The Slippery High Ground

January 12, 2010 | mriehn | Comments 9

by Michael Riehn
Whiteyball Staff

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Mahatma Gandhi

The Cardinals New Hitting Coach

The Cardinals New Hitting Coach

Mark McGwire finally talked about the past yesterday, and a flood of perfect people have opened the gates to chastise him on their moral high ground.  (/end sarcasm). 

I’ve seen the hour long interview (If you haven’t, you can find the basics through the McGwire’s interview with Bernie Miklasz at the Post Dispatch.).  Costas was fair but strong.  95% of what McGwire said is right on target, and is much better than anyone’s else “confession” from steroids.  There are comments to disagree with to be sure, but everyone is focusing on the negative and not giving any thought to the positive.    

For once, we seem to have someone actually telling the truth about steroids (as opposed to A-Rod, Pettite, Clemens, etc.).  He didn’t say:  “I only did them once to try them” and “What a coincidence I happened to get tested!” 

You may not agree with the timing, but it takes a lot of bravery and moral character to lay it all out like he is doing.  He seems to be telling the truth and his admissions give it plausibility.  McGwire has admitted to using them throughout his career, even through his record breaking 70 home run season. 

He has a great explanation for the 2005 hearings (that I agree with) and there should be great points for telling the truth.  McGwire has shed light on the issue instead of telling ‘just enough’ to get the public off his back.  He seems genuinely sorry for his actions and deserves to have this issue die (after this post).

What are Steroids and Why are They a Problem?
Steroids have proper uses, and are legally administered by doctors to help patients heal more quickly.  This is why your doctor prescribes steroids when you are sick.  Abuse from the drug occurs when someone misuses them to ”self-medicate” injuries or to get stronger.  Not only is this dangerous, but it is illegal due to the long term side affects that can range from mild to life threatening problems.  

Steroids can cause depression or rage,  damage your heart or ligaments and has been linked to some cancers.  That’s a broad and generic definition, but the main issue is that short term gains can cause long term health problems. 

McGwire explained that he took steroids for his myriad of injuries, and did not take them for strength.   He’s not using this for an excuse but for an explanation.  The apologies and anguish he shows in the interview are heart-wrenching, and you can tell that he has suffered greatly from his abuse. 

Does this mean that I condone his actions.  No, he messed up and there are consequences.  He’s paid a great price for hiding this secret, and his admission has been embarrasing and difficult.  He won’t go into the Hall of Fame and a public flogging is tough for anyone to go through.

Performance Enhancement?
The main problem critics are having with the confession is McGwire’s belief that steroids did not help him play better baseball.  I find this hard to understand too, but he isn’t lying.  He truly believes his statement.  Instead of dismissing this issue on its face, let’s see if it has any merit.  The two main advantages of steroids are quicker muscle recovery and healing. 

Maybe McGwire didn’t need steroids for the strength to hit home runs.  He was never a strong doubles hitter that just barely missed the warning track.  He probably would have lost some, but his shots were mamoth and prolific.  Saying this, there are studies that show how increased strength improves home run output (and that steroids can produce this increased strength). 

The main issue is that recovering from the day to day, is part of why he hit all of those home runs each season in the first place.  This is the biggest advantage he received from the drug, and the main reason why he probably wouldn’t have hit 70 without them.

Many people also believe that it makes you quicker to the ball, but this is just a theory.  Strength doesn’t necessarily mean quickness, and McGwire is right that his swing got shorter and he had better mechanics later in his career.  This WAS part of what made him a good hitter.  Dismissing McGwire’s beliefs are just like dismissing beliefs that it COULD have an effect.  PEDs probably make you quicker, but by how much and to what effect is still in doubt.

Now to the final part that hasn’t been explored.  McGwire took steroids long term.  Isn’t it possible that they HELPED him break down?  Remember, he wasn’t taking the new steroids from today, or going through a doctor who specialized in baseball players.  He was taking steroids from a gym.   Yes they may have helped him short term with strength or recovery, but could he have hit MORE home runs over time if he had left the stuff alone? 

You can’t say steroids are bad for you and dismiss this statement out of hand.  McGwire’s physical abilities may have been hurt by his abuse along with his legacy.  This adds another layer of sadness to the issue.  What could McGwire have done without the juice?  600 home runs? A longer career?

Say it Ain’t So
I can see WHY McGwire took steroids.  He was injured a lot in the early 90’s, and it is easy to see why/how he took the wrong path.  He was a gifted athlete that kept breaking down with freak injuries.  Players that didn’t have his talent or work ethic (he was always one of the players who worked the hardest) had greater success, and were passing him up.  He looked for a way out and unfortunately found a shortcut. 

In choosing drugs to help him level the playing field, he did the opposite, and gave himself an unfair advantage.  Anytime you can stay on the field without taking time to heal, and recover more quickly (think day game after a night game), it gives you more opportunity at consistent production.  This isn’t fair to other players who didn’t take the long term risks, and gave him a distinct advantage. 

I can see why people have a hard time with McGwire’s beliefs on his career statistics, but he is entiled to his OPINION.  We don’t have to force him to believe what we think in order to “win” our forgiveness (even if “we” are probably right).  Say you disagree with him and move on.  Don’t make him out to be a terrible person.  He’s not, nor ever has been a terrible person (just ask teammates, friends, charitable organizations and other people around baseball). 

Let the man have his peace.  It’s time to stop the eternal damnation and get on with our lives.  Of course, if he isn’t a good hitting coach, I will be outraged!

Filed Under: BaseballFeatured

About the Author: I am a Cardinal fan, from a small town in Missouri and grew up listening to the Whiteyball teams of the 1980s (but still love the Tony LaRussa version). Currently living outside of St. Louis, I am a partial season ticket holder with a great group of friends. I hold the position of Director of Sales and Marketing for a hydraulic press manufacturer and serve on a local youth baseball board of directors. Follow me on Twitter at:

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  1. Brad says:

    In all honesty he should have made this whole confession about 2-3 weeks after Thanksgiving. Why? That’s about the time all media was conerned over whether or not we we just found out about the 16th or 17th Tiger Woods mistress.

  2. flat tax says:

    “He probably would have lost some, but his shots were mamoth and prolific. Saying this, there are studies that show how increased strength improves home run output (and that steroids can produce this increased strength).”

    - Some? I’m not sure if you missed it, but the man has friggin’ “neck stretch marks.” Stretch marks in HIS NECK from steroid use! (I was dumbstruck when I saw him with Costas) His NECK was so muscle inflated that when it shrank back down (probably much like his testes) it left STRETCH MARKS! You can’t say his ability was only “slightly enhanced” when a person’s body is THAT RADICALLY altered. His shots were mammoth (two “m’s” btw) and prolific because he had the strength of a wooly friggin’ mammoth. And before I hear the “it’s not stretch marks…it’s from acne” there are PLENTY of pics of him from his younger days WITHOUT the stretch marks so the rampant steroid abuse seems rather obvious:

  3. Pam says:

    Thank you for giving a fair opinion and taking the high road to forgiveness. It is not our place to judge but it is our place to show compassion and understanding. God is very proud of you today!

  4. Clark says:

    Great post Mike, and I couldn’t agree more. He’s the only player – other than Canseco who I don’t count – that made this admission on his own. He didn’t have to come back to baseball, but he did and has paid the price. Now I watch national sports writers bash the man worse than the others and it drives me nuts. We all knew what was going on, we all turned a blind eye. We all made mistakes, but it’s time to move on and let the man try and start his coaching career.

  5. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by St Louis Cardinals and Michael Riehn, Dustin Mattison. Dustin Mattison said: The Slippery High Ground – [...]

  6. mriehn says:


    So what you’re saying with the neck marks comment is that McGwire took steroids? I don’t believe it! :)

    McGwire hit 49 home runs without steroids, but yeah, they helped him hit 70. What he would have hit without them is conjecture.


    Actually, McGwire should have announced this the day after Thanksgiving. He wouldn’t have even been the top story!

    He has a smart strategy though. With him making himself available to everyone, it won’t be long until the public is tired of all of the McGwire steroid coverage. He may face a few more questions around Spring Training, but it will be a minor blip compared to the storm right now.

  7. Freddie says:

    Dude, what a great article. The best I’ve read hands down. The only thing I disagree with is the Hall of Fame. I think he will get in; and if he doesn’t neither should ARod, Bonds, Clemens or any of the other juicers. If its okay with you I plan on making a mention of your article on my podcast this Sunday and also put a link on my website. Let me know…Cards Rock…and so do you!

  8. mriehn says:


    Thanks for the kind words, you are welcome to use the info on the podcast and link to the article.

    I somewhat agree with you as far as the Hall of Fame. If they don’t let A-Rod, Bonds, Clemons in, I’m fine with not letting McGwire in. If they let others get in, then it would be hypocritical to keep him out.

    The gray area is going to be with the “admitted” steroid users and the “strongly suspected”. You don’t want to reward someone for lying, but it’s going to be tough to convict by only using the court of public opinion.

  9. Susan says:

    Excellent article on McGwire. I have been shocked at the criticism he has received when the pundits have been asking for honesty. They don’t like what he says so of course he is LYING.

    They (sportswriters) are excellent evaluators of honesty because they would never stoop to planting a story or exaggerating information in order to help their ratings. /end sarcasm

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