Monday, January 25, 2010

Mark McGwire

Add me to the long list of those who were thoroughly unimpressed by Mark McGwire's public confession two weeks ago, that he used anabolic steroids during a decade-long period that culminated with him breaking the single-season major league homerun record with 70, in 1998.

If McGwire felt liberated by finally speaking out publicly on his long history of steroid use, then I am genuinely happy for him. He is probably sleeping better at night, and as one who has had difficulty sleeping through rough periods in my personal life, I applaud him for coming clean. Except that he failed miserably on the one crucial point, when he insisted that the many years of using a variety of PEDs did not, in fact, enhance his performance.

It's common knowledge now that Big Mac hired former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, now the head man of Fleischer Sports Communications, to guide him through his coming out, of sorts. But if Fleischer advised Mac to say that steroids didn't help hit a baseball, then I think he did a great disservice to his new client. Rather, I think Mac would have been much better served, when asked by Bob Costas on the MLB Network about the benefits of steroids, to say that he didn't know for sure, but that even if 'roids did help hit more home runs, it was impossible to say how many more. Such an answer, I believe, would have been much more credible, and would have served him much better in the long run in the court of public opinion, including with the baseball Hall of Fame voters.

Speaking of the HOF, I was not surprised to see McGwire down around 24% of the vote (far short of the minimum 75% necessary from the baseball writers), but I was very disappointed to see that fellow first-baseman Fred McGriff, in his first year of eligibility, garnered just 21%.

To me, just as a vote against McGwire (and a vote against Bonds three years from now) is a vote against obvious and long periods of heavy steroid use, a vote for McGriff would be a vote in favor of those who put up excellent numbers, albeit numbers overshadowed by steroid users during a steroid era. In other words, you'd have to be an extreme cynic to believe that McGriff used 'roids. He was long&lean as a rookie in the Big Leagues, and he was long&lean when he retired. His body never changed. He hit 493 homeruns, with an average of .284, a solid glove, and a clutch performer, as Giants fans will attest to, particularly from the 1993 season, when the Giants won 103 games, only to finish second in the NL West to the Braves, who won 104, led in large part by McGriff, who hit .310 with 19 homers and 55 RBIs in 290 at-bat, after being acquired in a mid-season trade from San Diego.

In short, a vote against McGwire is a vote against those who cheated the game, and the fans. A vote for McGriff doubles that sentiment.

Brett Favre

Beware of that story, saying Brett Favre told Ed Werder that he was leaning heavily toward retirement. To me, it's either a non-story completely, or if one does report it, one must also add that it's a completely natural reaction immediately after (or even a day after) such a grueling and discouraging loss. In other words, the fact that he said he was leaning heavily toward retirement last night or this morning means absolutely nothing in the long run.

It's unfortunate that stories like this have life in them, because not only is it as exhausting as watching CSN report every freaking night from Raiders headquarters on the Tom Cable situation, when there is nothing to report, but it also fuels this anti-Favre fever across the country. Fans get angry, again, because they think Favre is indecisive, and is leading them on. When, in reality, all he did was say how he felt at that moment, and ESPN rides with it. Ideally, he should say, "Ed, this is not a good time to ask me that question, because I'm emotional and I'm exhausted, mentally and physically." That kind of answer would serve him much better.

But we all know these speculative Favre stories (will he retire or won't he?) will be reported on the Worldwide Leader in Sports nearly every day until he decides whether to play another season. And, in the process, fans will grow increasingly tired of him, when in reality, they should re-examine who's really at fault here. Favre needs time to decide whether he wants to quarterback the Vikings again, at age 41. Almost to a man, his teammates would love to see him come back, and why not? He's a great team leader, and he had one of the best seasons of his career, with 33 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. Yes, the media should back off and give him time.