The award for least surprising news of the decade (thus far), goes to one Mark David McGwire, for finally admitting that he used steroids during his career, including during his record-breaking 1998 season.
McGwire released a statement earlier today, and it included all of the usual components: apologies, contriteness, and the qualificaton that "I thought they would help me heal and prevent injuries, too."
Oh, Mark. Well, at least it's all out in the open, now... even though we've all known as much for the last ten years. I don't know about the rest of you, but I was eight years old in 1998, and I was as aware of the home run race as anybody else: one of my teachers told us that Sammy Sosa was clean, and that McGwire was on steroids, so the consensus in my third-grade class was support for Sosa. Now, of course, we know that neither man was clean, and that the true single-season home run king is Roger Maris, despite the fact that his record of 61 has been "broken" six times, by Sosa (3), McGwire (2), and Barry Bonds (1).
The most stirring sentiment in McGwire's release was the following:
"I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era."
I bet that's a wish that countless men share: how many current and former major leaguers live with the dread that they will be the next name published, their name forever tarnished because of one stupid mistake? In 1998, baseball was still struggling to regain its fanbase after the debacle in 1994 when the World Series was canceled, and along came this pair of sluggers in a race to reach one of baseball's most exciting records. Why on earth would the commissioner delve too deeply into such a boon for attendance and television ratings? Let's not pretend that most of us would have acted differently: perhaps we would have done something before things got so out of control; perhaps not.
McGwire then toes the official line in claiming that the game is totally clean now:
"Baseball is really different now - it's been cleaned up. The commissioner and the players' association implemented testing and they cracked down, and I'm glad they did."
Let's not fool ourselves: there are players out there beating the system right now, with the use of HGH (which has no accurate testing procedure). However, the days of rampant and open clubhouse drug use (Hello, late-90's Texas Rangers!) are over, and good riddance. Unfortunately, the game isn't out of the woods yet - that will only happen when the last user retires from the game completely, which isn't exactly in the cards for the next forty years or so. And until then? Well, I plan to be a fan of the game as always... but a little less innocent than I was way back in 1998.