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Revisiting the 1998 Mark McGwire story that changed everything

By January 13, 2010

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In the summer of 1998, Steve Wilstein was accused of breaking a certain code between sports writers and their subjects.

Wilstein, a writer from the Associated Press, was covering a Cardinals game and saw a bottle labeled androstenedione - a substance not illegal in baseball at the time - in Mark McGwire's locker. He wrote about it, a story about it that still resides in a few hard drives on the Internet today:

"Sitting on the top shelf of Mark McGwire's locker, next to a can of Popeye spinach and packs of sugarless gum, is a brown bottle labeled Androstenedione.

"For more than a year, McGwire says, he has been using the testosterone-producing pill, which is perfectly legal in baseball but banned in the NFL, Olympics and the NCAA.

"No one suggests that McGwire wouldn't be closing in on Roger Maris' home run record without the over-the-counter drug. After all, he hit 49 homers without it as a rookie in 1987, and more than 50 each of the past two seasons."

Note Wilstein's hesitation. "No one suggests..." Wilstein didn't want to accuse McGwire of cheating. After all, it wasn't a banned substance. But baseball, and most major American sports, only had policies against recreational drugs such as cocaine and marijuana. Steroids didn't help baseball players with hand-eye coordination, right?

McGwire felt like his privacy was invaded and most took to the Cardinals slugger's defense as Wilstein's tactics were questioned. McGwire went on to break the single-season home run record. Wilstein became an advocate for drug testing and faced the heat. He retired in 2001, but is vindicated today. He wrote a scathing column for CNN.com on Wednesday, the day after McGwire admitted he was taking a lot more than andro.

The scathing third paragraph:

"McGwire's entire playing career is indelibly stained and his judgment is not to be trusted. What else are we to make of a man who cheated and didn't come clean for 20 years? Can he be trusted to coach other players who may be using steroids? Is he fit for any job that is also a test of character and personal standards? Baseball should bar him from coaching and never again allow his name on a Hall of Fame ballot."

I'm curious: Is there a disconnect here between baseball fans and the media that this amplifies? Are Wilstein and other writers going too far? Taking it too easy?

And what do you think of Mark McGwire's Hall of Fame chances?


January 14, 2010 at 9:42 am
(1) krinkle says:

I agree with you that he is a borderline hall of famer from a statistical perspective. But I believe you need to look at a player and their effect on the era they played in. During his playing days, was there a more feared hitter than McGwire? The word domination comes to mind when I think back of McGwire in the 90′s. I think the ability of a player to completely change the way a game is played just becasue he is in the lineup is a tremendous thing. Managers had to account for how they would handle him knowing he was coming up in the order. Aside from the steroid use I believe he is a sure-fire hall of famer. However, it will be interesting to see how the voters respond. I myself would spend a lot of time deciding my vote.

January 14, 2010 at 10:21 am
(2) Walker says:

McGwire should have Nothing to do with baseball. He should be banned just like Pete Rose.

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