McGwire's saga resonates among players

McGwire's saga resonates among players

When Mark McGwire admitted on Monday what he knows most observers suspected all along, few in the baseball community were startled by the sound of the other shoe dropping.

But Big Mac's admission that he took steroids through much of his career -- including 1998, when he hit 70 homers to set the single-season record -- certainly resonated throughout the baseball world, drawing reaction among current players and his former teammates and colleagues alike.

From the perspective of a younger player, such as Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, it's all part of what needs to happen for baseball to get through what has been a troubling era.

Mark McGwire

"It's another sad day for baseball," Ethier said on Monday. "But it is obvious that in that era and at that time, even the guys who were big wanted to be bigger to stay on top and stay ahead. It was an unfortunate time and culture, but it was widely accepted in baseball. They keep it out of baseball now with all the testing they are giving to us these days."

For a veteran player like the Astros' Lance Berkman, who competed against McGwire and is now playing under the more stringent rules regarding performance-enhancing drugs, there isn't much of an element of surprise.

"I don't think anybody is surprised about it," Berkman said. "I'm glad that he's come clean with it, but I don't think it's a shocking revelation."

Berkman's lack of surprise is simple.

"I just feel like baseball's been played for 150 years or thereabouts, and nobody in the history of the game in any year approached 70 home runs," Berkman said. "That's a freakish number. When you start seeing guys putting up numbers like that, you think something is going into it. That and the fact his forearms are bigger than my thighs. If a guy is dropping 70 homers, then there's something going on."

In that respect, the revelation that McGwire took steroids did not appear to have a lot of shock value. That he came out on Monday to discuss it had a whiff of surprise for some.

Dave Parker, a former teammate with the A's early in McGwire's career and then his hitting coach in 1998 with the Cardinals, said during an interview with MLB Network, "I'm kind of surprised that he made that admission, because he went to Congress and didn't say anything about it."

Likewise, McGwire's former Cardinals teammate Brian Jordan said the news caught him by surprise. But the man who hit behind McGwire during that game-changing run to 70 homers is just relieved that the story is moving forward.

"I'm happy that he came clean," Jordan said. "People will eventually forgive him for this. I just wish he would have come clean earlier. He has so much that he can add to the game and so much that he can provide younger players. It's a shame that he was away from the game for a few years."

Following published assertions about widespread steroids use in baseball by Jose Canseco, McGwire's Bash Brothers partner with the A's, McGwire's name was linked to the discussion. Following the subsequent 2005 hearings in front of Congress, during which McGwire famously said he wasn't there to talk about the past, McGwire had been out of the limelight for the most part until the Cardinals hired him as their hitting coach earlier this offseason.

Monday's statement and McGwire's subsequent interview on MLB Network brought up the past in a big way.

For his part, Canseco told XM Sirius Radio that McGwire "was between a rock and a hard place" and at some point needed to admit that he had used performance-enhancing drugs.

"He realized it was not going to go away," Canseco said. "He had to come clean. He had to tell the truth. What I don't like is he had someone else speak for him. I think the media is still going to address this in Spring Training. He's got to personally and physically face the media and tell the truth."

Parker was part of the same team with both McGwire and Canseco, and on Monday he related what was being discussed at that time during his interview with MLB Network.

"When I was Oakland in '88 and '89, it was basically rumored that Canseco had some use," Parker said. "But Mark, there wasn't too much said about Mark during that time. Mark was always a strong fly-ball hitter, so he was going to hit his home runs, but I think a little later on, hitting balls out of stadiums came to be a little abnormal.

"It was an amazing thing to stand behind the cage every day and watch him hit. I was a power hitter myself, and I played with Willie Stargell, who hit the ball as far as anyone. Mark dwarfed those guys. That in itself, somebody watching that day in and day out, it's abnormal. It's abnormal for a human being to hit the ball as far as Mark was hitting the ball."

Rangers left-hander Darren Oliver was a teammate of McGwire's in 1998 and 1999 and also played against him, and he acknowledges that there's a flip side to the fact that McGwire accomplished what he did with the assistance of steroids and other substances.

"Can I get that home run he hit off me back? My numbers could have been better. That could have been an extra win for me," Oliver said. "It's unfortunate for guys who didn't use steroids. Maybe they didn't play as long as guys who did, don't have the same numbers or didn't make as much money. That's not fair."

Said four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux, who was announced as the Cubs' special assistant to the GM on Monday: "I've always had a lot of respect for him as a player. He was one of the most intimidating hitters I've ever had to face. He was one of the toughest outs in the game back then. Like I've said in the past, there was always speculation that guys were on that stuff. You had to do what you can to pitch around it."

McGwire's career played out during the formative years of many current players, and 1998's McGwire-Sammy Sosa quest for the homers record is a seminal moment in their lives.

For Royals utility player Willie Bloomquist, who was playing at Arizona State in '98, it's a double-edged sword.

"I respected Mark McGwire when I watched him when I was a kid, and I think he's a tremendous talent with or without steroids," Bloomquist said. "But it's just unfortunate that one of the greatest years of our game happened to be when he broke the home-run record on a performance-enhancing substance."

Said Milwaukee left-hander Manny Parra, who grew up in Northern California while McGwire was with the A's and was in high school in '98: "This has all been drawn out for so long. For me, we all know where we are at now and how strict things are now, and that's the important thing."

Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton, who has had to make his own difficult revelations, is just happy to see the truth told.

"It was good that it came out," Hamilton said. "Instead of all the speculation, he was finally up front about it. It was his time. Hopefully, he'll move past it and he'll be in the Hall of Fame, where he deserves to be."

That determination, of course, is up to the Baseball Writers' Association of America, who gave McGwire just 23.7 percent of the votes (128 of a possible 539) on the 2010 ballot, his fourth.

But certainly Monday's events stirred that discussion as well.

Said Parker, who received 15.2 percent of the vote in his 14th year on the Hall of Fame ballot: "You've still got to put it in play. You can get as strong as you want, but when you go to the plate, you've still got to get it in play. They should base it on what he's done as a player, not so much the use. But it should be two categories -- one for those who didn't use steroids, and maybe one for those who [did]. He played a big part in bridging that gap when they had the labor dispute and they needed that home run competition between him and Sammy, so Mark played a major role for baseball during that period."

For Berkman, it's not a settled issue. But that's no surprise, either.

"I'd have to give it more thought," he said. "My thought at the moment is, whatever you decide for one should be the same for all. If you keep Mark McGwire out of the Hall of Fame, you can't allow Manny Ramirez in the Hall of Fame or Rafael Palmeiro in the Hall of Fame -- all those guys linked to steroids. If you're going to exclude one of them, they all have to be excluded.

"One thing I don't want [is to see McGwire be] a fall guy for the entire era of the sport. I don't want to keep him out of the Hall of Fame and let the other guys [in]. That would be a travesty if that were to be the case."

John Schlegel is a national reporter for Several reporters contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.