It’s been 20 years since Mark McGwire took baseball fans on a wild ride to chase baseball history. Over the course of the 1998 season he hit 70 home runs, smashing the single-season record that had once been held by Roger Maris. When Maris broke the record in 1961, he topped some guy named Babe Ruth. Maybe you’ve heard of him?
But we don’t talk about McGwire in the same glowing way as Maris and the Babe. And that’s because McGwire admitted to taking performance enhancing drugs during that 1998 season, as well as throughout his career. McGwire, who’s currently serving as the bench coach for the San Diego Padres, talked about the 1998 season with Jayson Stark of The Athletic as part of Stark’s new “Baseball Stories” series on Stadium TV, and during that interview he said something that’s going to raise more than a few eyebrows. Stark asked McGwire if he thinks he could have hit 70 home runs without PEDs. Here’s his response:
“Absolutely,” he replied, emphatically. “I just know myself. I just know. I was a born home run hitter. I mean, unfortunately, I did [take PEDs]. And I’ve regretted that. I’ve talked about that. I regretted it. I didn’t need to. That’s the thing. Didn’t need to.
“But I know,” he went on. “Deep down inside, I know me as a hitter. And I know what I did in that box. And I know how strong my mind is. And I know what kind of hitter I became. And yes. Yes. Definitely.”
Twenty years after his accomplishment, and eight years after he admitted to using steroids to Bob Costas on TV, McGwire is so sure of his gifts and his talent that he’s absolutely positive that he could have hit 70 home runs without PEDs.
Unless someone discovers a parallel universe in which McGwire never took steroids, we’ll never know if that’s true. But McGwire did reveal what would have stopped him from taking them in the first place: testing.
“Unfortunately, there wasn’t any testing,” he said. “There wasn’t anything going on (to keep the sport clean). The game has done a terrific job of doing what they’re doing now. I commend them for doing it. I think we all wish (testing) went on when we had played. But unfortunately, it didn’t.”
If there had been testing, he said, there’s “no way” he would have used a single performance-enhancing drug. And it was striking to hear him use those words: “no… way.”
Stark points out that since Barry Bonds hit 73 homers in 2001, no one has even come close to breaking that record. Of course, since 2001, baseball gotten clean has instituted rigorous testing and penalties for violations. So it makes a little sense that no one has gotten close. But McGwire is still completely sure that he could have broken that record without PEDs.
And McGwire is sure that Bonds’ record of 73 homers in a season will be broken someday, even in a cleaned-up game of baseball. And you’ll never guess which players he thinks could do it! Just a few of those guys “over in New York.” As if there are any other choice besides Aaron Judge, who hit 52 homers in his rookie season, and Giancarlo Stanton, who hit 59 homers last year. Stanton has gotten closer to the record than anyone else since 2001, and he’s definitely got a chance to break it. And if he stops striking out five times a game, he’ll have an even better chance.
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