McGwire's Admission: An American Tale

This article is more than 11 years old.

Viewed in isolation, Mark McGwire’s tearful admission that he used steroids while delighting Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and his marketeers with his long and numerous home runs a decade ago is not surprising news. Maybe it shouldn’t be considered news at all.

Most people who’d paid attention to the matter concluded long ago that Mark McGwire’s performance as a home run hitter was chemically enhanced, as were the performances of lots of other players.

But each story of an athlete who has taken advantage of something that makes him or her stronger, or faster, or more likely to heal quickly from injury and, therefore, able to return more rapidly to the business of making more money compels us to consider once again a few circumstances.

We are a culture given to dosing ourselves with stimulants, depressants, pain-killers, and various products designed to enhance us in one way or another. Each night, television commercials urge us to pester our doctors or pharmacists for something to make us thinner or bigger; sleepier or more alert; less depressed or less hyperactive; more serene in a crowd or more energized in bed. Athletes, like the rest of us, watch TV.

As long as athletes are paid according to how well and how long they can produce, they will seek ways to improve and prolong their performances, and some of them will be more adventurous or more desperate than others. The world will never lack for chemists with something new, improved, and temporarily undetectable. Mark McGwire may believe that he was a victim of Major League Baseball’s failure to ban steroids and begin testing for them 20 years ago, but banning and testing will always lag behind performance enhancing.

It’s lovely to expect baseball players and other paid athletes to behave differently from butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers who aspire to work harder, longer and more profitably than their competitors, but it’s naive.

And if, next season, there bursts upon the Major League scene some phenom so fast that he steals second, third, and home each time he gets to first…or some guy who can throw 140  mile an hour strikes for nine innings every third day without tiring appears on a mound somewhere, never mind that the lads are shooting up something nobody can pronounce let alone detect, Commissioner Selig will urge us to buy a ticket to see the show, and we’ll do it, screaming for more.