (or lack thereof) to Congress.Not now, not EVER.The argument that McGuire (and Sosa) saved baseball in the wake of the Strike is beside the point.That other players took those drugs and others is beside the point.That some drugs were legal or illegal is beside the point.The problem I DO have with McGuire comes down to what I perceive to be his arrogance.The arrogance of attributing “The Man Upstairs” (TMU) for his abilities at baseball coupled with the reality that TMU wasn’t sufficient in those years when he supplemented TMU with PED’s.The arrogance that sustained his then belief that it was the right decision.The arrogance that sustained his later belief that not fessing up to Congress would make little difference in what he hoped his legacy (HOF) would be.The arrogance that sustains his belief now – assuming this isn’t a cynical charade towards mitigating an uncomfortable distraction within the Cardinals organization, as well as a desperate plea for serious HOF consideration – that wags cracking wise during BP and writers pondering HOF candidates are going to look past his use of steroids because of his (arrogant) contention that he only used to get healthy and when that didn’t work, he used some more because in the wake of unhealthy results, his earnest desire to get healthy pointed to his regretful (in hindsight) decision to keep at it.Mark, I urge you to come to grips with the reality that you will never be in the Hall of Fame, not because of the voters for such an honor don’t emphasize with you or refuse to understand your decision making process – or even fail to recognize “The Man Upstairs” – but because of the decisions you made.You, Mark, decided to bring PED’s onto the baseball field via their presence in your body.You, Mark, decided to avoid the question of your use of steroids when you were before Congress.You, Mark, have presently decided to “come clean” but in so doing, paint what you are coming clean for was without consequence or affect in how you performed your job as a baseball player under the effects of Performance ENHANCING drugs.I wish you well in St. Louis, Mark, but when I see you before a game I won’t be able to not remember the arrogant decisions you made which artificially impacted the game of baseball, as well as your continued arrogance for believing that as a part of this dirty mess, that you could imagine you could convince anyone that those spatters and stains across your uni were simply gravel, grass, and pine tar and not something much more muddy and brown.

Ummm … McGwire. Not McGuire. Sorry.Obviously, disregard everything I’ve written.

@astrophann – Hey, at least you realized you made a mistake, and you didn’t suggest to an expert that he doesn’t know much about sports, so you’re not going to get any criticism from me. ;-)

The reason I returned was to share this video, because it was implied upthread that Keith hasn’t criticized Yankee drug abusers. (Yeah, I know this isn’t about Dr. Feelgood, but Yankees have used PED’s since then.) This video also includes the Jimmy Swaggart “I have sinned” quote I referred to in my own post – just in case anyone here might be too young to have heard it the first time out:

Countdown’s Apology Hall Of Fame
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0PCShSC2jw

KO proves himself, time and time again, that he is as knowledgeable as they come in terms of the history of baseball and in terms of just how the business, egos, conventional wisdom(s) and general day to day assessments of what’s happening in baseball, grasping the tangibles and being able to intelligently ponder the intangibles, his analysis is not only pretty spot on, it’s usually an enjoyable read.
I’m glad he takes the time to write this blog.

Keith
Why is it that McGuire’s so called crisis Manager Mr. Fleischer didn?t advise him to promise to do something he promised infront of congress he would do, Go out and raise awareness about the ill effects of the steroids he so ? regrettably? took. If memory serves right Mc Gwire said during his testimony that he would go out and do work in order to discourage steroid use especially in Americas youth and since that testimony he has done little to nothing that resembles that. Mc Gwire should promise to go to Boys and girls clubs and other youth organizations as the Cardinals travel this summer and spread a message that steroid use is stupid and does horribly things to a person?s body. From what I got out of the interview twith Bob Costas a young baseball player who knows little about the history of the game let alone the steroid era and Mc Gwire might see steroids as a way to heal their body ( Something McGwire stated multiple times) quickly and get them back to playing. In my opinion I think McGwire did a lot to promote steroid use yesterday and its ability to ?heal? the injured body.

Keith
Why is it that McGuire’s so called crisis Manager Mr. Fleischer didn?t advise him to promise to do something he promised infront of congress he would do, Go out and raise awareness about the ill effects of the steroids he so ? regrettably? took. If memory serves right Mc Gwire said during his testimony that he would go out and do work in order to discourage steroid use especially in Americas youth and since that testimony he has done little to nothing that resembles that. Mc Gwire should promise to go to Boys and girls clubs and other youth organizations as the Cardinals travel this summer and spread a message that steroid use is stupid and does horribly things to a person?s body. From what I got out of the interview twith Bob Costas a young baseball player who knows little about the history of the game let alone the steroid era and Mc Gwire might see steroids as a way to heal their body ( Something McGwire stated multiple times) quickly and get them back to playing. In my opinion I think McGwire did a lot to promote steroid use yesterday and its ability to ?heal? the injured body.

When I see a tall rookie ( weighing only 215 lbs hit 49 HR in a very tough Park to hit HRs, (Oakland) I certainly cannot say he couldn’t have hit 60-70 HRS in later years without Steroids with natural weight and strength gain. His physical stature towers over Roger Maris’ who hit 61 HR. That rookie HR record still stands, so what McGuire says about his ability w/o steroids could be correct. Oberman can not say he couldn’t do that and the steroids were what increased his HR production. I thought Oberman had some sports knowledge. The man was a large man with a HR uppercut swing when he broke in. A better hitter than Dave Kingman who hit 40+ HR many times. Go back and look at some of the long HRs that McGuire hit in Oakland his rookie year at 215 lbs.

Excellent points.

You don’t need to be hitting coach to see that there definitely WERE pronounced differences in McGwire’s swing between his rookie year — when for-some-reason-suddenly credible Jose Canseco says they were both “clean” — and later in his career. Even more than the uppercut, McGwire tended to hit off his back foot more early in his career. His weight transfer was much better synchronized with the hips opening up later — he was ‘turning on’ pitches much better as he got older, and most certainly driving through pitches rather than clubbing them.

The same is true, for that matter, with Barry Bonds – a truly gifted and strikezone cognizant hitter who adjusted his approach as the strikezone changed. Compare early 90s Barry – who laid off anything letter high to later/steroid Barry, who was launching such pitches not because the steroids allowed him to — but because MLB dictated umpires start calling high strikes.

It’s no surprise, considering he’s alone as the best mainstream baseball writer in the world today, but Joe Posnanski had the best take on the whole McGwire issue here. In particular, the addendum he added from Negro Leaguer Buck O’Neil is worth more than all the spittle spent on the issue by all the frothy outrage-aholics combined:

*There’s another thing, something you don’t hear people talk about much. In fact, my old friend Buck O’Neil was about the only person I ever heard talk openly about this. Buck would get infuriated because people constantly talked about the “benefits” of using steroids to the exclusion of almost everything else. He’d say something like: “Well, people talk all the time about how they will help you hit the ball farther and pitch the ball faster. Why don’t they talk instead about how you might die young? Why don’t they talk about how you might not be able to have children? Why are they always telling children: ‘Use this and it will make you a great baseball player… but you shouldn’t use it?’”

Which is damn true.

Ironically, the very folks so in love with their tsk-tsk’ing at the McGwires, the Bonds, and the rest do more to glorify steroids than any HR record ever could.

To the PED jihadist, Mark McGwire would have been bagging groceries or at best, topping out as Bob Hamelin without PEDs.

It’s nonsense.

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