Listened to that Mark McGwire interview with Bob Costas last night and I’ve got to say, I really do agree with him. Playing baseball 162 games a year can be tough. Just covering it is mentally draining, but throw in the physical aspect, the travel and the hot temperatures as summer drags on and these players put their bodies through a pounding.
McGwire felt that pounding truly accumulate after the 1993 season. He played only 45 games in 1994 and 101 in 1995. It was around that time, he said, that he turned to steroids.
“During the mid-’90s, I went on the DL seven times and missed 228 games over five years. I experienced a lot of injuries, including a ribcage strain, a torn left heel muscle, a stress fracture of the left heel, and a torn right heel muscle. It was definitely a miserable bunch of years and I told myself that steroids could help me recover faster. I thought they would help me heal and prevent injuries, too.”
Once again, I feel for McGwire, I really do. Baseball is not as tough as football, but over time, the grind still wears a guy down. And so, McGwire did what he felt he had to do in order to keep his body from breaking down as he trotted out there, nine full innings on just about every night for the Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals.
But do you know why I truly feel for McGwire? It’s not because his body began feeling the daily hurts that every other regular player goes through as they take the field night after night.
It’s because he didn’t have to do steroids.
There was a perfectly acceptable option for him to employ, one that would likely have likely gotten him into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot had he gone that way instead of steroids and still managed to hit over 600 home runs.
McGwire dabbled in this alternative form of treatment for a handful of games in 1994 and 1995. Unfortunately for him, however, he opted for the steroids needle (and oral form) instead of doing this other treatment full-time. A treatment that would still have given him an “edge” over the vast majority of players alongside him.
McGwire should have just become a full-time DH.
That way, his body would not have been subjected to the same daily rigors as just about every other hitter in the game. He could have allowed those lingering injuries to heal more quickly and then his natural ability and — he claims — better bat speed would have taken over. Freed from the responsibilities of having to react to ground balls and stretching for throws, he simply could have focused exclusively on his hitting four times per night.
Now, I’ll agree. Some guys don’t react well to the DH job.
But come on. McGwire was always a pretty good hitter — even back in his skinny days coming up. And there’s a big difference between being committed to a full-time DH role 150 times per year and doing it only 10 times or so in a season. Given the chance, I’m sure he could have grown into the role. Could have spent the final eight years of his career racking up offensive stats and solidifying his Hall of Fame credentials without any of these nagging drug questions.
What’s that? He couldn’t have done that from mid-summer 1997 onward because he was playing in the National League? Oh yeah, I guess there’s that. True, only 14 of 30 teams offer certain hitters the luxury of skipping their fielding responsibilities. Well, I suppose McGwire could have made less strenuous money demands on the A’s and then they wouldn’t have dealt him to the Cards. Shame on him for wanting to make a living as he was entitled to fair and square.
But yeah, I mean, think of how much longer he might have stayed in the game had he just become a DH? He hit 70 homers in 1998, then retired just three years later at age 38. Some DH guys go into their 40s.
Oh well. At least McGwire’s not alone. I mean, Ken Griffey Jr. might have hit 800 home runs had he not been forced to play all that pesky defense in center field throughout the 1990s, then later on with the Reds, when he seemed to be hurt half the time. Griffey’s numbers are obviously still good enough to get him in the Hall, but just think of what life might have been like if he really did hit 800 home runs after becoming a full-time DH in 2001 or so.
For one thing, we wouldn’t have to worry about whether Barry Bonds really is the reigning career home run king, or an asterisk.
But alas, it didn’t happen.
I’m sure McGwire doesn’t regret all those millions he made off the sport. But given all those tears he shed last night, I can’t help but suspect that, if he could do it all over again, he’d probably have opted to take the more globally-accepted “edge” without all this drug fuss.