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Mark McGwire was not let off the hook for PED use

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In spite of what you may have heard, Mark McGwire was not let off easier than others for PED use.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Over the weekend, news dropped of an Al Jazeera documentary which implicated several high-profile athletes of using either human growth hormone or a steroid called Delta 2.  Peyton Manning was the most well-known athlete included in the documentary but several baseball players such as Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman were linked to the report as well.  (Note: The main source from the documentary has reportedly recanted his entire story.)

In the wake of the documentary, Craig Calcaterra, lead baseball writer at NBC Sports, linked to a blog he wrote in early 2010 about a New York Times piece detailing Mark McGwire's image rehabilitation and apology tour prior to his re-emergence into Major League Baseball.  Around the time of Calcaterra's original blog, McGwire had sat down with Bob Costas on the MLB Network and admitted using performance enhancing drugs.  This was Calcaterra's tweet on Sunday:

Reading some of Calcaterra's other tweets, the implication seemed to be that unlike Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and other former stars linked to PEDs, due to a highly publicized public relations campaign, McGwire wasn't shunned from baseball - a status which ultimately led to him being hired to be the Cardinals' hitting coach prior to the 2010 season.

Well that, of course, is entirely wrong.

But before I get into the why, I want to note that I like Calcaterra.  I think he's funny and generally insightful.  He's also polarizing - especially in these parts - because he openly trolls Cardinals fans and seems to relish his role as some trusted sidekick to the better known trolls.  That sort of nonsense usually doesn't bother me and I still read and enjoy his morning recaps every day during baseball season.  Calcaterra also sniffs out homerism and other crap pretty quickly, which I was reminded in light of Joe Strauss' untimely passing is not a talent to be trivialized.  (He's also an incorrigible follow on Twitter.  Not necessarily because of content but sheer volume.  I've probably followed/unfollowed him more than anyone.  He's truly the Billy Martin of Twitter.)

Anyway, McGwire was absolutely a pariah in baseball due to his use of PEDs and a quick review of the Hall of Fame voting shows that in some circles he likely still is.  (More on that in a second.)  Following McGwire's disastrous appearance before the House Government Reforms Committee in 2005, no one was mocked more than he was for his infamous "I'm not here to talk about the past" line.  And rightfully so - while it was absurd that he and ten other players had to appear before that committee in the first place, it was a ridiculous thing to say.  The several years that followed I remember him being like a ghost.  He was never on television nor did he make any appearances at baseball events.  I also don't recall any interviews.  I wasn't living near the St. Louis area at the time, but if he had any sort of public profile in town I never heard about it.  Whether on his own accord or by league-design, he was estranged from baseball and that lasted nearly five years.

What's more, as it currently stands, McGwire is not getting into the Hall of Fame any time soon because he used PEDs.  He topped out at 23.7% of the vote in 2010 and his totals have decreased every year since.  Last year he got a measly 10% of the vote.  Some might argue that McGwire's vote totals are low because he wasn't the most multi-dimensional player, but when you slugged and reached base at the historic rate that he did that's a hard argument to make with a straight face.  Similar to Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa, I don't believe for a second that it's anything but the PEDs that are keeping him out.

Calcaterra would likely point out that McGwire is getting ready to begin the 2016 season as the Padres' bench coach - his third job in baseball since 2010.  (EDIT: I originally wrote that McGwire was the Padres new hitting coach.)  Meanwhile, Clemens and Sosa have been out of baseball this entire time, and Bonds finally got a job this year to be the Marlins' hitting coach.  So why has McGwire been lucky?  Well, if context matters at all the answer is likely Tony La Russa.  McGwire had a connection with La Russa going back to his rookie year with the A's, and was managed by him every year as a player save for his last few in Oakland.  Prior to McGwire's confession, La Russa backed him to the point that he bristled at any suggestion of PED use.  Calcaterra noted that in 2008 on his old blog.  (La Russa later claimed to be surprised when McGwire came clean in 2010.)  La Russa was McGwire's friend to the end and gave him a job.  That's often what friends do.  Remove La Russa from this equation and there stands a good chance that McGwire is still out of baseball.

So yes, McGwire is still a pariah in certain baseball circles.  And no, he wasn't able to sneak back into the game because he hitched his wagon to a slick PR campaign.  Instead he happened to have a loyal friend in a high place, which, when it comes to landing a job, is quite common and unremarkable.