Monday, January 11, 2010

Do I take the Mark McGwire Christmas ornament off the tree? A moment of truth...

OK, this is a moment of truth.

Do I take the Mark McGwire ornament off the Christmas tree still decorated and glowing here in my living room? Or, do I leave it where it is?

Watching the debacle that was McGwire's second most embarrassing day in front of the news media, and, by extension, the American people, was excruciating. It was excruciating because he seemed in so much pain. It was excruciating because he also quite obviously wiffed.

Isn't wiffing one of the key attractions of baseball? In baseball, a player has no where to hide. A pitcher stands alone on the mound. He throws balls or strikes, outs or runs and everybody who watches knows which he is responsible for. A hitter steps into the box and swings the bat. He will fail, if he is good, two out of three times. When he strikes out, everyone in the stadium is witness. The walk back to the dugout is painful.

Anyone who has played the game knows about the walk. You watch that third strike or you swing and miss and there is just no where to hide. It seems like the whole world is watching, even if it is just one guy's mother and another guy's grand daughter and a third guy's girlfriend and their new puppy.

Mark McGwire has nowhere to hide. He came clean -- sort of -- about using steroids. But he is either lying or fooling himself if he tries to argue, as he did, steroids did not help him hit more homeruns. That's just a called strike right down the crapper.

Did steroids make him a home run hitter? Of course not. Did steroids make his hand eye coordination better? Probably not, though one reporter said he understood they could improve his vision. Could I take steroids and hit 90 mile-per-hour baseballs out of major league parks? Are you kidding?

But, they did keep him on the field. That, he says, is why he took them. The more pitches he saw, the more homeruns he hit. Simple math. They also allowed him to recover more quickly, another benefit he admits. That means he was ready to go day after grueling day which also made it possible for him to hit more homeruns. It also means he could work out harder, put on more muscle. They typical workout regiment is to do upper body one day and lower body the next so the heavily taxed muscles can have at least a day to rest and repair in between.

Take steroids and you can do arms and legs every day. That means you have the opportunity to build muscle twice as many days in the off season as a non user. Again, simple math.

My guess is Mark McGwire is fooling himself into believing this cockamamie story. He has probably been telling himself this story since 1990. A prerequisite of a great hitter is not self awareness. Neither is critical thinking.

Coincidentally, I watched Hank Aaron take on Eddie Matthews in Home Run Derby on DVD yesterday. Hank, by all accounts, did it clean. He was long and lean, like Mark McGwire in the days before he started taking steroids. He lunged gracefully at the ball and let his wrists do the talking and, as Matthews said, the ball seemed to leap off his bat.

(One interesting bit: Between inning, Matthews said when pitchers got together to talk about Aaron they said, "Never throw him outside. He'll knock you off the mound." An inning later the Home Run Derby pitcher did just that and Hank nearly hammered him. Duck is an understatement for what the kid did.)

What would Hank have done with steroids to refresh his body every day? Or country-strong Eddie Matthews? Or, Roger Maris? Or the great Mick?

But, you know what? The ornament stays. The big redhead with the beautiful swing said he was sorry today. I believe him. Like a lot of us, he lost track of himself somewhere in the whirl of life and he did something he is paying dearly for today. Enough is enough.

--Lofflin -- BTW: the main reason I put that ornament on the tree in the first place was so I could look at and memorize the finish on one of the most beautiful swings in baseball... And the beauty of that swing had nothing to do with drugs.


  1. I'd take that thing down, but then again I probably never would have hung it in the first place. Your post reminded me how much I love those old Home Run Derby shows. Gosh, every great hitter was on there at one time or another. What a great piece of baseball history.

  2. Do you have any video of that? I'd want to find out more details.

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