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Sunday, October 02, 2005


Myths, Legends, Mark McGwire

More than any other sport, baseball constitutes an important thread of our national cultural identity. It is more than a form of entertainment, and baseball itself is far bigger than the business around the sport. Rising to importance during and after the Civil War, the most terrible experience the United States ever faced, baseball enculturated us as we navigated our way through a place so dramatically changed. Cultures and societies need legends and myths that tell their stories. This serves to mark achievements and pass them onto subsequent generations. For a nation born from the Age of Reason and transformed by the violent and traumatic experiences of the Industrial Revolution and the other machinations of the modern era, innovations that uprooted ancient existences and slowly replaced their references of identity, the legends and myths born of a population-wide phenomenon like baseball are even more important. This is why we make legends of the people who played the game. We scrutinize statistics to measure the greatness of our heroes and to find those that will embody the heroes of the past and carry on the legends and myths. At what point does a player and a story become a legend and what makes them so? There is not an answer. Public debate heated up this week as Mark McGwire returned to spotlight in Friday's Busch Stadium memorialization ceremonies. A contentious debate to say the least, and a fungo bat and the national media's ire suffered most directly from it. When I sat down to write this post this morning, I knew there would not be any easy conclusion to the situation for me. To call McGwire a legend will incite controversy (albeit to all six readers of this site), but I personally feel that he warrants that title. First of all, legends permit flawed persons. In fact, the flawed protagonist often embellishes the myths and legends of this society. Historians drag the names of great people through the mud all of the time, act of cynical criminality done, in so many cases, merely for profit and name recognition. Other historians take such things into account without judging the subject, affording little weight to an asterisk in light of the greater role played by their subject. McGwire's case holds forth much similarity. It is now quite clear he used steroids, and further damaged his personal image with a congressional testimony worthy of the political criminals who had him put on the stand for a show trial that would not have been out of place in the world's more notorious totalitarian societies. His larger contribution to baseball, to the national myth, has less to do with his specific number of homeruns he hit or his personal behavior. His record chase restored some measure of greatness, excitement to baseball. Doused in cynicism after a strike year and competing with a myriad of other sport and media distractions, kids stopped playing baseball, they turned away from the game for farcical entertainment like wrestling. McGwire helped to reverse baseball's course from national irrelevance, an accomplishment of much more importance than hitting 70 homeruns. As fans, we must move on from the debate, or confine it to the realm of statistics. What has been done is done, and my argument certainly does not open a new front in the debate. We established the legend and the myth during those years, before the steriod debate heated up again, and it is beyond our power to unmake it now. McGwire earned his place in the commemoration of Busch Stadium and in the larger celebration of the Cardinals franchise and baseball itself. Fans can boo or cheer as they see fit. The point about him using his child as a shield is ridiculous as well. McGwire surrounded himself with his kids all through the homerun chase, if you will recall. Now, the best thing for McGwire to do is fade from the public into the personal. For us, the fans, betrayal stings. However, the feeling will pass, and we should make our best effort to hasten the process. Among other things, the legends and myths of baseball teach forgiveness, particularly forgiveness of individual flaws in light of a greater good.
Um wow. I'm not sure what to say to all that. I agree that, to some, McGwire is a legend. To me the home run chase was nice and all, but the Cards were stagnant as a .500 team that year, so it's not a real big deal for me. To me, the legend in '98 was Todd Stottlemyre who I believe severley damaged his arm the first half of the season trying to carry the entire pitching staff, but that's just me.

About people talking of McGwire's legend being tarnished or diminished, I see what you're saying about legends being flawed, because they are after all people, and people make mistakes. But I think there's a difference. When you think of say, Einstein as legend of science (and maybe I'm not following your line of thinking properly), there isn't evidence, that I know of, that he got where he was by stealing other people's ideas, as was once joked about on Family Guy. Or that Patton, as a legend of war, was stealing Rommel's tanks (he did read Rommel's book, but that was really more a mistake on Rommel's part. he should have lied about what he did to throw off his opponents).

With McGwire, there is this feeling now that he cheated, gained an unfair advantage over his competition. Even if baseball didn't outlaw steroids, McGwire would have been taking them in a quantity that is illegal or at least not safely prescribed by a physician. Since that ties directly to what made himlegendary, I think it hurts him more than say, Patton being a self-promoter, or if Einstein were a mean drunk, because those don't necessarily relate to their performance in war or science.

Man that was long. Sorry.
well, the Stottlemeyer part speaks more directly to the cards fans, and focuses on jsut one team, same with the stagnant record that year.

He cheated, no argument, and that can always be remembered in the record book (hell look at all the argument that surrounded Maris), but I still think the feeling and the sentiment the overall event created is above judgement.
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