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Mark McGwire and Steroids: One Fan's View
Recently Mark McGwire, who some say helped save baseball along with Sammy Sosa when the two sluggers engaged in that epic home run race in 1998, admitted what many had suspected for years - that he took steroids during the latter part of the 1980s and the bulk of the 1990s, including in '98 when he broke Roger Maris' single season record with his 70 round trippers.
Before I continue, however, I want to make something absolutely clear:
Steroids are a bad thing. They are known to ruin people's health and ultimately kill. Taking banned substances to enhance athletic performance or to heal from an injury quickly is a dangerous thing to do, and I wholeheartedly agree with them being illegal.
Athletes like Ken Camimiti and Lyle Alzado tragically come to mind when I think about what performance enhancing drugs can do.
Alzado's situation was particularly saddening; this was a legendary defensive lineman who tried to make a comeback in the National Football League by shooting up steroids like he was a junkie hooked on heroin.
It wasn't surprising when he ended up ravaged with several forms of cancer and eventually dying due to that.
While I concur that those who juice up with 'roids, human growth hormone and other drugs of that nature should be severely punished, I understand why people feel they need to take them.
It's a unique stance to take on this issue, I realize that.
As we all know, professional sports is a ruthless business where it's generally tougher to remain at the highest level than it is to arrive there.
The odds of spending one day on a Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, or NFL roster is practically one in inifinity, and for those minute few who do make it, management only cares about one thing - whether or not you are producing. As soon as the player is seen to not be putting up the appropriate numbers or helping the team win, the door can't be shown to him fast enough.
Indeed, the pressures of being a major pro athlete are cutthroat. Strikeouts, intercepted passes, and missed jump shots often equals money being taken out of one's pocket and is one step closer to being put on waivers for the purpose of an unconditional release.
Not to mentional the pains and agonies that are put on a player's body; a guy in the NFL or NBA is expected to last an average of four years, often retiring with a debilitating injury of some kind. At seven to ten years, baseball players fare a little better with regard to average career length, but injuries are a big part of that game too, especially with pitchers and their arms.
What I am getting at is this:
In any situation where the competition to be and stay the best is so intense that the difference between getting a muti-million dollar contract and not getting drafted at all is minuscule, people are going to use almost any means necessary to gain and maintain an edge.
Nowhere is that more true than in professional sports.
If someone feels that taking a few supplements, applying a little cream on a muscle or joint or shooting something into their inner thigh can make him (or her) faster and stronger and can heal injuries more quickly, he (or she) would be at least consider trying it, no matter what anybody else says - especially if it made the difference between making an opening day roster and getting cut and sent home.
Why else have a number of baseball players, including the Dodgers' Manny Ramirez, received 50 gane suspensions for testing positive in the years since MLB encated their drug testing policy?
I once heard that the Phillies' Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt and former Negro League legend Buck O'Neil say that if steroids had been around in their day, guys would have taken them, particularly if it meant the difference between winning and losing.
Or between making "The Show" or not.
Or between hitting ten home runs or belting 40 homers.
Or between making 750,000 dollars or making 75 million dollars.
In short, I understand the temptation of athletes to try to enhance their performance and gain a competitve edge through drugs.
I don't condone it by any means. But I do understand.
That is why unlike so many others, I don't feel that the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, the sportswriters deciding who gets elected there, and the court of public opinion should judge former players like McGwire, (allegedly) Barry Bonds, and Jose Canseco - McGwire's Bash Brother teammate on the Oakland Athletics - as harshly as they have.
Was it right that they juiced, or fair to the players that didn't? Of course not, but must the baseball community see them and the others who used steroids and HGH as pariahs and scum?
I say no; they were wrong in 'roiding up, but I can imagine why they did it.
And if those payers who were successful at least partly because they went on the juice ever get voted into the Hall - which is highly unlikely - I won't be as upset as a lot of people would be. They did what they felt they had to do and most importantly, there were no anti-performance enhancing drug policy in baseball during the 1980s and 90s, when most of these men were playing.
That means if they were breking the rules, it was before it became a rule.
A former college football star who was caught with steroids in his system described it as "...getting pregnant in March and finding out in August that it was illegal to have babies."
So to sum this all up, my message to all who have been crucifying Canseco, want to condemn McGwire and burn Manny at the stake, lighten up a bit. As the Bible says...
"Judge not, lest ye be judged."