At 3:00 p.m. Monday, The Associated Press wire carried a statement from Mark McGwire, the one-time baseball star whose 1998 race against Sammy Sosa for the home run record brought out the best of American sports.
So we thought.
The 1998 home run race was one for the ages. It revitalized Major League Baseball after a strike in 1994 crippled the league and forced the cancelation of the World Series. The matchup between McGwire, who ended the season with 70 homers, and Sosa, who wrapped up his run for the record with 66 round-trippers, was dynamic and captivating.
And then we started to learn more about the alleged widespread use of performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball. Commissioner Bud Selig hired George Mitchell, a respected former U.S. senator, to investigate, and his findings were not pretty.
As information leaked and former trainers and suppliers talked to win immunity from federal prosecution, we learned of more and more of our heroes who didn’t deserve any accolades.
From the game’s most well-known talents like Alex Rodriguez (who finally admitted to steroid usage last year after denying it previously) to utility players most have never heard of, baseball was juiced.
Congress, which granted baseball an antitrust exemption, began looking into the matter at a 2005 hearing. At the time, McGwire told the House that he didn’t want to talk about the past. The chattering classes kept chattering, alleging that McGwire was indeed a steroid user. The allegations tainted his record, which stood for three seasons before Barry Bonds, another accused juicer, broke it, and has kept him from the Hall of Fame.
On Monday, McGwire decided to confront his past. In a series of interviews, he admitted his mistakes. He apologized to the baseball community, including to Pat Maris, the widow of Roger Maris, whose genuine home run record McGwire broke in 1998.
While there are still plenty of questions to be answered, McGwire’s confession – a genuine, tear-filled admission with no excuses and just answers – is a start. To fully embrace the magic of professional athletics again, we need more truthfulness like we got Monday. We need to be able to trust again.
McGwire’s statement on Monday came as a surprise, not for its content, but that he actually admitted he cheated. That his confession came as a surprise should serve as a bold statement that professional sports, and Major League Baseball in particular, exist at the present in a state of disarray.
Baseball needs to continue to clean up its act, and Congress should revoke MLB’s antitrust exemption should baseball refuse to improve its standards. We hope Mark McGwire’s admissions will encourage others to do the same. If they do not, baseball will continue to leave under a shadow of doubt, and there are few things we want to see less than a pervasive culture of dishonest among the nation’s sports heroes.
Our View is the consensus of The Crimson White’s editorial board.