Big Mac's '05 testimony costs him shot at Hall for now
Posted: Tuesday January 2, 2007 12:44PM; Updated: Tuesday January 2, 2007 12:54PM
Unfortunately, this is the lasting image many people have of Mark McGwire.
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Tom Verducci will answer select questions from SI.com users in his Baseball Mailbag.
Seven months before he broke Roger Maris' home run record and seven years before Congress would pursue a similar line of questioning with him, I asked Mark McGwire if he used steroids. We sat in the living room of his well-appointed Orange County, Calif., home. The tiny red light of a tape recorder glowed on the coffee table between us. It was February 1998, a time of both innocence and ignorance in baseball compared to what we now know about that era.
I told McGwire he must have heard rumors of steroid use by his former Oakland teammate, Jose Canseco, and perhaps rumors that even McGwire himself had used steroids that may have contributed to a series of foot injuries.
"Yeah. Right. I've heard that before," McGwire said.
"Have you ever experimented with . . ."
McGwire answered before I could finish the sentence: "Never."
"Or know anything about them?"
"No . . . Of course I know about it," he said, "but never experimented with it.
"I think people look at my baseball card as a rookie and they look at the way I look now and I laugh because, go look at Kirby Puckett, go look at Cecil Fielder, go look at Roger Clemens, go look at everybody who ever played the game of baseball and look at what they looked like as a rookie and what they look like today. Everybody's much bigger, much stronger, much faster.
"It sort of boggles my mind when you hear people talking in . . . in those words. I mean, I work hard at what I do to be the best I can be. That's all I know what to do, so . . ."
I asked McGwire if he thought steroid use was happening in baseball.
"It could," he said.
I asked, "It's not something that is whispered about in the clubhouse or on the field?"
"Not . . . I . . . I never heard it," he said. "I mean, the only other time I heard it was when that stuff came out [in 1988] with Jose and, who's that writer in Boston [or] Washington? [Thomas Boswell.] And people were talking about it."
The voice is a relaxed one, nothing like the halting, blubbering one from March 17, 2005, that told Congressional representatives he wasn't there to talk about the past. With McGwire a first-time candidate on the Hall of Fame ballot, I remembered the tape, found it in an old box and had to listen again to McGwire, then 34 and on the brink of his 70-home run season, answer questions about steroids.
If truth is immutable, why couldn't McGwire give Congress the same answers he gave me? And how could I, as a Hall of Fame voter, square his 1998 denial with his 2005 evasiveness? Of course, he did not appear before me under a federal subpoena and nor did he testify under oath.