Mark McGwire’s contention that he didn’t need steroids to hit 70 home runs is fascinating.
There is no way to tell whether he’s right. But what’s intriguing is that this week, 20 years after the season during which he and Sammy Sosa battled each other daily for the home run record, McGwire feels he has to comment on the issue.
“I just know,” he told reporter Jayson Stark. “I did take PEDs, and I regretted it. I didn’t need to. That’s the thing."
For me, "the thing" isn’t whether or not Mark McGwire could have hit 70 home runs without chemical help. "The thing" is that although he told a congressional committee in 2005, "I’m not here to discuss the past," now, that’s what he’s doing.
Maybe, at 54, white-bearded and 17 years beyond his playing days, he’s thinking wistfully about whether he’ll ever be welcomed into the Hall of Fame, trying to provide 75 percent of the baseball writers with a reason to vote for him: "Hey, he’d have been a record-breaking home run hitter without the juice. He’s said it himself."
Or maybe there’s a little Joe DiMaggio in Mark McGwire. "Joltin’ Joe," famous for his grace on the field and for allegedly never making a mistake during a game, was a magnificent ballplayer. And he never wanted anybody to forget it. Throughout his retirement he was in demand at all sorts of events and celebrations, and he always insisted that he should be introduced as "the greatest living ballplayer."
DiMaggio was great, but perhaps the older he got, the more necessary it became for him to assert that he was more than great, that he was "the greatest living ballplayer."
That’s a distinction to be argued about rather than bestowed, I think. I mean, Willie Mays.
But the point is that DiMaggio required the designation as validation. Perhaps today, Mark McGwire requires the same sort of affirmation: "Yes, I used steroids, but I should be remembered as a guy who could have hit 70 home runs in a season without them."
By most accounts, Joe DiMaggio in retirement was a suspicious, vindictive, unhappy man. I hope that’s not true of Mark McGwire, and I hope it won’t bother him to learn that at the beginning of the 2018 baseball season, most people probably don’t care whether he could have hit all those home runs on his own.