January 19, 2010

Hot Stove

A few years years ago the members of a House Periodic Committee on High Dudgeon chaired by Tom Davis (R-Va.) called ballplayers and executives of Major League Baseball before it to go over all the accumulating evidence that ballplayers had been for some time freely conditioning themselves for the season-long rigors of baseball at the highest level with really sophisticated chemical concoctions, concoctions whose dissemination, for their recognized ill effects, had long been legally constrained by hopeful laws strictly regulating their handling, laws passed by that very house of congress!


In 1993, twelve years before Rep. Davis gavelled his hearing to order, the FBI had rounded up a bunch of people around the country who were in fact freely distributing these supposedly restricted chemicals to athletes of all kinds, and found looking into the thing that professional ballplayers at all levels were regular customers. The FBI gathered baseball names named by nabbed distributors. Mark McGwire's name was one of those names named, of course. In his appearance before Davis's committee twelve years later, McGwire curtly elided his past, relying on what must be the celebrated ballplayer's constitutional right when called before Congress to insist on talking about something else instead.

"I'm not here to talk about that, Congressman."

"[sputter] Yes you are!"

"No, I'm not here to talk about the past."

"You are too!"


"[Chair, dryly] The gentleman's time has expired…"

McGwire's absurd yet effective tactic kept him from having to say anything, true or not, about what he'd been up to without explictly taking the Fifth Amendment or perjuring himself right there in public. The tactic's effectiveness was restricted almost completely to the confines of the committee room, however. Outside, McGwire's performance before the committee was roundly ridiculed, and whatever fondness for the man may have lingered from the storied 1998 season when he and Sammy Sosa chased and then surpassed Babe Ruth's and then Roger Maris's single season home run record, curdled quickly following his appearance.

The realization that the grand celebrated chase of the two of them had been fueled by exactly those chemicals that were now the focus of the high dudgeon of the subcommittee brought a sneer to the lip of even the most circumspect follower of the game.

In 1993, at the time of the FBI crackdown, there were no workplace rules in place in Major League Baseball banning these newest concoctions, and Mark McGwire was one of any number of ballplayers known to be evangelizing for some remarkably effective chemical or other. The one he long championed was nicknamed "andro," (a substance unbanned even as late as 1998) which McGwire couldn't stop going on about at the time.

Belatedly perhaps, in angling for a job as hitting instructor with the St. Louis Cardinals ballclub (managed by Tony La Russa, whose continuing role in enabling McGwire's career in both Oakland and St. Louis is well understood), McGwire, perhaps as a condition prior to employment insisted on by La Russa himself, admitted publicly to doing what he had previously only been known to espouse publicly. He too had used the proscribed stuff himself, he said, straightforwardly enough.

Say in public as much of the uncomfortable truth as you can bear. This is the first step in the Rehabilitative Move of the Fallen Celebrity, which practiced motion we've all had chance to witness countless times. Mark McGwire fessed up to as much as he could in step one. However, when pressed on the question of exactly how much of the stupendous length of each of those remarkably many home runs he'd hit had been obtained as a direct result of a forbidden regimen of performance enhancing drugs, McGwire concluded that none of that length had been so affected, that the performance enhancing drugs he'd long espoused and used were false drugs in that respect, at least far as actual performance goes. As a counterargument to McGwire it is maintained by almost everybody else that performance enhancing drugs do too enhance performance. It remains to be seen whether those supporting this argument bother to press the point with McGwire, whose visit to hitting instructor purgatory in St. Louis may yet otherwise help serve to cleanse his self-stained name.

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