Monday, January 11, 2010

Big Mac stops telling Whoppers*

So former baseball slugger Mark McGwire has finally come clean about his steroid use during his 15-year major league career. That grand announcement was met with similar public reaction which occurred with Pete Rose's admission he bet on baseball and Clay Aiken's revelation that he was gay.

McGwire burst on the MLB scene in 1987, hitting 49 home runs with 118 RBIs, earning him AL Rookie of the year honors. In his first four major league seasons, he averaged 38 HRs and 105 RBIs. But then came 1991, when McGwire hit an anemic .201 while hitting only 22 homers and driving in 75. It's difficult to fathom what was going through his mind having his production taking such a nosedive in only his fifth season as a major leaguer. I recall McGwire looking incredibly bulked upon the arrival of the 1992 season. As a result, he belted 42 homers and 104 RBIs to go with a .268 average.

But with all that extra muscle came a rash of injuries. Over the next two seasons (1993-94) McGwire played in only 74 games. It was then he began to use steroids in earnest, which lasted the remaining seven years of his career. He would average more than fifty homers per year over that time, and would be the first player to ever usurp Roger Maris' season record of 61. To give you an indication of how prevalent steroids were in the '90s, Maris' record stood for 37 seasons but was surpassed six times between 1998 and 2001.

So the debate will now rage on about whether or not McGwire (or any other player linked to performance enhancing drugs) will ever be enshrined in the baseball Hall of Fame. During his candid admission, McGwire felt he "was given a gift to hit home runs" and that the only reason he took steroids "was for health purposes." But given the timeline, McGwire had barely hit more than 200 homers by the early '90s (when he admits to have started to use PEDs). Those numbers are hardly worthy of a hall of famer.

It could be argued that hitting a baseball is by far the most difficult skill to master. That being the case, if a player can't get around on a 95 MPH fastball, steroids aren't going to help him much. For a skilled power hitter, the assistance of PEDs merely turns 375-foot home runs into 400-foot shots. McGwire is currently tied for eighth on the all-time home run list with 583. But given the vote totals McGwire has accumulated in his first four years of hall of fame eligibility, the baseball writers are clearly not convinced of his natural home run prowess.

*Clever blog title stolen from former S.I. writer Steve Rushin.


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