Back in 1998, I was a scrappy 18-year-old kid having a down year. I had a horrible first semester in college prompting me to believe college wasn't my thing. I was looking for something to pick my spirits up, and I found it in baseball.
It was the summer of 1998. Temperatures in Philadelphia were swelling to the typical 90 degrees with 100 percent humidity that I hate with such a fiery passion and causes water shortages with all the showers being taken. In St. Louis and Chicago, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were making things hot with their bats as they sent more baseballs into orbit than NASA sends satellites.
The summer of '98 culminated on September 8, 1998 when the Cubs visited Old Busch Stadium. Sosa trailed McGwire in the home run chase by two, and everyone knew that 62 was going to happen soon. It was inevitable. The fans knew it. McGwire knew it, and I couldn't wait for it to happen.
There was so much anticipation because I had been following this chase since sports-writers were positive that either McGwire or Sosa (or both) would break the record this year -- especially since both men had more than 45 home runs by mid-August (McGwire had 49 and Sosa had 48 as of August 19, 1998).
That September night, Mark McGwire connected on a pitch by Cubs pitcher Steve Trachsel and a screaming line drive towards the left field wall caused fans in attendance (including Roger Maris's family) to get up on their feet and watch McGwire take his historic 62nd home run trot that season. (For the record, looking back, I thought that ball was going to clang off the wall in left. Not the towering home run the other 61 home runs were.) After the ball barely went over the wall, McGwire was happier than a kid getting his first big wheel. In fact, he was so jubilated that he forgot to step on first base.
I was happy for McGwire and impressed by Sosa's class. In a moment that will forever live in baseball history, Sosa met McGwire at home plate to shake his hand and congratulate him. It's a shame that moment for me and so many other baseball fans and purists has been tainted because of Mark McGwire's admission to using steroids.
Mark McGwire admitted to the Associated Press and Bob Costas on the MLB Network to using steroids during his career. He claims that it was not to get home runs, which is about as believable as him saying his admission has nothing to do with the Hall of Fame -- which is a moot point because there's no chance he's getting in and especially not after this.
McGwire told the Associated Press that the toughest thing for him was hiding this from his family and close friends. He also said, "I knew this day was going to come. I didn't know when." What McGwire had to deal with in keeping the secret is not nearly as tough as baseball fans who have to come to grips with a secret that sours the moment that many sports-writers say "saved baseball" after the strike in 1994 turned millions of fans away from America's Past-time.
Since the House Oversight Committee's investigation into steroid use in baseball, there have been so many players that have either come out and said they used steroids or other performance enhancing drugs or players who are suspected. Many of these players I looked up to, and at some point, turn to my son and say: "Be like him." Names like Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Roger Clemens, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez should have been names that were welcome in my household if my offspring expressed any kind of interest in baseball. I refuse to allow mention of those names in my house at this point. My son will be influenced by the names my father and brother grew up with: Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Reggie Jackson (minus the bad attitude), Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan.
Players in today's game that I would want to introduce my children to (i.e. Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, Josh Beckett) are unfortunately caught in a vicious crossfire worse than the soldiers in Afghanistan. Even if I wanted to tell my son about those players, I wouldn't because those names represent a time in baseball where there was so much talk of cheating, and my son will not be raised to be a cheater.
In a March issue of Sports Illustrated, Albert Pujols is featured on the cover with a message of "Don't be afraid to believe in me." Albert, believe me when I say I really want to, but after McGwire's admission, I don't know who I can trust. I don't know who I can believe in. Baseball and I have a relationship much like a guy who has a girlfriend who cheats on him. Baseball is begging me to come back, but I don't know if I want to go through the pain of being hurt again. Not after McGwire.