McGwire 4: The Koufax Confusion

Mark McGwire’s excuse has indeed resonated in some quarters, and I’ve already seen some claims that “Sandy Koufax took steroids – and for the same reason – for his health!”

Different stuff, known now by a different term, and administered under a doctor’s prescription and supervision. Stuff you yourself may have been given.
The origin points are a) an interview Koufax gave upon his retirement in which he references being “high” during games from all the drugs, and b) a passing reference inside Jane Leavy’s fabulous book Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy.

Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus explained it more than two years ago in a post (subscription required):

I was able to get in touch with Jane Leavy to clarify. I asked Ms. Leavy if she meant corticosteroids or if Koufax, a player of the same era that we know steroids and HGH made some small inroads into the game, now had to be lumped in with the “juicers.” Leavy states she meant corticosteroids, the same type of “cortisone injection” that we see performed so often in baseball to this day.

So, no, Sandy Koufax did not take the “steroids” Mark McGwire took, for the same reason McGwire claims he took them. He took cortisone injections (cortico-steroids; they used the back half of the word as shorthand in the ’60s; we now use its front half) for the same reason probably a quarter of major league pitchers have taken them, the same reason I took one in each of the last two years – a specialist physician determined it was safe, it would alleviate pain, and do less damage than surgery. And it broke no rule nor law.
Parenthetically, I received steroid drops for my eyes the other day. I had no idea they existed. This also provided the only laugh of the entire McGwire MLB Net interview – when he talked about how no steroid could immediately effect one’s hand-to-eye coordination. He’s literally correct (though all honing of physical strength can lead to improved coordination, too), but if he’d only known about “Eyeball Steroids” he might have dropped the subject just to avoid the confusion.



    It’s sometimes hard to tell whether some people are ignorant of facts, or just deliberately ignorant – i.e., refusing to face facts. Good for you, clearing up the difference between the corticosteroids Koufax was given to the steroids that cause ‘roid rage and all the other horrible side effects. At least those who are willing to learn will know the difference…and the truth.

    I’m sorry to hear that you needed steroid eye drops. Those are usually prescribed for pretty serious eye irritation. They didn’t even give me those, when I accidentally mistook my contact lens peroxide-based cleaner for saline solution (I couldn’t see/read the labels) and ended up putting peroxide in my eye. So, if the problem you’re having is worse than bathing one’s eye in peroxide, you definitely have my sympathy! In recent years, I’ve used over-the-counter Similasan drops to keep my worst eye irritations from getting out of control. They don’t burn like most eye drops do, and they really alleviate the discomfort. So I haven’t needed prescription drops in years, knock on wood.

    Getting back to McGwire…the way I see it, the only people more deeply in denial than he is are his apologists. The facts you’ve just presented will, unfortunately, sail right over the heads of such people.

  2. soydevon

    Hey Keith, maybe you could explain to me why McGwire’s a bad guy for using chemicals to heal up faster and get an “UNFAIR” edge over the competition, but Bob Gibson & others from decades ago are good guys. I say this, ’cause of this article pointing out that this is the way baseball heroes have been doing since the 60’s (maybe longer) –

    If nobody was outraged enough in ’69 to lay down some hard rules against chemicals and lay down some rules for testing players…then it doesn’t make sense to blame players for continuing the trend. It was,, in a sense, legal.

    So if we all bash someone for doing something acceptable before there were hard rules against it, just because WE don’t like it… that doesn’t really make any sense.

    The same principle exists in the US legal system…

    If one is breaking a copyright and the copyright holder DOES NOTHING about it for a few years but then suddenly tries to sue the one breaking the copyright… the legal system says “no, you can’t stop them from making their product anymore as you’ve known about it for a while and let it go on”

    In more general laws… if a law against something doesn’t exist until next year, the justice department can’t go arrest people for done the “crime” last year before it was a law.

    In the same way, until 2003, baseball authorities weren’t testing anyone and they weren’t making efforts to do so. Yet, 30+ years earlier, a problem was made public.

    That all being said, I’m not saying that anyone using chemicals for an unfair advantage was in the right morally, but hey…the public didn’t care until Canseco made a fuss.

    So… explain to me why McGwire’s such a bad guy for doing what everybody else was doing, when there was no rules against it. I don’t get it. What am I missing?


    Damn, I wish McGwire came out with this information years ago. My cat pugsly was on steroids to maintain his inflammatory bowel disease.

    Had I known what Dr. McGwire now tells us, my cat Pugsly could have been a leading power hitter. Well Pugs is no longer with us, so we’re left with “what if?”. He’s the Josh Gibson of cats.

    McGwire needs to shut the hell up! He’s digging himself in deeper hole every time he speaks!!


    On other thing: what did his coaches, managers and team executives know about McGwire’s steroid use? Did they turn a blind eye because he was a gate attraction and benefit for the team? It would be interesting to find out what their knowledge was.

  5. zonk84

    On other thing: what did his coaches, managers and team executives know about McGwire’s steroid use? Did they turn a blind eye because he was a gate attraction and benefit for the team? It would be interesting to find out what their knowledge was.

    It would also be interesting to know whether renowned sports journalists of the time knew or had any reason to suspect such things were taking place.

    As a SportsCenter junkie in the early and mid-90s, I have a lot of memories of the cutesy HRs calls, the “going, going gone!” lists, and all sorts of sundry highlighting…. I have this recollection of some sort of “chicks dig the longball” ad campaign a certain network ran with.

    Did sports journalists during the steroid era also turn a blind eye to the possibilities? What was their knowledge of the situation? Did they even bother investigating? Were any questions asked? Any physicians or medical researchers consulted? Or were they, too, happy to go along for the ride?
    If only we had access to such a person — if there were someone that made a name for him or herself covering sports professionally during the rise and peak of the ‘steroid era’ and likewise benefited from the glamor and exposure of the offensive explosion we could ask that person “What did you know and when did you know it?” We could ask “Did you bother to ask any questions?” If not, “why not?”.
    Alas, though, I cannot think of any current PED jihadist who also happened to be a prominent sports journalist during that era.


    Hey, I should be able to hit home runs too! I’ve taken steroids several times in the past. I’ve inhaled them, had injections, and taken pills. When do I get my major league contract?? 🙂 Okay, so they were the corticosteroids, not the big stuff. Some don’t seem to realize that the difference between corticosteroids and anabolic steroids is like the difference between ibuprofen and oxycontin – or even more of a difference than that. Steroid eye drops? Ouch, Keith! I’m sorry to hear that! I’m surprised you’re still able to do the show, in that case… but after watching you go through that episode with the ruptured appendix, I’ve taken to calling you “Iron Man”. Jeez… you went to work with a ruptured appendix?? Didn’t that hurt like hell? I’ve had emergency surgery twice, and the second time it hurt so badly before they did surgery that I couldn’t even talk. They took out my appendix that time, because, as the doctor said “It was either this or put in a zipper”. I figured, what the hell… as long as it was a nice, stylish zipper… 🙂 On a more serious note, I hope you and your father both get better soon. I’ve got so many things running through my head, but I’ll just leave it there. And as to the “one who can’t read”, well… ignore him/her. Some people aren’t worth paying attention to, if you get my drift. Besides, some of them are just out to get your attention, and if you respond, they get worse, hoping for more. Anyway, hugs to you, and I hope things just get better from here.


    Another opportunity presented, another opportunity ignored to address why all of the steroid business gets people so riled up. Funny how smack dab in the middle of all the “confession” and “coming clean” and “unburdening” the other day there remained one emphatic, unqualified, unequivocable denial:

    “I did NOT sneak into a men’s room stall with another man, pull down my pants, and allow the other man stick something in my butt!”

    Funny how McGwire shared front-page space here in California with another gay marriage story. Yet again, the oogie, rather fetishized, vaguely homoerotic steroid imagery of syringes, (male) buttocks, shrunken testicles, shaved chests, jockstraps, etc. — which are the real reason for all the hysteria — are buried under endless platitudes about “purity” of records and the “integrity of the game” and a “level playing field”.

    Jose Canseco should get in touch with his old pal Madonna. I’d love to hear her take on all of this.



    I love you and watch your show regularly. However, you lost total legitimacy on your show yesterday by the failure of not reporting the connection between “your friend” Bob Costas and Ari Fleischer. As reported in the NY Times, Costas is represented by IMG, which owns half of Fleischer?s company.

    We now know that the entire dog and pony show was set up using Fleischer’s crisis control company to orchestrate the proceedings, including the sole interview that had Costas serving softballs to McGwire with little or no tough follow-up questioning.

    This was irresponsible journalism at best reminiscent of your adversaries on the othe network.


    I am sick of the bogus argument that McGwire and Bonds have used about steroids and eye hand coordination. It’s not about increasing their hand eye coordination it is about increasing their strength. The increase in strength gained from steroids makes it so that they can muscle up on pitches. A ball that before steroids would be going to the warning track, can potentially now be hit out with the added strength gained from steroids. These are human beings that already possess incredible hand eye coordination but now can hit the ball out on pitches not hit as squarely as before.



    I normally don’t watch the show (other side of the political spectrum and married to a total hockey freak). But, you were dead on last night breaking this down. From the whole thing I concluded that either 1) McGwire doesn’t have what it took to be a clubhouse leader (“guys in the clubhouse kept saying ‘he’s hurt again'” doesn’t sit well) or he is just interested in image, maybe even trying to get sympathy votes for the hall. Trust me. If he gets in next year and Blyleven doesn’t, I’m going to the streets.

    The one thing where you could have gone tougher is on commissioner Selig. He was silent then and still doesn’t take this seriously. His silence is, in my opinion, an endorsement of the practice. You have lost moral authority to be the head of America’s pastime, Mr. Selig. The best thing you can do is act in the best interest of the game and step down.

    Some of us really miss you on the sports side. I would love to at least have you once in awhile visit DanNation.


    This is a little off-topic, but it?s been bugging me: Why did the Cardinals hire McGwire as a hitting coach?

    Yes, he has experience doing exactly the thing he?ll be coaching, but can he pass the benefits of that experience on to others? (He doesn?t seem to be the inspirational mentor type, or particularly analytical either.) He may have been blessed ?by the man? with a freakish ability to hit projectiles with a stick, but everyone knows blessings of that sort are non-transferable. If he was hired by old friends as a favor, or just because they like having him around, won?t those chummy feelings make it difficult to fire him? What will they do when they need a scapegoat?

  12. historymike

    A couple of comments:

    First, I did not see Keith’s report, but I don’t think Costas made a deal or threw only softballs. Once upon a time, Mike Wallace, for example, would have done that (except that one of Wallace’s last TV appearances, if not last, was lobbing wiffleballs at Roger Clemens). Unless I am mistaken, it never has been Costas’s style to take that approach in an interview–to illuminate rather than to challenge all that much (granting that I am not a big fan of Costas–I admire his abilities, but I don’t have to adore him).

    Second, as to Koufax, one of his concerns with the drugs he was taking for his arthritis was that he wouldn’t have the reaction time on a shot hit back through the box. Think Herb Score and you can imagine his concerns, especially since Score’s injury had happened only a few years before.

    Third, amazingly, Koufax has agreed to sit down for a conversation with Joe Torre and T.J. Simers of the LA Times for a benefit for Torre’s foundation. Many call Koufax reclusive but really he’s more private than anything else. This is big news.



    Reviewing McGwuire’s cautious admission , a couple of thoughts came to mind:

    1. He didn’t just play in the “steroid era” – he was a founding father of that era. It’s a shame that true sluggers who played (Ken Griffey Jr and Frank Thomas come immediately to mind) without PEDs were shunted to the sidelines while the McGwuire and Sosa enjoyed their roid filled publicity tour in 1998.

    2. It would be a shame if McGwuire gets voted into the HOF, but Frank Thomas is penalized for being a DH aka Edgar Martinez.

    Thanks and Go White Sox!!

  14. nato_doyle

    Soydevon, thanks for that link to the Posnanski article. I thought Joe P. was right-on. I agree with his remembrance/paraphrasing of Buck O’Neil about how the media always talks about how using steroids can make you hit better, but rarely does the discussion of long-term health effects even come into play. And how, if Mark really believes – as you or I might, if our roles were reversed – that using steroids DIDN’T help him hit more HRs, it would be insincere of him to say that he did think that. And how he called the Maris family, and admits that they have “every right” to consider Roger’s single-season record to be Thee Record.

    And as for my two cents… I hope Mark McGwire does his damndest to atone for his steroid use. He’s surely got plenty of money. Donate to charity and awareness programs, give speeches to youth baseball teams, stuff like that. If his behavior over the next ten years is exemplary, I won’t even complain if he makes it into the hall of fame. Finally, I’d like to provide a link of my own:

    Go Brewers!

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