On the one hand, Mark McGwire, in his hypnotic interview with Bob Costas on MLB Network yesterday, did all that could have possibly been asked of him. As Cardinals blog Viva El Birdos points out, every question we might have conceivably considered was answered, in impressive, often depressing detail. (McGwire didn’t just talk to Costas, and VEB compiles all the interviews he did throughout the day.) Mark McGwire, for once, was not evasive in his answers. That’s not enough, of course. It couldn’t be.
No, no: No matter what McGwire did yesterday, he was going to be accused of coming up short, because no matter how many good questions Costas asked and no matter how specifically McGwire answered them, you can’t make up for ten years in an hour-long television special. There was going to be something. The takeaway for many, the one the angry people who yell on the television are harping on, is that McGwire said he used steroids to overcome injuries, not to hit home runs. This is a semantic issue, one that a proud former athlete could be reasonably expected to be reticent to acknowledge. Mark McGwire stayed healthier because of steroids, and he hit more home runs because he was healthier: Thus, Mark McGwire hit more home runs because of steroids. This is a fact, one that everyone on earth, including McGwire, knows. What McGwire is saying — wrongly, but understandably — is that he didn’t pop a steroid and then start hitting homers. (That sounds stupid, but you’d be amazed how many people think it’s really that simple.) But the Lupicas of the world — in a column that was oddly measured for him, actually — are claiming that this “dodge” is proof that McGwire was covering his flank and must do more.
They always must do more, which is why Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa, and Roger Clemens, and Rafael Palmeiro, are all doomed. Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez — whose explanations for their own usage were far more vague and nonsensical than anything McGwire said yesterday — were able to do more on the field: They were able to win a World Series and hear the roar of the crowd, to atone in the only way baseball fans really care about. We don’t forgive them for taking steroids, collectively, but playing baseball is the only way to convince fans to truly let anyone slide. All McGwire, Bonds, and the rest of them can do now is talk. It’s impossible for that to be enough.
There will always be something wrong with any statement McGwire or the rest of them make. We’re mad because we feel duped. Who cares that PEDs weren’t banned by baseball when McGwire played? Who cares that he looks like a truly penitent, haunted man? He messed with America’s memories, and he can’t put a nice ending on it now. Sorry, Mark; sorry, Barry; sorry, Rocket: Your crime is not taking steroids, your crime is taking steroids too late in your careers to make up for it on the field before you retired.