Archive for Sunday, March 20, 2005

McGwire losing in court of public opinion

March 20, 2005

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— In the court of public opinion, Mark McGwire already is guilty.

For many, each "I'm not here to talk about the past" during his testimony before Congress on Thursday was worth erasing a dozen or more home runs, as if the highlights of his career were being played in reverse, with balls flying back over the fence and toward home plate.

McGwire flew too high, and many have concluded the wax that fastened his wings was steroids. Four years following the end of his stellar career, the heat of the congressional committee has melted his image.

Could it keep Big Mac out of the Hall of Fame? His name goes on the ballot in 2007.

"I think it will deprive McGwire of a first-ballot election," said Jerome Holtzman, the retired Chicago baseball writer who now is the sport's official historian. "I think he'll get in, but I don't think it will be on the first ballot."

Ross Newhan, like Holtzman a member of the Hall's writers' wing, didn't change his opinion based on the Capitol Hill appearance.

"I will vote for Mark McGwire, as I have planned to vote for him," said Newhan, recently retired from the Los Angeles Times. "He has denied steroid use, he has not been indicted for steroid use and there is no quantitative evidence as to the extent steroids enhance performance. The '90s, and the suspicions that accompanied that decade, is what it was."

McGwire's testimony was painful to watch. Either his lawyers miscalculated, or their client had no ability to sidestep questions as easily as other witnesses. Many times, his only answer was: "I'm retired."

During his record 70-homer season in 1998, McGwire was baseball's Paul Bunyan. He is sixth on the career list with 583, and only Barry Bonds, with 73 in 2001, has surpassed his season total.

Steroids were not banned by baseball until September 2002, a full year after McGwire's retirement, yet some would have his accomplishments stricken from the history book as if he didn't exist, wiped out in the manner of a purged communist leader.

"I think it would have been a lot better for him to say, 'I did it, and I'm sorry,"' former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent said.

McGwire never was one to show a lot of emotion on the field, not a player who sought attention and craved to be thought of as a nice guy.

But at some level, this has to hurt. Questions from Congress, barbs from fans and potshots in the press must deflate his self-esteem to some degree. He choked up at least three times during his opening statement.

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