The Shrunken-Balls Era


At bat before Congress, McGwire strikes out weeping

WE STILL DON’T know if Mark McGwire was using steroids during his record-setting home-run binge a few years back. But steroids are known to shrink testicles, and McGwire’s balls vanished this afternoon on Capitol Hill.

The baseball/steroid hearing by the House Government Reform Committee was the expected dog-and-pony show, and ex-player Jose Conseco did his trick and eagerly rolled over on his ex-colleagues. But McGwire’s yips stole the show.

Not everyone acted like a weasel. There’s always been a question about whether Babe Ruth pointed before he hit one out, but there was no mistaking what top slugger Rafael Palmeiro did this afternoon: He pointed at the members of Congress and said, “I have never used steroids.”

McGwire, on the other hand, entered a meaningless statement into the record and then wouldn’t even answer directly when asked whether he was taking the Fifth.

“There’s so much negativity,” McGwire whined. “I want to be positive.”

Well, now we have reason to be positive, Mark, when it comes to the question about whether you did steroids. Did you legitimately earn your records and your applause? I know, I know, you don’t want to talk about the past.

No longer appearing Hulk-like, as he did in during the memorable summer of ’98, McGwire got all teary-eyed and choked up about the subject of steroids, and he volunteered to be a “national spokesman” to help others. What a guy! What a hero! What a role model!

What a schmuck. In retrospect, those might have been tears for fears.

In so many words, McGwire did indeed take the Fifth about whether he had ever used steroids.

And even when the subject of his known past use of the steroid “precursor” andro came up, McGwire wouldn’t talk about it, saying over and over to his surprisingly brave questioner, Republican John Sweeney of New York, “I’m not here to talk about the past.”

The “future” was his stated focus. McGwire was present and unaccountable, even though andro was legal when McGwire admitted using it. That testimonial by the slugger a few years ago made sales of andro zoom. As CBS News reported in March 2004:

Andro’s use skyrocketed after McGwire said he used it in 1998, the year he hit a record-setting 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals. He has said he later quit the supplements.

Medical studies show andro does raise testosterone above normal levels. Side effects of elevated testosterone include acne, baldness, and a drop in the so-called good cholesterol that could lead to heart disease.

Critics are especially concerned about andro’s effects if taken by children while they’re undergoing puberty.

But testimonials are one thing, and testimony is another. McGwire won’t even take questions about andro these days.

This afternoon he showed that he can still make balls disappear—his own.

Pretty embarrassing—and idiotic—for a guy whose public celebrity depends entirely upon his past achievements to insist that he’s not “here” to talk about the past. Leave aside his family and friends. The past—his baseball past—is the only damn thing about McGwire’s life that’s interesting, as far as the general public is concerned.

And what about baseball fans? Millions of them are addicted to the sport in large part because of its rich and highly detailed statistic-based history. Statistics that include his hundreds of home runs. And McGwire doesn’t want to talk about the past?

Retired from the St. Louis Cardinals for four years now, he still sounded like a cardinal—the kind who’s being grilled about pedophilia.

Who wants a national spokesman who won’t even speak about himself?

I mean, do you see Cardinal Bernard Law, who covered up sex scandals, doing public-service announcements urging citizens to promptly report pedophile priests?

If McGwire wants to be a “national spokesman” about steroids, and thereby reap more adulation from the public, his publicists will have to try to repair the damage from his non-testimony Thursday. But that might not be so difficult, because star jocks get away with murder in this annoying celebrity culture.

Maybe, though, McGwire should start taking a supplement again. Only this time, make it truth serum.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 17, 2005

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