Mark McGwire

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I am not a huge Mark McGwire fan. His career hit its first peak when his team, the Oakland A's, was sweeping my Boston Red Sox in the playoffs. Worse, I lived near Oakland at the time. He went on to play for the Cardinals, the only team to beat the Red Sox in the World Series twice (although the Sox finally beat them last October).

I have always respected his skill, ability, and demeanor, but still, I'm not and never have been a big fan of his.

So I am in the odd position of defending him. To me, he was an almost entirely sympathetic figure in the Congressional hearing last week.

McGwire's position is simple: he is not going to talk about steroid use of individual people, his own or anyone else's. That's not to say he has used steroids; we don't know. Everyone who has been saying we know he took steroids is lying, unless the person has firsthand knowledge, and of that one person, we only have his word to go by, and his story is full of holes and inconsistencies.

That person is former Oakland teammate Jose Canseco, who claimed he had injected McGwire more times than he can count, which he later amended to "once or twice." McGwire's opening statement hit the nail on the head: you don't do that to to people, especially friends and colleagues.

It got worse. At least two members of Congress, in the clips I saw, were browbeating McGwire to answer the question of whether or not he had taken steroids, and such. I can understand people wanting to know if he has taken them. And if he has taken them, I would say he cheated.

But this hearing was not the time or place for it. I was hoping, before the hearing, that they would stick to trying to understand the scope of the problem, and how to fix it, rather than going after individuals. My hopes were quickly dashed. Congressman Elijah Cummings asked McGwire if he had taken steroids. He said McGwire didn't have to answer the question. McGwire said he would not, and the Cummings asked, "are you taking a Fifth?"

If McGwire is not required to answer the question, then the Fifth Amendment has nothing to do with it. Cummings was either ignorant of what he was asking, or he was trying to shame McGwire into answering. In either situation, it was his own performance that was shameful. If you're going to demand an answer, do so. If not, then don't browbeat him to answer.

Not that the media was much better: in many cases, they reported McGwire did take the Fifth, which is false.

Many people took issue with McGwire's repeated, and at some points reactively combative, denials. But that begs the question, as he would not have had to make repeated or combative denials if the members of Congress had not made repeated and combative attempts to get him to say something he made clear he would not address. This is an easy and boring game: find out what someone doesn't want to say, and keep asking them to say it, and make them look bad for not saying it.

Of course, for many people the point is that he won't answer the question. But what business is it of Congress to demand such an answer? If his personal use is an issue, it is one for Major League Baseball and law enforcement to address, not Congress.

But if he did not take drugs, why not say so? This is the most damning question, in part because it highlights the main flaw in McGwire's position, but also because it wrongfully assumes that there's only one reasonable answer. Maybe it is because he simply thinks it is wrong to address the question in this manner, and he is principled enough to stand up to it by refusing to cooperate with something he thinks is wrong. I am sure without being too creative we could come up with more, but one suffices to prove the point.

Maybe McGwire was a steroid user. It wouldn't surprise me in the least. But Congress was way out of line turning him into their whipping boy. I have no sympathy for someone who took cheated in baseball, but I do have sympathy for people who are assumed guilty based almost entirely on the testimony of a known liar, and a shameful hatchet job by Congress.

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<pudge/*> (pronounced "PudgeGlob") is thousands of posts over many years by Pudge.

"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

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This page contains a single entry by pudge published on March 20, 2005 9:15 AM.

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