Spander: Bay Area stars pioneered steroid era 

A few sniffles from Mark McGwire. Did someone say there’s no crying in baseball? Of course there is. Our pal, Barry Bonds, cried long ago on the Roy Firestone show.

And you thought the suspected (and, for one, acknowledged) use of steroids was the only thing that linked the home run kings.

Obviously, it’s the Bay Area influence. Not for teardrops, but for substance abuse.

We gave the world Haight-Ashbury, and the magical, mystery tour. We gave the world BALCO. LSD or PEDs? We take full credit. Or blame.

McGwire said steroids didn’t help him hit home runs. And George Bush said we would find Osama bin Laden. One hopes when Mr. Bonds decides it is time to tell the whole truth he tells the whole truth, unlike McGwire.

Mark McGwire — if you believe the theory put forth in “Game of Shadows,” by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the definitive book on the little laboratory that could — was the cause of Barry Bonds.

When a juiced-up McGwire and an allegedly juiced-up Sammy Sosa were juicing up baseball in 1998, Bonds decided he’d also better juice up.

Barry had won three MVP awards and been voted the Player of the Decade for the 1990s. Yet, no one, including the people who controlled baseball, seemed to care about anything except home runs.

So Barry joined the club. And hit more homers in a single season than anyone, including McGwire. And won four more MVPs.
McGwire is a Southern Californian who started his major league career in Oakland. Bonds is a Northern Californian who ended his major league career in San Francisco. Toss in Jose Canseco and flaxseed oil, and as Herb Caen used to write, there’s always a local angle.

People from the Golden State always have been pioneers, not afraid to take a chance. Or take a few samples from Victor Conte.

In his confession, McGwire told us no way he employed substances to improve his baseball, only to heal his body.

Indeed, natural talent was at the foundation of his swing and yes, steroids do not improve hand-eye coordination. But steroids allow quicker recovery from longer, more intense conditioning. This much should have been conceded.

Apologies by athletes are never very convincing, even with tears, because they take so long to appear and because they are burdened by qualifications and justifications.

McGwire did offer “I wish I had never taken steroids. I can’t say how sorry I am.” But he also pointed out a great many players were guilty of using substances during the era, implying he merely was part of the crowd.

The McGwire “Request for Forgiveness Now That I’m A Batting Coach” one-day tour was orchestrated by Ari Fleisher, who as George W. Bush’s former White House Secretary certainly learned a few things about escaping the deluge.

The thinking is that when McGwire shows up at spring training with the St. Louis Cardinals, he no longer will be a subject, which is nonsense. In baseball, stories never die. Particularly those involving record breakers.

Seemingly every question about McGwire also will bring a reference to Bonds. He’s got the next at bat. You hope he takes a full swing.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

About The Author

Art Spander

Art Spander

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and Email him at
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