With reports earlier this week that former MLB slugger Mark McGwire will most likely become the next hitting coach for the Dodgers, the issue of his (and others) PED use once again moved from the back burner to the front.
McGwire, who is coming off three extremely successful seasons as the Cardinals hitting coach during which they won one World Series title and fell one game short of making it into their second consecutive Fall Classic this past month, will replace Dave Hansen as the Dodgers new hitting coach. The 49-year-old Southern California native and 12-time former All-Star reportedly turned down a contract extension offer by the Cardinals and notified the organization that he intends to accept the Dodgers position so that he can be closer to his family and his Irvine, CA home.
To his credit and unlike most known or suspected former PED users, McGwire stood up and faced the music and admitted his steroid use, something that fewer than a handful of others have done, and those that did only did so when implicated. Of course the timing of McGwire’s admission was a bit suspicious in that shortly after doing so, he was named as the Cardinals hitting coach just prior to the 2010 season, but nonetheless he took responsibility and accountability for his actions.
Ironically and often overlooked is the fact that the over-the-counter steroid that McGwire admittedly took (androstenedione) was not officially banned by MLB until 2004. McGwire, of course, set a new all-time MLB single-season home run record (70) in 1998, a record that was eventually surpassed by the lying and denying Barry Bonds (73) in 2001.
Although most knowledgeable baseball fans have simply accepted the fact that steroids and human growth hormones were a part of the game from the early 90s through 2005 and that an estimated 80% of all players in the game at that time had used or experimented with them, there are some (including some Dodger fans) who refuse to let go of the biggest black eye in baseball history since the famous Shoeless Joe Jackson scandal in 1919.
While many give McGwire credit for the Cardinals success over the past three seasons, there are some who question if the Dodgers would have even considered him as Hansen’s replacement had the Cardinals not been as successful as they were with McGwire as their hitting coach. To these naysayers I repeat something that one of my favorite police academy instructors (Vince Furriel) would say about “what ifs” – “What if a bullfrog had a glass ass?” In other words, it doesn’t matter because it didn’t happen.
All of this PED talk that has resurfaced because of McGwire possibly coming to the Dodgers got me thinking about The Mitchell Report, which was released nearly five years ago – on December 13, 2007 to be exact. I remember this date well not because it was the day after my birthday, but because I was absolutely devastated by it. Reading about how many Dodgers were involved in steroid use absolutely broke my heart, none more so than Paul Lo Duca and Eric Gagne.
Although The Mitchell Report is actually pretty dull reading until page 110 (when the Barry Bonds and the BALCO investigations are detailed), it gets pretty intense (and name-specific) there after. Unfortunately (and the heartbreaking part for me), there are sixteen (16) Dodgers named in the report. Granted most of these guys were (at best) fringe players, but there are several very significant players named as well – and these are only the guys in which documentation (i.e. cancelled checks, money orders, shipping labels, etc.) was located that confirmed their involvement. Lord only knows how many other Dodgers were involved in which there was no confirmation. Here are the Dodgers named in The Mitchell Report:
- Gary Sheffield
- Larry Bigbie (signed by the Dodgers in 2007)
- Todd Hundley
- Chris Daniels
- Todd Williams
- Phil Hiatt
- Jerry Hairston Jr. (signed by the Dodgers in 2012)
- Paul Lo Duca
- Adam Riggs
- Kevin Brown
- Eric Gagne
- Matt Herges
- Gary Bennett Jr. (signed by the Dodgers in 2008)
- Jeff Williams
- Jay Gibbons
- Todd Seyler (strength and conditioning coach for the Albuquerque Dukes 1999 – 2000)
According to the report, Paul Lo Duca is responsible with hooking up four players with Kirk Radomski, one of the primary suppliers of PEDs identified in The Mitchell Report – Adam Riggs, Kevin Brown, Eric Gagne and Matt Herges.
The only reason that I even bring any of this stuff up is not to open old wounds, but rather to point out that it is unfair for anyone (especially Dodger fans) to point a finger at Mark McGwire and cry “cheater” when there was poop in their own backyard, not to mention the fact that the steroids used by McGwire were not banned when he used them.
Another concern that I have heard since McGwire’s name was mentioned as possibly becoming the Dodgers new hitting coach is that McGwire was always known more as a power hitter rather than as a disciplined or for-average hitter. This is where his work as the Cardinals hitting coach comes into play. Under McGwire, the Cardinals led the National League in batting average (.273) and runs scored (762) during their incredible run to the 2011 World Championship. And even after losing Albert Pujols to the Angels last winter, the Cards led the NL in on-base percentage (.338) and were second in hitting (.271) and runs (765) this past season, while the Dodgers ranked eighth in the league in hitting (.252) and 13th in runs (637); and as we all know, the Dodgers were absolutely terrible at stringing together consecutive hits and even worse at hitting with runners in scoring position.
Although there probably won’t be too many comments by Dodgers players about McGwire until he is formally announced as the new hitting coach (which will probably happen within the next day or two), early indications are that he will be warmly received and well respected by the entire Dodgers team. As such, it is quite possible that McGwire could be the addition that the Dodgers need to begin their domination of the NL West.
Nobody is asking anyone to forget about the steroid era, in fact, I hope that never happens so that we will always remember the damage that it did to our beloved sport; but it is what it is and it’s time to move on from it. Sure, there will always be a handful of cheaters who will continue to try to beat the system by using PEDs, but it’s time to let the wounds heal once and for all.