Earlier in the week, Mark McGwire owned up to having used steroids off and on during his baseball career. Since then, the question has been whether or not people would forgive him; he's snagged a job as a hitting coach with the St. Louis Cardinals, his last team as a player, so he was undoubtedly hoping that the fans there would embrace him at least a little bit.
Well, his first public appearance in St. Louis seemed to go well:
Dressed in jeans, a sweater and running shoes, the 46-year-old McGwire walked on stage to "Welcome to the Jungle'' by Guns N' Roses, the hard-rock song played before his at-bats with the Cardinals. The team's new hitting coach was cheered by fans who secured seats as much as 3 1/2 hours earlier.I tend to be in the forgiveness camp; if what he's saying now is true, he seemed to be using the steroids mostly to speed up recovery from injuries rather than for undue bulking up. And even if there is a bit of a taint on the home-run record (which of course would be broken by an even more tainted Barry Bonds a few years later), the race to the top between McGwire and Sammy Sosa in '98 was something that baseball really needed; coming off a crippling strike a few years earlier, the game was far overdue for a spark. McGwire and Sosa provided that spark, and then some; the baseball world was truly enchanted by the whole thing.
"I've learned a lot,'' McGwire told fans. "Especially to kids out there, steroids are bad. I made a huge mistake in my life and it's something I want you guys to learn from. Don't ever, ever go down that road.''
Jessica and Sarah Schaaf were in the front row of a downtown hotel ballroom jammed with perhaps 1,000 fans, and wore T-shirts made for the occasion that said "Welcome back, Big Mac Land,'' with a photograph of McGwire.
"He did wrong,'' Jessica Schaaf said. "But we still love him.''
In a brief appearance on stage, McGwire said he was happy about his chance to put on a major league uniform again. The former home run king headed over to Busch Stadium, just blocks away, for an afternoon hitting session with Colby Rasmus and Ryan Ludwick, and pledged to immerse himself in his new job.
"Like I told them, I'll be the first one in the cage and I'll be the last one to leave,'' McGwire said. "I'm there for them, I'm there to pass on my knowledge.
I'm willing to give McGwire a second chance here; how about you?