Today marked the end of an era of lies, speculation and deceit. An era of broken promises and false dreams that brought baseball back from a self-imposed crypt only to unravel and leave them in purgatory. With Mark McGwire’s admission today that he did in fact take steroids during his illustrious career, including during his magical home run chase in the late 90s, a final puzzle piece is put into place to finish what is now a dreadful picture.
While McGwire’s admission came as a surprise to very few, his affirmation of our suspicions makes the pain of the last several years feel so absolute. As ESPN showed replays of McGwire’s 62nd home run over and over today, the joyous faces of everyone involved couldn’t help but remind me how enchanting that moment was to a young 11-year-old baseball fan, and how stupid it has made me feel over the last several years knowing the truth. Seeing the smiles on the faces of the 1998 crowd, of the Maris family, and of McGwire’s son, they look like such fools. Of course then reality sets in, we were those fools.
When an athlete makes a mistake, one of the first questions the public asks is what effect will it have on the kids? I was a kid of the Mark McGwire era, in the worst way. I owned a number 25 jersey, I cut out newspaper clips every time he hit a home run in September, and I painted a red beard on my face in October to be Big Mac for Halloween. Aside from personal acquaintances and family, this news hits me hardest because McGwire was my hero, he was everything I wanted to be and everything I looked up to.
So what effect did McGwire’s gradual fall from grace over the last decade have on me?
I was a high-school baseball player who wanted nothing more but to be the best. I was undersized, often lifting weights to try and even the playing field. However at the age of 16 I was smart enough to not use performance-enhancing drugs because I had a conscience. Unlike the 30-year-old McGwire, I was big enough to just say no to the peer pressure.
No, the effect of McGwire’s guise of invincibility and heroism affected me much deeper than in my decision to say no to steroids. On a day much more contemptible than today I watched as Mark McGwire, along with Sammy Sosa, Raphael Palmeiro, and Jose Canseco, testified just a stones throw from my home, in congress. It wasn’t McGwire’s words but his shriveled face, his vacant glare and his empty banter that crushed my innocence as a baseball fan. We all knew that 2005 day that the man with whom we placed our hopes on in 1998 was a fake.
Now at the age of 22 it’s hard for me to truly become involved in a sports event. Of course it’s not all McGwire’s fault, as long as there have been sports there have been athletes who were not the gods of men we made them out to be. However McGwire captivated not only the dreams of an 11-year-old but the hopes of my 40-year-old dad and 10, 20, 30, all the way to 80 something’s across the nation.
We were all fools.