Who’s your hero now?

Mark McGwire can’t be trusted. Neither can Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens or Sammy Sosa. Rafael Palmeiro lied to Congress and the baseball fans around the world with one wag of his finger. Alex Rodriguez lied before he told the truth. Our heroes have betrayed us.

Actually, I’m not particularly disappointed in the McGwire confession and apology. Pundits and writers have ripped him for his belief that the steroids didn’t help him hit home runs. Only that it helped stave off injuries. And you know what? I do believe him. I really believe that he believes that steroids didn’t help him hit home runs. Of course, you’d have to be a fool to agree with McGwire that steroids didn’t actually have some impact in his 583 career homers. But I also don’t believe that a bearded carpenter (who’s complexion actually was probably closer to Osama bin Laden than anybody would want to admit) is the son of God, so who am I to piss on what somebody else thinks? McGwire wanted to clear his conscience, and I’m sure he feels like he did exactly that.

But I’ve been thinking the past couple days about why I’m not disappointed in McGwire. In part, it’s because his testimony in Congress might as well have been an admission of guilt. I don’t think anybody, save Tony La Russa*, believed McGwire was completely clean after his “I’m not interested in talking about the past” question and answer period.

*I also don’t believe that La Russa really believed this.

But it’s something else. It’s the cynical sports writer in me, and it’s why I’ll probably never be a big fan of anything or anybody again. I’m just not interested in the inevitable downfall of the people we cheer as heroes.

I grew up a huge Mark McGwire fan. Had the posters and the pictures pinned to my bedroom wall. His 49 home runs in 1987 convinced me he was the hero for me. I searched for his rookie baseball card (I only paid $15 dollars, can you believe it?). I cut out newspaper articles. I watched him in All-Star games. I suffered when he hit .201 in 1991. I thought he was the man. Because, with a little bit of help from a chemistry set, he was the man.

But I also never felt betrayed by him either – which, I think to myself, might be a little strange. In 1998, McGwire and Sosa were the heroes of a nation, but by that time, I was in college and I kept my hero worship to a minimum. I was starting a career in journalism, and I had been taught that we don’t cheer for the players on the field. I had already begun my own paradigm shift.

I had lost my hero worship. Not just of McGwire, but of any athlete. A slam-dunk artist? You’re not my hero. A quarterback who can fling it 50 yards with accuracy? You’re not my hero. A bearded red-headed giant of a man with forearms the size of Christmas hams and a conscience that was, let’s say, slightly smaller? You’re not my hero either.

Yet, what’s truly disturbing in this case is that, while nearly everybody has lied, denied and tried to weasel their way out the truth, only one guy can be trusted to speak it. One guy whose words have been proven true over and over again. One guy who’s been sleazy and money-hungry and who can’t be well-liked by, well, just about anybody. One guy who knows the insides of the game and is willing to expose it by slicing open its belly and exposing the undigested remnants of the past two decades. He is the hero in this story.

You know him as Jose Canseco, and he’s the new conscience of baseball.

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