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Swallow This Pill

If Mark McGwire breaks the record, would the accomplishment be diminished by his use of androstenedione? Read the opposing views below, check out what other users had to say, or tell us what you think.

Big Mac's super-sizing supplements shouldn't taint his super season

by Jack McCallum

From Sports Illustrated
August 31, 1998

In the relentless search for an asterisk, sportswriters have come upon a bottle of pills that your Uncle Barney can buy without a prescription, pills that Mark McGwire keeps in plain view of America, which these days means on a shelf in his locker stall. Get this straight: McGwire's use of androstenedione, which he may not have advertised but didn't try to hide, should not taint his achievement if he breaks Roger Maris's single-season home run record. For one thing, androstenedione, classified by the FDA as a nutritional dietary supplement, is legal, not just in the real world, where McGwire lives for five months of the year, but also in the baseball world, where he lives for the other seven. For another, it's not as if McGwire's home run prowess is purely a product of androstenedione, which he says he began taking last year. As a relatively skinny rookie in 1987 he hit 49 dingers. Two years ago he clouted 52.

Brute strength isn't the only factor in hitting home runs. Last Thursday night McGwire laid off five straight tempting sliders from New York Mets pitcher Rick Reed to work the count full. Then he hit the sixth pitch off the foul pole in left for number 51. At week's end he was batting .292 and led the majors in walks. Androstenedione had nothing to do with those stats. Finally, it's not as if McGwire is alone. He says at least nine or ten St. Louis Cardinals teammates use andro (as it's known to muscleheads), and Houston Astros star Jeff Bagwell told The Houston Chronicle, two weeks before the McGwire storm erupted, that he had taken it. Logic says that at least a few other major leaguers have it in their lockers.

A caveat: Andro is banned by, among others, the NFL, the NCAA and the International Olympic Committee. Its classification as a supplement rather than an anabolic steroid is largely semantics. The body metabolizes androstenedione into testosterone, so it's often referred to as a "precursor to an anabolic steroid." Experts say that androstenedione may, like many hormones, have deleterious side effects, among them disruptions in heart and liver function. That's a big reason that some organizations have banned it—and that Big Mac-mad youngsters should not try to buy a baseball career in a bottle.

But McGwire is an adult who, as far as we know, is playing within the rules. If baseball were to ban androstenedione, then he could be faulted if he kept on using it. To hold McGwire to a higher standard than his sport does is unfair.

  Because of a chemical advantage, McGwire deserves an asterisk

by Kostya Kennedy

Posted: Thu August 27, 1998

Whatever one feels about Mark McGwire's disclosure that for the past year he has been regularly ingesting the muscle-building drug androstenedione, one thing seems clear: He would not be on the verge of breaking Roger Maris's record of 61 home runs in a season without the drug's help.

A legal substance that is nonetheless banned by the NFL, NCAA and IOC, androstenedione is a testosterone-producing drug that helps build muscle mass in weightlifters and helps the body repair after workouts. If the drug works, and McGwire says it does, it has helped him get stronger. In the time since he began taking the drug, McGwire has hit homers much more often than previously in his career, and has crushed balls disproportionately farther than anyone else.

Regardless of the pills he takes, McGwire is a dedicated competitor and a disciplined hitter. But once he makes contact, it's all about strength. The andro revelation demands that if he breaks Maris's record a footnote must accompany his entry into the record books. The note should explain: Effort aided by consumption of a testosterone-producing drug.

McGwire has done nothing wrong. Neither baseball nor the St. Louis Cardinals have condemned McGwire's drug use (who would dare question the meal ticket's meal?) and Big Mac says he would stop swallowing the pills should the higher-ups ask him to. I believe him.

But he still merits an asterisk. Over the first 10 years of his career McGwire hit a home run once every 11.92 at bats. Beginning with his arrival in St. Louis, about the time he says he began taking the drug, his ratio has skyrocketed to a home run every 7.5 at bats. That's like cutting 20 seconds off your time in the mile. For all McGwire's marvelous moonshots, some home runs have needed all the muscle they could get; his milestone 50th, for example, cleared Shea Stadium's leftfield fence by only a few feet.

McGwire claims many ballplayers take androstenedione. But while a few players say they've taken the drug, there is no evidence of widespread use. Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa says he's never ingested it. When the day comes that all of our home run heroes openly take testosterone-producing drugs, we can expunge McGwire's asterisk from the books.

It isn't McGwire's fault that he plays in an era of medical enhancement while Maris fortified himself on cigarettes, coffee and hard-shell crabs. McGwire remains a stand-up guy and a baseball idol. Let's not stop cheering him. Here's hoping he gets into the record books—with a star right next to his name.

Your Turn: Tell us what you think.

If Mark McGwire breaks the record, would the accomplishment be diminished by his use of androstenedione?

Because of a chemical advantage, McGwire deserves an asterisk
Big Mac's super-sizing supplements shouldn't taint his super season

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