News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett Opinion

January 16, 2010

MARK BENNETT: Until baseball acknowledges its dishonesty, doubts will shadow the game and its players

TERRE HAUTE — If cynicism and distrust are simply a necessary way of life nowadays, then the decisions made by Mark McGwire and other major-leaguers to use steroids don’t really matter.

Neither does McGwire’s claim that he took performance-enhancing drugs only to overcome injuries and continue his career. Nor does his insistence that the steroids he used weren’t the reason he hit 70 home runs in 1998, at the age of 35. McGwire made those rationalizations last week, when he revealed that he used PEDs for a decade.

In the absence of honor, Americans just come to the ballpark to find gratification in the moment. Are the best players down on the field really the best players? Did they outwork the others or possess greater doses of God-given skill? Or did they sneak ahead of their peers by crossing a line of deceit others would not cross?

Who knows? Who cares? But, man, look at that guy’s home run sailing 500 feet into the upper deck!

McGwire and Sammy Sosa were credited for saving baseball with their duel of mammoth long-balls in 1998, four seasons after a strike canceled the World Series and soured loyal fans. The Big Mac & Sammy Show swept millions of instant admirers off their feet. McGwire looked superhuman. The outnumbered skeptics quietly questioned how the once-lean slugger had transformed into a gigantic baseball destroyer, stuffed into a St. Louis Cardinals uniform. But the euphoria drowned out the doubts. Meanwhile, McGwire and Sosa clubbed away, leaving in the dust the late Roger Maris’ single-season record of 61 in 1961. Mac hit 70 dingers, edging Sammy’s 66. They hugged. America swooned. Baseball lived the lie.

Nothing was saved. The game profited, but it now lives with the consequences of its culture of accepted deception. Baseball sacrificed its history, integrity and respect.

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