Then, at 15, while playing Rambo with his buddies, a BB fired from an air rifle bounced off a tree and hit Jay in the middle of his right iris, blinding him in that eye. He tried to keep playing, but it was hopeless. His pitching eye was lost, his shooting perspective was gone, and he kept getting blindsided playing football. "The accident kind of put Jay into a spin," says Williamson. Jay gave up those sports and tried competitive bodybuilding. He got seriously cut, good enough to finish sixth in the Mr. California contest, but it wasn't a wonderful life. He was taking now-banned bodybuilding drugs and working out eight hours a day. "It worried me," Mark says. "I wanted him to get on with life."
At the same time, Mark's own life started dissolving. He'd married Williamson, the USC batgirl, just after he was the 10th player picked in the June 1984 draft, and she got pregnant two years later. But in '87, after he hit the big leagues with the Oakland Athletics, batting .289 and roping a rookie-record 49 home runs, the marriage unraveled. "I think there were too many things calling Mark's name," she says. "Women, fame, glamour."
Says Mark, "I did so much stupid stuff. Kathy and I never talked about things. We still have never talked about why the marriage went bad. I didn't know how to communicate then. I guess I didn't care. I just closed it off."
They separated, tried to get back together and then split for good just as the 1988 World Series began, A's versus Dodgers. McGwire went 1 for 17. Oakland lost in five games. Kathy and Mark's son, Matt, was one.
McGwire's batting average and home runs sank over the next three seasons, and he finished 1991 hitting a skinny .201, with only 22 homers and 1,000 self-doubts. "He'd lost all his confidence," says his father.
In those days, when you tried to interview McGwire, what you mostly got was a great view of his back. He never opened up. "I was kind of a wreck," he says. "I was having all kinds of relationship problems. I didn't know what love was all about. I had four brothers and no sisters. We never talked about it. You're never taught: These are how feelings are. It's like you're walking into a dark room and just feeling blindly around.
"I was at a crossroads in my life. I remember driving home [to Los Angeles from Oakland after the 1991 season]. I knew I had five hours by myself to think. I didn't turn the radio on, didn't play any music, nothing. I just thought. I was so down. I got to thinking about everything my father had been through. I mean, he never even got a chance to play baseball. I thought about Jay, too, how he had it taken away from him. I thought about how much I really loved the game, and I just decided that there wasn't any room for pouting or complaining or anything but doing my best."
It's not easy for big guys to ask for help, but when McGwire walked into his house, he threw his bags down, went to the phone and called a therapist, whom he saw for the next four years. "It took failure for me to understand myself," he says. "I'm not afraid to talk about therapy. Guys tell me, 'I'll never go to therapy' That's bull. Hey, everybody needs therapy. It brought so many things to my life. I can face the music now. I can face the truth."
Jay moved in with Mark, and they helped each other. Jay left bodybuilding, became a devout Christian and is now a successful personal trainer. "I'm so proud of him," says Mark. "He's the happiest guy in the world."
Living with Jay, Mark learned how to lift weights the right way and stay flexible. Mark would work out six days a week in the off-season, four during the season. He lifts after home games now and is routinely the last to leave the clubhouse. Before games and workouts, he stretches for an hour. He does eye exercises. Whenever he goes to a restaurant, he knows the protein count of every meal, of which he usually orders two. He takes Muscle Nitro (helps his body break down amino acids), Met Max (a high-protein bodybuilding powder), Lean Gainer (a high-protein, low-carbo drink) and, yeah, the infamous androstenedione. "It's all natural!" he yelps. "I mean, if anybody can prove it's harmful, have the FDA get it out of here! It's fine for the NFL to ban it and then give guys painkilling injections! It's fine for the IOC to ban it and then let people smoke dope! This stuff is completely natural and legal! If they ban this, why not ban ginseng and coffee and, hell, red meat?"