Big Mac, fried

SKOKIE, Ill. -- Growing up in the shadows of both Shea and Yankee Stadiums, I felt the need to be different: I rooted for the Minnesota Twins. Hosken Powell. Lyman Bostock. Paul Thormosgard. Mike Cubbage. And so on.

Then there was the improbable World Series win in 1987 over the Cardinals. Gary Gaetti -- my favorite baseball player of all time from the moment he hit two homers to start the '82 season. Kent Hrbek -- everyone loves Herbie. Kirby Puckett, Tim Laudner, Tom Brunansky. And so on.

And just to show it was no fluke, fast forward to 1991 against Atlanta. Jack Morris' 10-inning thriller. Dan Gladden crossing home with the winning run. Both championship teams led by the dry-witted Tom Kelly. He's not a native Minnesotan, but the sense of humor is all White Bear Lake Avenue.

Suffice it to say there will always be a soft spot in my heart for the Twins, but the love affair lasted until 1998. I was tired of owner former Marquette Bank head Carl Pohlad -- net worth: at least $2 billion -- doing little to improve the team and Major League Baseball doing everything it could to kill off the team. Remember when 'contraction' was the buzzword around the majors?

I started following the Cardinals. My father has been a fan since the days of Pepper Martin and The Gashouse Gang in the 1930's. He would tell me of Enos Slaughter's mad dash home from first in the '46 Series. I think part of the reason I started following St. Louis was not just that the team was good, but the fans are amazingly loyal -- check out Busch Stadium anytime during the season and it's a sea of red. And while the team will do what it needs to improve, but they go about it the right way by building their farm system (Albert Pujols, anyone?) and making deals for integral parts (Larry Walker? Jim Edmonds?)

In the late 90's, there was Mark McGwire. In a midseason deal in 1997, Big Mac was picked up from the A's for some guys named Ludwick and Stein and a bag of balls, apparently. The stats don't lie: 51 games, 44 hits -- 24 homers.

History would be made a year later.

Remember 1998 and the back-and-forth march by Mac and Chicago's Sammy Sosa to break Roger Maris' single-season home run record? Talking about that was almost like talking in church during Mass -- spoken in quiet, hushed whispers.

I went to Montreal that season to see a pair of Cardinals-Expos games. Sitting behind the plate before batting practice, I watched players go through their routines. They all stopped when Mac stepped in the batting cage and he did not disappoint, parking six balls in the top deck of Olympic Stadium, each one seemingly longer than the last.

Ironically, the record-breaker was very un-Mac-like: a cue shot that barely made it over the left-field wall at Busch. He finished with 70 that season and followed that up with a 65-homer campaign in '99.

It was all a sham. Anyone who saw Mac at the Congressional hearings into steroids earlier this year -- remember, he was not there to discuss the past -- and the appearance Friday at Busch has to look at what's in front of their eyes. McGwire, who looked absolutely Bunyan-esque during his home-run binge, now looked like a man who would be at home in a nondescript office. Thank Steve Wilstein looking at a bottle of andro for Mac's downfall.

At the hearings, Mac would not admit the obvious. Was it andro? Stanozolol? Some other high-powered illegal drug? One person knows for sure, and you can bet he is not talking.

"I've moved on from it and I wish the media would," McGwire told The Associated Press. "I've made my statement in Washington, that's my statement, and when I left Washington that's the last time I was ever going to talk about it, and that's really about it."

McGwire told Congress he'd be interested in speaking out against steroid abuse. Now he said he isn't interested in discussing the steroids issue anymore.

Well, it seems the Cardinal Nation has moved on. With the closing of Busch coming up after this season, fans selected an All-time Cardinals team and silently convicted the man who for almost five seasons was the toast of the Gateway City.

Pujols -- just finishing up his fifth season -- got the nod at first.

What do you think? I'd like to know.

1 comment:

kansas brat said...

It is apparently true that everyone loves you when you're a winner... and does not recognize you when you lose.

Our office has a common saying; "you're only as good as your last mistake." No matter how good of an employee you are, once you're gone, you get blamed for about anything.

Sounds like McGuire is doing the best he can to not outright lie about his past. Did you ever see the SNL skit with Will Ferrell as McG on "the View"? It was funny. He was all padded up and made some type of comment like "I can't lift my arms".

Awesome article, as usual.