I'm about to write two words that I never thought I'd have to write without it being a punchline:
Anyone who's been around here for a while has caught one of my Barry Bonds tirades and knows that I'm none too fond of the guy. At the same time I rather like Mark McGwire. So in light of the recently unveiled accusations by Jose Canseco it seems that everyone is left to explain something about what they were doing or thinking from about 1988 to present.
I will say one thing about Jose's book—it has given baseball fans something to talk about. Regardless of what you think about Bonds, Sheffield, Giambi, Canseco, McGwire, Caminiti and the myriad others who have been implicated over the years, it's clear that some players have cheated by using steroids. Is McGwire among them? Or Ivan Rodriguez or Rafael Palmeiro?
Let me say one thing that everyone knows—Jose Canseco is neither a bright man nor an honest man. Some of his claims don't even make sense. For instance, Rafael Palmeiro lies about using illegal substances? Has Jose forgotten that Palmeiro has admitted in the past to using a performance enhancing drug? I'm not talking about the BALCO pharmacy of chemicals either, but something potentially more awkward—Viagra. Now I might be naïve, but I'd be more inclined to say publicly that I used chemicals to help me bulk up so I could play baseball before I'd admit to all creatures great and small that the not all was right down south.
The one thing through all this that has become painfully clear is that people have known that there's been a problem for decades and that there has been little meaningful effort to rectify it by owners and especially the players. It's to the point that the long-overdue policy that has been implemented even with stiffer penalties seems to be largely cosmetic.
Here's what I know: Mark McGwire has never been called in front of a Federal Grand Jury to testify about substances he's denied using. And like it or not, unlike Jose, Big Mac has not admitted to using steroids. Does that mean he didn't? No, but hopefully we've reached the cut-off point. Hopefully 2003 will be known as the year that baseball finally started to recognize its demons and tried to address them. Steroids are hopefully going to be like the spitball or corked bats—something we all know happens but hopefully is at least held in check. But even if we abhor it, we're going to have to look at this period with skepticism. So do we let this detract from the game and the enjoyment we derived from baseball during the ‘Roid Years?
When it comes down to a final analysis for me it's not about numbers. The reason I like Mark McGwire and I don't like Barry Bonds has little or nothing to do with steroids. I do get frustrated by some media outlets' willingness to pretend that Barry Bonds is pure as the driven snow even with the appearance before the Grand Jury and the statements by Gary Sheffield and others on the record regarding Bonds. But more than that I look back to 1998 and see that Mark McGwire had a hand in helping baseball rebound from the 1994 strike. When I look at Barry Bonds all I see is what Barry has been happy to take from baseball without any sense of respect or regard for the game. And I think that's what Mark McGwire, I-Rod, Bonds, Palmeiro, Caminiti, Giambi and Sheffield will be measured by.
And hopefully Jose Canseco will be measured by the homerun that bounced off his head when he was playing for Texas—a punchline to a joke and maybe an answer to a couple trivia questions. And honestly, it's still probably better than he deserves.