At the Letters: Memories of McGwire's chase

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

Plenty of the 2,000-plus emails generated by the look back at the magical summer of 1998 and how history views Mark McGwire contained four-letter bombs directed at me and the misguided innocent-until-proven-guilty blather that surfaces any time the use of performance-enhancing drugs is addressed.

Please, please, please remember that baseball is not a court of law and the crime is not determined by the terms of our penal code but rather the stain left on a sport.

That said, there were gems among the piles of megabytes, and we'd be remiss not to share nine of the best.


At the end of your article you say: "There is no right way." I understand why you feel you need to say it as a modern-day philosophical statement, which I respectfully feel is a cop out. I doubt you or most people like me believe the "is no right way" line. I grew up with sportsmanship as I played sports as a fairly unmemorable athlete (other than batting .260 one glorious year … ) and also learned ethics from my parents and still believe in doing the right thing. I can't imagine how McGwire faces his kids, living the lie of his pseudo-achievements.

Russ Doyle
Huntington Beach, Calif.

It's amazing how the steroid issue stretches beyond the game and turns into a moral, ethical and sociological debate. Some people, like Russ, hold sportsmanship to the highest standard. And others – and there are plenty – consider achievement, no matter what the means, the ultimate goal. Which was the genesis for the idea that "There is no right way." You can argue either side, compellingly for certain, but there will never be a consensus on how best to view the Steroid Era.


All you baseball writers taking Mark McGwire to task because you feel betrayed by his performance-enhancing-substance use better get down on your knees and thank him and Sammy Sosa that there is still baseball to write about. When the '94 strike happened and the players had such a selfish, childish, egomaniacal attitude about the fans, I quit watching baseball altogether. None of my four boys plays baseball, either. It was the 1998 home run race that piqued our interest and brought us back to baseball even a little. Indeed, the '98 home run race saved baseball and, by extension, your job. So the next time you and your colleagues get on your high horses about the sanctity of the game, remember that the men you criticize saved a sport and your job.

Bill LeBaron
Mesa, Ariz.

It's one thing to credit McGwire and Sosa with "saving" baseball. It's a colloquial term. But baseball was not going to up and vanish, no way. If hockey can survive a 11-month-long strike and survive with half the interest baseball generated even when it was slumping, MLB would have weathered life without the race for 62.

Would it be as healthy today? Chances are, no.


I was living in St. Louis at the time, and I know that for me, it was a key reason that I began following MLB again. I've been a Cards fan all my life, but that was really a special time. There is one thing about the whole "scandal" surrounding the use of andro, HGH, etc., that never seems to be highlighted by the media. If my research is correct, the usage of these substances was neither illegal nor was it a violation of MLB rules. Why is it that we continue to crucify the legacy of these athletes by holding hearings in front of Congress, and by publishing continual articles screaming foul?

Ernie Thene
Champaign, Ill.

The first part of your question is a good one. How can the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform look back at its steroid hearings as enormously productive since, at the time, the mortgage industry spiraled out of control and planted the seeds for the biggest economic slump since the Depression? I wonder if Rafael Palmeiro never, ever processed a sub-prime loan.

Anyway, on to the important part of the question. Performance-enhancing drugs were not outlawed by MLB when McGwire took them. That said, the general public knew well enough about them that a stigma was there. McGwire didn't publicly acknowledge taking them – and still hasn't to this day – because of the shame that accompanies it.

And one last note: People seem to forget that the New York Daily News provided some pretty damning evidence that McGwire pumped a steady amount of anabolic steroids into his veins.


I found your column on Mark McGwire to be cowardly and pathetic! Mark McGwire is, was and always will be the greatest home run hitter that MLB ever saw. It was unfortunate that his career was cut short because of injuries. Your implication, that Barry Bonds would not have steroids if not for the "inferior" McGwire's home run prowess, is the type of crap one usually only hears when someone plays the race card or a teenager is making excuses for themselves or someone else.

John Crowley
Philadelphia

OK, so I meant eight of the best letters and the most patently silly printable one.


You clearly have an impressive command of the English language. Duality? Vagaries? Suppositions? And my personal favorite, indubitably! Were you channeling a dead linguist when you wrote this? Dr. Roget maybe! Listen, it's great and all, but I like to think hard when I'm reading David McCullough or, for kicks, Nietzsche, not when I'm reading an article about men who hang out in caves drenched in their own oral secretions and regularly scratch their … well, you get the picture. Despite the verbiage, I did enjoy the article. Especially the second half, completely devoid of a single "begat" or "quintessential" anything, I might add. Most, like me, turn to sports to escape, for just a little while, a life taken too seriously, so, sorry, dude, but you're writing is killing my sports buzz.

Kristen Nelson
Boston

That was for the hundreds of you who wrote and told me I can't write.

Incidentally, I think Kristen's trying to take my job. Sorry, dude, but that was good.


Just read your story about McGwire. It was just what I have grown to expect from you &ndash another tired, holier-than-thou column about how awful it is that someone used steroids. See if you can come up with an original idea, or at least don't recycle endlessly the same old story that we've seen so many times. It's worse than boring. Stop sermonizing; if I want a sermon, I will get it from someone who is both more qualified than you and who, in any event, can do a better job than you.

Robert Unger
Oakland, Calif.

Here's an original idea: How about baseball players stop injecting themselves with nefariously obtained drugs in order to gain an unfair competitive advantage. Then I will stop writing about them.


The summer of 1998 was very special to me, and reading your article makes me remember it fondly. I am a woman who planned her wedding around the World Series in 1994, only to have no World Series that year. With that said, I love baseball, but the steroids have become an issue to me. I cannot watch it much anymore because I cannot handle the suspicions of "Is he on steroids?" or "How can they count Bonds' achievements?" I have become disillusioned, and it shadows my love of the game. I am glad to have read this article, if only to realize that I am not the only fan disappointed in baseball and the players. I wish baseball could become a game again, where Americans did not have to wonder about the players.

Crystal Baker
Magnolia, Ark.

Sorry, Crystal, but that time is long gone. For the rest of professional sports' existence, there will be players using chemicals or science to their advantage. Some people take comfort in the notion that it's evolution; if the technology is there, it would be foolish not to use it and reach your full potential, the genesis of it irrelevant.


I thought your 10th anniversary perspective on Big Mac's 62nd home run was outstanding. Just a thought I have been struggling with over the past few years as a disappointed baseball fan: Why is the truth so hard? To me, it's not so much the crime as it's the lie that damages them. Why not take the Jason Giambi approach? Get caught red-handed, and at that point admit your error, express some regret for your error and move forward, hopefully a better man. Does the crime itself totally erase all the accomplishments? Not really. Taints them, sure, gives a cause for debate, no doubt, but it does not completely eradicate the good they once stood for.

Cliff Forster
Baltimore

And to think Bud Selig wanted to discipline Giambi.

Others have told their stories, albeit after their MLB careers were practically over. I remember sitting in a restaurant with Jason Giambi's brother, Jeremy, in the spring of 2005. He admitted to me that night he had used steroids. It was the first time an active ballplayer did so. And my first thought was: Wow. That wasn't difficult, was it?

The shame was evident with both Giambis. With others, though, it's as though they've purged the memories from their minds. On the day he reported to Houston this spring, Miguel Tejada couldn't have been fiercer in his avoiding the subject. Perhaps it's because the government is pursuing perjury charges against him, but, hey, that gets back to the subject of truth-versus-lie, now, doesn't it?


I'd like to enter another caveat: While I know that many players are using performance-enhancing substances, I still love the game. There have always been players whose behavior, both on and off the field, has been less than admirable. The game is still great, whether played by Joe DiMaggio or Satchel Paige or the kid down the street &ndash or all the less-than-100 percent pure players who've taken the field over the years.

Alice Teter
Madison, Wisc.

And right there, Alice captured the point of the story. We allow ourselves to separate memories. It's futile to poison great ones with ill feelings from things we later learned. At the same time, it's ignorant to forget such feelings.

Mark McGwire did break Roger Maris' single-season home-run record. He did finish the season with 70. He did engage an entire country and return baseball to its rightful place of relevance.

He also did it while allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs. Even though that makes any rational person see the accomplishment through a different prism, it can't change the memory.