Bob Ryan

Allowing McGwire back is a cardinal sin by Selig

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / November 1, 2009

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So the commissioner of baseball thinks it’s peachy-keen and okey-dokey that Mark McGwire will be the new batting instructor of the St. Louis Cardinals?

That’s interesting.

I wonder if Bud Selig would be so sanguine if Barry Bonds had accepted a similar position with the San Francisco Giants.

Mark McGwire is tainted, damaged goods, and baseball should be distancing itself from this man until he comes clean, or at least makes an attempt to clarify the public record concerning his use of performance-enhancing drugs while he was erasing Roger Maris, not to mention Babe Ruth, from the record books a little more than a decade ago.

Mark McGwire did great damage to the game Bud professes to love so much. He was the most colossal tease baseball has ever known, creating what we thought was a true Golden Moment in the sport’s history, when, in fact, it was a gigantic fraud. What McGwire did from 1995 through his retirement in 2001 was a textbook example of Greater Hitting Through Chemistry, and Bud has to know that.

But Bud says he is “delighted’’ McGwire is back in baseball.

“I have no misgivings about this at all,’’ Selig told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Mark McGwire is a very, very fine man, and the Cardinals are to be applauded.’’

In some aspects of his life, Mark McGwire is indeed “a very, very fine man.’’ He has donated both time and millions of dollars to the protection of abused children, and that Mark McGwire is to be commended.

The Mark McGwire who appeared before the House Government Reform Committee in February of 2005 is another matter.

Emerging from a four-year self-imposed exile from public life, where his only known activity was playing golf, McGwire had a chance to do himself and the game some good. By this time, it was all out there, his name ensnarled in an FBI investigation of steroid use in Bay area gyms among weightlifters that led straight to the Bash Brothers: Jose Canseco and, yup, Mark McGwire.

McGwire had been a public proponent of androstenedione, or “andro,’’ a precursor to anabolic steroids, that was, at the time, not prohibited in baseball, though it was on the list of banned supplements in other athletic entities, such as the Olympic movement. A few eyebrows, and only a few, were arched when that was revealed, but most of us shrugged it off because (a) we were uninformed and naive on this entire topic and (b) McGwire was giving us such a phenomenal story with his relentless pursuit of the single-season home run record, the most glamorous and historic milestone in all of American team sport.

So here was McGwire appearing before that congressional gathering on March 17, 2005, giving Rep. William Clay (D-Mo.) the following answer when Clay asked him if he could assure the fans that he had always played with “honesty and integrity.’’

“I’m not going to go into the past or talk about my past. I’m here to make a positive influence on this.’’

That wasn’t good enough, nor was his amplification.

“My lawyers,’’ he said, “advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family, and myself.’’

Thus did Mark McGwire become the first American citizen to invoke the Fourth and a Half Amendment.

At that moment, we knew all we needed to know.

Then he made it worse. Responding to questions posed by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), he told the world he would be a “great spokesman’’ against the use of steroids in baseball.

We’re waiting for the first speech or public service announcement. Or did I miss it when I went to the bathroom?

It’s hard to exaggerate how captivating that summer of 1998 was, and how it culminated in such euphoria when McGwire hit homers No. 60, 61, and 62 in St. Louis to establish a record for single-season power. I was there for it all, and when it was done, I was at my mushiest and gushiest, claiming to speak for the credentialed 700 members of the media in attendance by declaring the experience to be “the most enjoyable non-postseason event I have covered.’’

One of the reasons it was so great was the way Mark McGwire was enjoying himself. The daily press briefings were a delight. The back stories brought a tear to your eye. You had McGwire able to enjoy this experience in the company of his 12-year-old son, who was living with his mother and stepfather. And you had the too-good-to-be-true relationship between McGwire and the Maris family, with whom he had bonded in heartwarming fashion.

Putting the cherry on the journalistic sundae was the way all the principals were embracing the moment. Cincinnati manager Jack McKeon, who normally would intentionally walk McGwire under the slightest pretense, announced in advance that his hurlers would be pitching to McGwire. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa returned the favor to Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa, who was likewise pursuing the Maris record, by pitching to him in the ninth inning of a 3-2 game with a man on third and two away, something he would never have done under ordinary circumstances.

“I never thought I’d say this,’’ La Russa explained, “but, in that situation, those two guys deserve to be bigger than the game.’’

That’s how it was, and we all took everything that was going on at face value. Now we know that both McGwire and Sosa were juicing, that this was all an elaborate ruse.

Eleven years later, we are now supposed to welcome McGwire back into baseball without an explanation, without an apology? Bud Selig can prattle on about how stringent the testing policy is now, and how seriously baseball is addressing the issue. Meanwhile, the 70 home runs stand. The 65 in 1999 stand. If we had any doubts about what happened, they disappeared the moment Mark McGwire invoked the Fourth and a Half Amendment on March 17, 2005.

Tony La Russa is a sad enabler, a steroid denier whose legacy is entwined with that of a cheater. At least we can understand his motivation in bringing Mark McGwire back to baseball. But Bud Selig should say no, not happening, until we hear from the man who deceived us to such an astonishing degree.

Mark McGwire owes an explanation to the Maris family, if no one else.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on He can be reached at

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