Maris makes history – again

When Mark McGwire broke the single season home run record back in 1998, it was electrifying. But now we know that when McGwire broke that record, he was cheating. He was using steroids.

In a statement released by the St. Louis Cardinals, where he is slated to start as the hitting coach in the spring, McGwire said he “always knew this day would come.”

He said he began using steroids in the late 1980s, on occasion in the 1990s, but definitely in 1998 when he broke the home run record by hitting 70 home runs in a single season, breaking the record of 61 previously held by Roger Maris.

That moment invigorated the national pastime, which was still recovering from the fallout of the 1994 baseball strike. The famed head-to-head race between McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who finished the season with 66 home runs, was followed by millions of baseball fans around the country.

There had been whispers about McGwire and his bulging muscles for years, but he dodged questions from reporters and even Congress back in 2005. McGwire refused to answer questions at a congressional hearing on steroid use, at that time saying, “I’m not here to talk about the past.”

An emotional McGwire told The Associated Press that he worried that being honest that day would put him in legal jeopardy. McGwire said that by fessing up, “I’m throwing my whole family, closest friends, and other people that were with me. I’m putting them in something for an act that I did.”

Today, in his statement, he said, “I want to come clean.”

McGwire said he took steroids to get back on the field following a series of injuries in the early 90s. “I experienced a lot of injuries, including a rib cage 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.”

The 46-year-old McGwire, who retired in 2001, has become the second star baseball player in less than a year to admit using illegal steroids. Last February, the New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez admitted to using the drugs. But he is only one of dozens of players over the past two decades who has admitted to steroid use.

In the spring of 2005, as baseball season was about to get underway, McGwire and several other professional baseball players were singing a different tune.

It was troubling back then to hear Jose Canseco, the 1988 AL MVP, admit to using performance-enhancing drugs.

It was troubling that his best-selling book accuses several stars of steroid use.

It was troubling, back in 2005, that McGwire, ex-Cub Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling, Rafael Palmeiro and the White Sox’s Frank Thomas were subpoenaed to testify before the House Government Reform Committee as it launched an investigation into Major League baseball’s weak steroid testing policies.

The results of those hearings, in case you’ve forgotten: Canseco stuck with his story. He claims that he and other players have used steroids.

Schilling, who is not linked to steroid use, said that he never saw steroids being used in the clubhouse and that he was willing to advocate a policy to ensure that all players were on an equal playing field.

Palmeiro said that he had never taken steroids and that he would tell children that his career was a model one that he was proud of.

And McGwire — the guy who in 1998 broke Roger Maris’ record of 61 homers in a single season — would neither confirm nor deny steroid use.

Back in 2005, you didn’t have to be an expert in athletic training or sports medicine to grow a bit suspicious. Especially when television cameras were constantly focused on McGwire, Canseco, and Palmeiro, their shirt collars straining to stay buttoned around necks the size of tree trunks as they testified.

Micky Mantle didn’t share such a grotesque physical stature. In their prime, neither did Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, George Brett, Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Harmon Killebrew or any other contemporary professional baseball player.

It’s time to step back and put things in perspective. From 1914 to 1935, the length of Babe Ruth’s career, he hit 714 homers. In 1927, he hit a record 60 home runs in a single season.

Ruth’s season home run record stood for nearly three decades. In 1961, Roger Maris broke the record by hitting 61 pitches over the fence.

Ruth’s all-time home run record remained intact for four decades. In 1974, Hank Aaron broke the record with home run #715.

Let’s look at what’s happened in recent years. McGwire broke Maris’ record in 1998 by hitting 70 homers. Three years later, Bonds surpassed McGwire, hitting 73 home runs.

Bonds has beaten Maris’ 61-homer record once. The retired McGwire surpassed it twice and Sammy Sosa has bettered it three times.

Players may deny they use steroids, but numbers don’t lie. Drug-abusing athletes are unfairly excelling, and like a tsunami, they are wiping away the records set by men like Maris whose accomplishments can be credited to hard work, natural talent, and most of all, a love of the game.

It’s became so painfully apparent this week that Maris, a child of the Great Plains (he was an American Legion baseball standout in Fargo, ND) had been posthumously robbed of his record.

Hopefully, all who truly love the sport of baseball will remember the  true accomplishments of Maris, who hit his 61 home runs in 1961 using nothing but sheer athleticism and willpower.


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