Say it ain’t so, Big Mac

Mar 272005
Authors: Matt Hitt

A brief moment of silence for the death of a hero. (A brief moment later). Thank you. No, Mark McGwire isn't dead, in the physical sense of the word. He is as healthy as a horse (which is appropriate, considering that animal growth hormones are a popular performance enhancing drug).

Mark McGwire, the man, is as healthy as ever. But Big Mac, the American baseball icon, is dead.

Big Mac died on the floor of the United States Congress, when McGwire's eyes welled up with tears. The former slugger was asked several times if he would like to deny ever having taken steroids. McGwire did not make any denial. He choked up and said that steroids were bad and that kids shouldn't take them.

Time after time he was given the chance to tell the American people that he'd never used illegal performance enhancing drugs. He never did.

It became painfully obvious that baseball's last true hero was a cheater.

It was in that instant that Big Mac, my hero, and the hero to children all over the United States, died.

We can't idolize a cheater, a man who broke the rules for his own glory. We can't put a man on a pedestal when he got there by illegally taking drugs to make him stronger than others.

Mark McGwire, the man, will eventually make the Baseball Hall of Fame. But he cost himself a spot in a much more exclusive and magical club – the true heroes of baseball. Without this new revelation of cheating, Big Mac was destined to join the likes of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio.

Big Mac's 70th homerun could have been a perfect moment in baseball, like Lou Gehrig's speech at Yankee Stadium, Babe Ruth pointing his bat at the fences or Kurt Gibson's game winning homer in the 1988 World Series.

I remember the day McGwire broke Roger Maris' single season homerun record. I remember where I was when it happened. I had just turned 14, and while my family ate dinner, the TV was on in the next room and my dad, my brothers and I would rush in to watch every time Big Mac stepped up to the plate.

The tension was palpable with every pitch. Were we about to witness history? Every time he swung the bat, the nation held its breath. It was late in the game when Big Mac connected. And when that arching line drive left Busch Stadium, breaking the famous record, America erupted – a nationwide standing ovation for one of the good guys in sports.

Maybe that's why I feel so betrayed by McGwire. For that amazing summer of 1998, everyone was a baseball fan again. He was someone we could point to and say, that's what's right with pro sports.

Whether or not you normally cheered for the Cardinals (and as a lifelong Cubs and Rockies fan, I rarely did), Big Mac was something special. He was a modern-day baseball god. At least he was when he wore that red St. Louis Cardinal's hat.

Celebrity screw-ups are a common fodder for light, entertaining news here in the United States.

But a baseball hero is unlike any other kind of celebrity. A true baseball hero, a man who embodies the spirit of the game, comes around once in a generation. Guys like Ruth, Aaron and Gehrig are so admired, they've become immortal.

In Washington D.C., McGwire was so human it hurt. The aura, the mystique that he had conjured, evaporated forever. Big Mac was gone. All we have now is Mark McGwire, the man who cheated to beat Roger Maris.

Matt Hitt is a sophomore theatre major. His column runs every Monday in the Collegian.


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