“I’m not going to go into the past or talk about my past. I’m here to make a positive influence on this.”
Those were the words of Mark McGwire before a Congressional hearing in 2005 investigating the use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs in major league baseball.
He repeated those words as congressmen asked further questions and when it was over, many believed McGwire had done himself no favors.
McGwire’s former teammate in Oakland, Jose Canseco, in his book “Juiced,” alleged McGwire had used steroids. McGwire previously stated he had used androstenedione, a so-called precursor to steroids, at a time (1998) when such use was legal.
These are muddy waters.
McGwire now gets a second chance. He has been announced as hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals. This will be his return to baseball.
This is a second chance at both the game and the questions.
He will work for one of his most loyal supporters, manager Tony La Russa, who continues to say McGwire’s skills and power came from his work ethic, not out of a bottle or syringe.
La Russa said Monday his attempts to get McGwire back into the game have always in part been about, “What can I [La Russa] do to help get back his [McGwire’s] stature in the game.”
The Cardinals press conference Monday announcing McGwire’s appointment left to McGwire how he will address the steroids issue. He will be asked often.
La Russa says the development of McGwire as a hitter went from a “see it, hit it” mentality to a player who learned and studied “the game between pitchers and hitters.”
La Russa said McGwire learned the “power of the mind — how to concentrate, how to tune things out” as a hitter.
In the end, La Russa said, “He can help our offense be better.”
Clearly the organization wants to push his job as hitting coach and “get past that point,” as La Russa put it, where the questions are about steroids.
There is a risk here for all concerned. McGwire cannot repeat the mantra used at the Congressional hearings and expect to re-establish his credibility.
McGwire’s return rekindles the performance-enhancing drug issues and the “who did, who didn’t” questions.
McGwire’s return and how he deals with the questions will reopen the discussion about his qualifications for the Hall of Fame.
One has to believe the steroids questions have been privately put to McGwire directly by either the Cardinals and/or MLB.
Otherwise, what if he says he used steroids? Can the Cardinals retain him as a coach? Can MLB let them?
If the answers he gives are not clear and believable, everything MLB has done to fight the performance-enhancing drug issue will be lost.
Baseball hates to have any story on the top line other than the World Series this time of year. MLB would like to have McGwire’s first meeting with the press delayed until the Series is over.
Between now and then, McGwire will be bombarded with calls by those hoping to break the story. The pot will be on boil until he speaks — and maybe even after.