It was four years ago today that Mark McGwire made his fateful, damning appearance at the House Government Reform committee’s hearing on steroids. Repeatedly refusing to answer questions, an anguished McGwire uttered the words that have stuck with him ever since: “I’m not here to talk about the past.”
It was also at this forum that Rafael Palmeiro pounded the table and forcefully denied using performance-enhancing drugs. Under oath, he said: “Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids, period. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never.”
On Aug. 1,2005, MLB announced that Palmeiro had tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug — revealed to be the steroid stanozolol — and suspended 10 days.
Neither player will ever make the Hall of Fame, I have come firmly to believe, even though McGwire ranks eighth on the career home-run list with 583, and Palmeiro is one of just four players in the 3,000 hit-500 homer club (the others being Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray).
Speaking of steroids, this news received very little play today, but it caught my eye: the Major League Baseball Players Association announced that former pitchers Rick Heiling and Mike Myers have joined the union staff as special assistants to executive director Donald Fehr.
I’m in the (slow) process of reading Tom Verducci’s enlightening book, “The Yankee Years,” with Joe Torre, that deconstructs Torre’s Yankee era. In the chapter dealing with the steroids issue, Helling (pictured to the left) comes off as a hero, a lone voice in the wilderness among players, disgusted by the rampant proliferation of steroids and determined to stop it.
Writes Verducci: “…One man rose up and basically announced the whole damn thing was a fraud. Rick Helling, 27-year-old righthanded pitcher and the players’ representative for the Texas Rangers, stood up at the winter meeting of the Executive Board of the Major League Baseball Players Association and made an announcement. He told his fellow union leaders that steroid use by ballplayers had grown rampant and was corrupting the game.”
This was 1998, mind you, the year of Sosa and McGwire, the year that four players hit 50 homers for the first time in history, the year that all hell broke loose. As Verducci writes, “What Helling had just done was the equivalent of turning up all the lights, clicking off the music and announcing the party was over.”
“He was the first guy,” David Cone told Verducci, “who had the guts to stand up at a union meeting and say that in front of everybody and put pressure on it.”
And now Helling has Donald Fehr’s ear. That’s a very good thing if the players want to keep from having to attend more Congressional hearings on steroids abuse.
(Photos by Associated Press)