Two Athletes,Two different Sports. One Athlete was known as a model citizen on and off the field during his playing career. He was heavily involved in charities, protecting abused children. He was admired and respected by his peers, and management. Fans got caught up with his accomplishments on the field, and was said by many pundits, that he may have brought his sport back from the dead. The other Athlete, was also an exemplary player on the field, however, his playing days were filled with controversy. Allegations were made that this Athlete, was involved with drugs, hung out allegedly with unsavory characters, and at times looked as if he would end his career in infamy. Both Players were eligible for their respective sports Halls of Fame recently.
One made it in his third year of eligibility, the other, now looked at as a pariah, didn't get close to being inducted. Of course the two men I am talking about are former Slugger Mark McGwire, and former Dallas Cowboy great Michael Irvin. Irvin, the man who had the controversial career, made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. McGwire, who along with Sammy Sosa, brought Baseball back from the abyss, received less than 25 percent of the Baseball writers votes. McGwire's troubles started after refusing to answer questions of possible steroid use when he testified before Congress. His name has been mud ever since. In fact, his good guy reputation may be in part the reason that this man has been vilified the way he has been.
Because McGwire was so idolized during the story book season that he first broke Roger Maris' single season home run record, people probably thought they were deceived. Where as the Barry Bonds of the world are looked at with a jaundiced eye, Baseball fans thought McGwire was special. Great dad, great teammate, great guy. I saw similar situations unroll twice during the last few years in Cleveland. The Indians, Jim Thome, and the Cavaliers Carlos Boozer, were both looked at by fans in Northeast Ohio as being on a separate plain. Regular Joes, blue collar guys who actually played for the love of the game. Fans were literally shocked when both players left Cleveland to take more money elsewhere.
Both of these men were the recipients of far more fan vitriol than other former Cleveland athletes. The reason being, more was expected from Boozer, and Thome, and when they showed that like other players that money was important to them, fans felt betrayed. Irvin, who was followed by controversy his entire career, not only made it to the Hall, but is now a prominent T.V. Broadcaster. Is this really fair? Mark McGwire was never caught using any illegal substances, during his playing days. There is no vial of blood or urine from McGwire with damning evidence. All the negative reaction he has received is based on conjecture.
Is McGwire a scapegoat? I believe so! There is plenty of blame to be spread around for the "Juiced Era" of Baseball, including Team owners, and management. Nobody was complaining when Sosa and McGwire, had their magical seasons, even though there were suspicions throughout MLB. MLB owners, sat by as they saw their athletes, getting bigger and bigger. In fact if not for the book by Jose Canseco, and the subsequent investigation by Congress, Steroids would probably be as prominent today as they were a decade ago. A former MLB player who I covered on an every day basis a few years back has admitted to taking substances, although he says he was prescribed the substance by a physician. We all had suspicions about this gentleman because of his volatile mood swings during his playing days, but not one member of the media ever talked about it on the record. There has been only one case of a Hall of Fame Caliber athlete who was caught with steroids in Baseball.
That was Rafael Palmeiro who then tried to pin the blame elsewhere. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig had a chance to draw a line in the sand then. He should have said that because Palmeiro did test positive for steroids, that he would not be eligible for the Hall, but Selig did not have the intestinal fortitude to make that call. No it is far easier, for Selig,and MLB owners to play like an Ostrich with their collective heads in the sand, and allow the Baseball Writers of America, to do their dirty work for them. There are too many guilty parties out there for McGwire to be the poster boy of the excesses of MLB. McGwire belongs in the Hall Of Fame,if not then the game will always suffer from the taint of hypocrisy.
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