Former Baseball Star Mark McGwire Evades Congressional Questions on Steroid Use Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

After being identified as a steroid user by former teammate José Canseco, Mark McGwire was asked to testify at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing on steroid use in Major League Baseball. At the hearing, McGwire refused to answer questions about his own history with performance-enhancing drugs or their use by baseball players in general.

Summary of Event

On March 17, 2005, Mark McGwire appeared before the Government Reform Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives to testify on steroid use in Major League Baseball (MLB). Also present at the hearing were MLB commissioner Bud Selig, representatives from the Major League Baseball Players Association Baseball;Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), and players José Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro, Curt Schilling, and Sammy Sosa. Player Frank Thomas appeared through video conferencing. Also testifying were medical experts and the families of young amateur baseball players who had suffered physically and emotionally from steroid use. [kw]Baseball Star Mark McGwire Evades Congressional Questions on Steroid Use, Former (Mar. 17, 2005) [kw]McGwire Evades Congressional Questions on Steroid Use, Former Baseball Star Mark (Mar. 17, 2005) [kw]Steroid Use, Former Baseball Star Mark McGwire Evades Congressional Questions on (Mar. 17, 2005) Baseball;and steroids[steroids] Congress, U.S.;steroid investigation McGwire, Mark Canseco, José Baseball;and steroids[steroids] Congress, U.S.;steroid investigation McGwire, Mark Canseco, José [g]United States;Mar. 17, 2005: Former Baseball Star Mark McGwire Evades Congressional Questions on Steroid Use[03480] [c]Drugs;Mar. 17, 2005: Former Baseball Star Mark McGwire Evades Congressional Questions on Steroid Use[03480] [c]Government;Mar. 17, 2005: Former Baseball Star Mark McGwire Evades Congressional Questions on Steroid Use[03480] [c]Medicine and health care;Mar. 17, 2005: Former Baseball Star Mark McGwire Evades Congressional Questions on Steroid Use[03480] [c]Sports;Mar. 17, 2005: Former Baseball Star Mark McGwire Evades Congressional Questions on Steroid Use[03480] Mitchell, George J. Selig, Bud Sosa, Sammy

Former baseball star Mark McGwire (center, with glasses), and other players at a House committee session investigating steroid use in Major League Baseball. From left is Sammy Sosa and his translator, McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Curt Schilling.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

McGwire’s testimony became the lasting symbol of the hearings, which were broadcast on national television. After choking up while reading a written statement expressing his regret that younger players had suffered from steroid abuse, McGwire refused to answer questions asked by the committee. McGwire was asked about his own use of performance-enhancing drugs, the integrity of the game of baseball, and whether steroid use constituted cheating, among other topics. McGwire’s responses rarely went beyond variations of his statement “I’m not here to discuss the past.” Although he did say that steroids were bad and that players should not use them, he would not answer the question of how he knew that to be true. In the end, McGwire left the hearings disgraced and ridiculed for his failure to make pertinent or revealing statements about steroid use in baseball.

McGwire was not the only casualty of the hearings. Sosa, a native of the Dominican Republic, was criticized for his use of a translator, which many journalists claimed was a ruse by the veteran player. Palmeiro testified that he had never used steroids, but within six months of the hearings, he failed a drug test and was forced to retire. Neither player could shake the taint of having used performance-enhancing drugs.

Canseco and Schilling were also disparaged for their testimony as they recanted previous statements. Canseco renounced the prosteroid rhetoric he had used in previous interviews and writings. Schilling, a vocal critic of steroid use, said that he did not know much about the steroid problem in baseball, despite having earlier estimated that a large number of players were users. Officials for both MLB and MLBPA also had a poor showing at the hearings. Members of Congress harshly condemned the weak drug-testing program that MLB and the player’s union had put in place two weeks before the hearings.

McGwire had been one of the most popular Major League Baseball players of the late 1980’s and 1990’s. In 1987, he set the rookie record for most home runs in a season with 49 and won the American League Rookie of the Year Award. With Oakland A’s teammate Canseco, McGwire was part of one of the most productive offensive tandems of the era. Playing for Oakland until 1997 and then with the St. Louis Cardinals until his retirement in 2001, McGwire was the most prolific home-run hitter in baseball from his debut in 1986 to 2001. During those sixteen seasons, only eleven of which he played more than one hundred games, he hit 583 home runs. As spectators became infatuated with home-run hitting during the 1990’s, McGwire quickly became a fan favorite. His popularity only increased in 1998, when he and Chicago Cubs slugger Sosa pursued the single-season home-run record. With a total of 70 home runs in the 1998 season, McGwire eclipsed the previous record of 61, set in 1961 by Roger Maris. The excitement surrounding the home-run race between McGwire and Sosa helped baseball recover from the damage done to its popularity by the strike of 1994-1995.

Although McGwire had always been a prodigious home-run hitter, the enormous totals he and others produced during the 1990’s led to public suspicion that they were using performance-enhancing drugs, particularly anabolic steroids. As early as 1988, members of the press alleged that Canseco was a steroid user, and he reportedly bragged of that use around his teammates and coaches. Although Canseco later claimed that he and McGwire used steroids together during their time in Oakland, McGwire was not generally suspected by the public of using the drug. During 1998’s home-run race, a journalist revealed that McGwire’s locker contained a bottle of androstenedione (andro), a legal, muscle-building supplement. When McGwire and Sosa later revealed that they also used creatine, another legal supplement, many fans and sportswriters wondered if the two players had used illegal substances as well. Although the story was widely reported at first, it soon lost momentum as many fans accepted that andro and creatine were allowed by MLB and easily purchased over the counter.

In 2005, McGwire was in the center of the steroid maelstrom that prompted the congressional hearings. Early that year, Canseco published his tell-all memoir, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ’Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big. In the book, he named numerous steroid-using baseball players, including McGwire. Despite the extraordinary and damaging claims Canseco made, MLB declined to investigate the issue. The press, however, delved deeper into Canseco’s allegations and found evidence to support some of his claims. In response to the press investigations, the Government Reform Committee announced it would hold hearings on steroid use in baseball.

Impact

McGwire’s refusal to “discuss the past” at the congressional hearing destroyed his credibility with baseball fans. Only seven years earlier, he had been one of baseball’s most beloved stars. In 2007, when he became eligible for election to the Hall of Fame, many voters and other sportswriters identified suspected steroid use and his testimony at the hearing as reasons they would not support his candidacy. Although McGwire had played at a level that justified his induction in the Hall of Fame, he only received support from 23.5 percent of voters, far short of the 75 percent necessary for inclusion. McGwire became the only eligible player with more than 500 home runs to not be elected to the Hall of Fame.

The attention the hearings brought to steroid use in baseball forced MLB to become more proactive in preventing the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Although drug testing began three years prior to the hearings, the House Government Reform Committee criticized the lenient penalties that were in place, and at the end of the season, MLB toughened its steroid policy. In a plan proposed shortly before the hearings, players who failed tests would be suspended ten games for the first failure, and a fifth failed test was required before a lifetime suspension was even a possibility. Under the policy instituted in November, 2005, a first-time offender received a fifty-game suspension and a third failed test resulted in a mandatory lifetime ban from baseball. However, many continued to criticize MLB for having a drug policy that is lax when compared to that of the International Olympic Committee and other organizations.

On December 13, 2007, former U.S. senator George J. Mitchell, acting as special counsel to the commissioner of baseball, issued his report on MLB steroid use, naming McGwire and nearly ninety other players (those active in 2007 as well as former players) as suspected steroid users. In the wake of the Mitchell Report, Major League Baseball commissioner Selig announced his intention once again to strengthen MLB’s testing program. Baseball;and steroids[steroids] Congress, U.S.;steroid investigation McGwire, Mark Canseco, José

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bryant, Howard. Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball. New York: Viking Press, 2005. Study of the use of steroids in Major League Baseball from the 1980’s through 2005. McGwire is featured prominently both for his suspected use of performance-enhancing drugs and his testimony before the House committee.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Canseco, José. Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ’Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big. New York: Regan Books, 2005. Canseco’s tell-all memoir, which instigated the 2005 hearings on steroid use in MLB.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Vindicated: Big Names, Big Liars, and the Battle to Save Baseball. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2008. Canseco’s follow-up to the steroids scandal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carroll, Will, with William L. Carroll. The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball’s Drug Problems. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2005. Analyzes from a medical viewpoint a wide range of performance-enhancing drugs and their effect on players.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fainaru-Wada, Mark, and Lance Williams. Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal That Rocked Professional Sports. New York: Gotham Books, 2006. Provides historical context for the problem of steroid use in professional sports, particularly baseball.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mitchell, George. Report to the Commissioner of Baseball of an Independent Investigation into the Illegal Use of Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Substances by Players in Major League Baseball. New York: Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, 2007. The official report to the MLB commissioner on the steroids era in professional baseball.

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