The news swirling around the baseball world is the admission of steroid use by slugger Mark McGwire, who of course infamously refused to ‘talk about the past’ when called before a Congressional meeting several years ago. McGwire is back in baseball as of just recently, as St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa hired Big Mac to be the team’s hitting coach. Of course, the media and fan reaction has been fairly typical – plenty of holier-than-thou opinions about McGwire’s place in history and the game, not to mention critique of LaRussa, the manager who may or may not have turned a blind eye to what was going on in his clubhouses in Oakland and St. Louis. That’s just noise though as far as LaRussa is concerned. He’s always believed in himself and what he’s done in this game (rightfully so), and has always been Big Mac’s biggest supporter dating back to their days together in Oakland and continuing on through their time in St. Louis in the late 1990s. LaRussa joined ESPN 101 in St. Louis with Bernie Miklaszto talk about McGwire’s recent admission and why he still – and will always – be 100% behind McGwire and what he stands for as a person, teammate and competitor. The interview was more like a monologue as LaRussa barely came up for air after the first question. He even cursed on the radio when asked about running a clean program.
On criticisms that LaRussa turned a blind eye to steroid use by McGwire and others during his time in both Oakland and St. Louis:
“Well, they can be skeptical if they want to, they can take as many hits as they want to. I think this is about Mark, if they want to make it about me – what I said about Mark I said very carefully and I still say over and over again. The Oakland A’s, our program at the ballpark and in St. Louis, was run by Dave McCabe except for the last year or two in Oakland, a guy named Bob Gallego ran it. That program was crystal pure, crystal clear. There wasn’t anything wrong with that program, and our guys starting with Mark and going through Carney, Walt Weiss, Steiny, all those guys worked out religiously in that gym and the benefits were really obvious, they came slow and they stayed for years. That’s what I said and Mark was of course the poster boy for that kind of hard work. I have also spoken on Mark’s character because he was one of the best teammates you can have. And I’ve been really pleased that guys from Oakland, guys from St. Louis, guys like Brian Jordan – they were all saying what a great teammate he was. I also saw this man walk away from $30 million dollars when he felt like his back was no longer able to play. So I know the character of Mark and I also know the hard work. What I also said at some point in the ’90s when I saw – whether it was guys in our club in the night, clearly less than a handful of guys on our club…And guys around baseball – all of a sudden you’ve got a lot of strength gains quickly…you can’t do that. Without working, you can’t do that either. That’s when the suspicions came. Whether it was a couple of guys on our ballclub, not Mark, or other guys in baseball – when that issue came up, whenever it was raised anywhere, the biggest obstacle was the Players Association”
There’s more, including commentary on the MLBPA, McGwire’s legendary batting practices and how he felt obligated to treat the public each and every day before the actual games, how he doesn’t ‘give a fu*&’ (his words, not mine) if people don’t believe he ran a clean program, and other interesting nuggets worthy of a listen:
Could MLB have done more? I don’t know. Maybe. But I do know right away the Players Association stifled everything with right of privacy and collective bargaining. So that’s what I’ve been saying for years; I’ve also said what I believe in Mark and that still continues. And what he did yesterday, that’s the most forthcoming any player has ever been and I do believe he laid something out there that I believe people have to watch and listen to carefully if they want to be fair. He talked about a limited low dosage of something towards the end of the ‘89-’90 season. More importantly, he talked about the first stuff that he used after ‘93-’94 when he lost 200 some games to injuries. I was in the clubhouse those years that Mark wasn’t playing and I heard the whispers and he mentioned that in a very powerful thing totally got ignored after with all the analysis. You know I really don’t blame the analysts, that’s a pretty tough job. You know, right away afterward, you’re supposed to say something smart. But over time, if you think about what he was saying, he would walk by the clubhouse going ‘oh man, you can’t go again?’
Tremendous pressure from his peers, and that happens to all hurt guys. You know, you can be hurt a little bit, but if you’re hurt a lot, then God Almighty, we need you out there. And he started looking for a way to get himself back on the field. He made mistakes, he apologized, but there was a school of thought, and there still was even with Rick Ankiel for example and Andy Pettitte – that if you were rehabilitating from an injury that HGH or a steroid would speed your recovery. And then last but not least, there was a period in ‘97, ‘98 and ‘99 where he talked about in the last half of the season, he would use some stuff to keep his body together and allow him to finish the season. Well I think that’s a concession he made and that’s where people are saying that he didn’t say his performance was enhanced. Well, what he said was he developed a stroke where he could hit homeruns and still probably could. That’s what he was saying. He’s conceding that he probably got extra at bats in those last years through the help. So obviously if he had extra at bats and more production, he’s conceding that his performance was enhanced.
Nobody is giving him enough credit – and it’s easy for me to do it. In ‘97 when he came with us, he was doing it some with the A’s but it really wasn’t the phenomenon until he got to St. Louis. ‘98 and ‘99 – remember the BP [batting practice] shows that were being put on? Remember the 20,000 people, whether it was in visiting ballparks or our ballpark….very, very rarely did he not take batting practice and every time he didn’t the fans would boo him like they were being cheated because they missed part of the show. Mark felt this tremendous responsibility. To this day I can not believe, especially in a draining season in our heat, I can’t believe how many times to please the fans and to help MLB, he would take batting practice. It was like playing a game – the pressure to hit homeruns during batting practice and put on a show…And then an hour later he would have to turn around and play in an actual competition. So in effect, it was a double header a day for three years…”
LaRussa is then told that the station had been getting texts and emails from listeners saying things like ‘I can’t believe LaRussa said he ran a clean program’:
“Well they can believe it or not. I don’t really give a fuck to be honest. If they think that I’m lying, then they think I’m lying. I’ve tried to build my career on credibility and trust, that’s what we do with our players. I’m telling you – we ran a clean program. That’s the way it is. That’s what I say, that’s what I believe. If they believe differently, that’s America, they can believe anything they want to.”