I can remember it almost like it was yesterday.
Chicago Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa and Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire saved the game of baseball from the murky depths of its own cesspool following the strike in 1994 with an epic battle of power and a chance at eclipsing one of the most sacred records in baseball: single-season home run champion.
There is no denying that the concerted efforts of the two sluggers propelled a national pastime that was almost forgotten back into the hearts and minds of an entire country with each swing of their bats during the 1998 season.
Unfortunately, we were all guilty as fans for pulling the wool over our eyes during their heralded run at immortality.
Ignorantly, we tried to overlook the freakishly rapid muscle growth and overall change in appearance that developed as these once slender 20-somethings morphed into men of gargantuan dimensions.
As fate would have it, both of the power-hitting specimens would have an opportunity late in the season to face each other with the record within reach.
And on Sept. 8, 1998, against Sosa’s Cubs, McGwire lined a 341-foot shot into the cool autumn night in Busch Stadium, surpassing New York Yankees great Roger Maris for the single-season record.
Instantaneously, McGwire was pinned as the savior for a game that was in dire need of salvation, and fans reveled in his “can do no wrong, family man” persona.
My how things can change in a matter of a few years.
On March 17, 2005, an exhausted-looking McGwire sat in front of a congressional committee on steroid use and baseball’s hero assumed the role of a defeated man.
Over and over, he parroted to the committee that he “was not here to talk about the past.”
Cardinals fans and baseball fans had to painfully sit through his testimony as the denial of his past misgivings were, indeed, exactly what he was there to talk about.
And without saying a word, he told us everything.
McGwire “juiced” and we all knew it. He knew it. And his pale blue eyes told us.
Since his sheepish appearance on Capitol Hill, McGwire has vanished into obscurity.
That is, until last week, when his former team, the Cardinals, offered him a position as a hitting coach alongside his former skipper, Tony La Russa, who just signed a one-year deal.
Ironically, the man who is attempting to clean up the tainted image of his sport, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, is coming to the defense of an athlete who defiled his game. Our game.
I am all for giving a person a second chance, and in my case, sometimes a third, fourth and fifth.
But I am just really unclear on Selig’s stance on cheating.
He recently told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he was “delighted that Mark’s coming back to the game,” and added, “I have no misgivings about this at all.”
He has not even muttered a peep about this issue since his did the foxtrot around this issue in Congress.
Not to mention, he will be influencing the young talent on the Cardinals roster – many of whom are in the minor leagues wondering if they can make a big league roster without that shot of HGH.
Is Mark telling them not to?
Is he still telling himself that he did not use performance-enhancing drugs?
All of these questions are running through my mind, but Selig is “delighted.”
I was under the impression that Selig was on a mission to clean up the game, not muddy it.
But the slap-on-the-wrist suspensions for PED use and the welcoming back of McGwire without an explanation – at least A-Roid and Manny could muster that – I am beginning to think he really does not care.
Or does Selig just owe him one for saving the game 11 years ago?
Reach Erik at firstname.lastname@example.org.