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Gammons Talks McGwire, Red Sox on D&C

01.12.10 at 11:35 am ET
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Hall of Famer Peter Gammons of the MLB Network and NESN joined the Dennis & Callahan Show on Tuesday morning to discuss Mark McGwire’s admission that he used steroids for most of his career. Gammons looked at how the issue of performance-enhancing drugs will affect the legacies of McGwire, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and others. He also concluded by offering his assessment of the shape of the 2010 Red Sox, whom he believes will be better than the 2009 team.

A transcript is below. To listen to the interview, click here.

How many steps forward versus backwards did Mark McGwire take?

They eliminated doubt, which is I guess a good thing. I found it – I don’t know how you found it – but I found it sad in a lot of ways. I watch some of these guys, and I think about Clemens and some of these other people, there’s a delusion there. I couldn’t believe that McGwire kept saying that he has the God-given ability to hit home runs. Now, when he was at USC, I can remember the late, great Red Sox scout Joe Stevenson calling me up and saying, ‘Mark McGwire is going to be one of the greatest home run hitters of all time.’ Yes, he hit 49 home runs as a rookie. Yes, he had all those injuries with the plantar fasciitis and all that. But to say it’s only health reasons – the fact is, a lot of people took steroids so that they could work out eight hours a day and get bigger. I think it really hurt him in the eyes, not of people who vote for the Hall of Fame, but in public opionion. For him to say that his home run numbers, the fact that he has the greatest home runs per at-bat ratio of anyone in baseball history, had nothing to do with steroids, I think it hurt him terribly. I think a lot of us were just going, ‘Please, don’t say that.’

It was like he was trying to accomplish forgiveness and legitimacy for his career. Those two things seem mutually exclusive.

I agree. I know from talking to guys like Mike Holliday, the Duncan brothers, Skip Schumaker, McGwire would take them into the house in the winter and work with them and coach. He loves that. I really believe that first and foremost he wants to come back and teach and share. He was a very intelligent hitter by the end of his career. I know he wants to share that. Matt Holliday,the stories that he tells about McGwire are tremendous. I think he kind of realizes in the deeper recesses of his mind that his chances of making the Hall of Fame are probably slight. He probably felt, ‘Well, if I confess, maybe.’ But I think he dug himself a bigger whole with this – the whole denial thing. I remember, was it two years ago that Clemens was in front of Congress? I said to Mark Shapiro, I was watching a game in Winter Haven, we were talking about Clemens. I said, ‘Actually, watching him, I think he believes that he never did anything, that he’s completely innocent.’ Mark said, ‘Well, Psychology 7 will tell you: people who are self-absorbed often become self-delusional.’ I think that’s happened to a lot of these baseball players, because steroids seem to be so important.

He said he did it for his health, but when he started doing steroids, he started getting hurt every year, and he had no answer for that contradiction.

Absolutely. And he didn’t tie, from 1993-94 to 1998, he didn’t tie that. He left strings unattached there that lead a lot of us to say, ‘Ah.’ I’ve spent a lot of time with him over his career. I must say, I really like him. In ’98, I was with him for about five days in St. Louis. They had just lost five games in a row. Todd Stottlemyre went out, knocked down the first two hitters and threw a shutout. McGwire hit a home run in the eighth inning to make it 6-0 from 5-0. Afterwards, everyone wanted to talk to McGwire and he said, ‘My home run is meaningless. Todd Stottlemyre just saved the team.’ There were other things like that. For instance, when he broke Maris’ record, he was up there, they had that stage after the game at Busch Stadium. Up there, it was McGwire, his son, his ex-wife, and his ex-wife’s husband up on the podium with him. I remember saying to Dan Patrick, we were doing something in the studio at ESPN, I said, ‘The great thing about that is that Mark McGwire sent a message to everybody in this country who’s divorced that, in the end, it’s all about the kids.’ He still had that very good relationship with the ex-wife’s husband, just because he wanted his son to have the sense of normalcy. There were a lot of things like that. I remember one time in ’96, doing a long interview with him, all of a sudden he started trashing himself for the way his first marriage ended. He was on camera just ripping himself. I was thinking, ‘You know, this guy is really a decent human being.’ But now, when he gets up on this stage, ‘Okay, I want to be forgiven,’ he lost that humanity that he showed so many times in his life. It made me very sad. It really did.

We know what we think we know – there’s the statistical evidence of the frequency of his home runs, and the anecdotal evidence of the distance of those home runs. Was there anecdotal evidence that he was hitting the ball further than anyone else in history?

I don’t always trust those trackers of where home runs go, but yes, there was enough evidence to say he hit the ball further than anybody, with the possible exception of Canseco around ’89 or ’92. … It really does bother me that a Bonds or a Clemens, who were clearly Hall of Fame players, that we’re so insecure and so frail we have to go somewhere else. That’ss human nature. Trying to sit through and spend an hour trying to interview Alex Rodriguez last February taught me something for the rest of my life, that the bigger they are, the frailer they are. I actually like him much more because of that. I’ve talked to him a lot about how he basically addressed himself, was hyperventilating and everything else. It’s odd to me that so many athletes are so insecure. I remember guys on the Orioles telling me that the most insecure guy they ever met was Cal Ripken. Maybe that is all part of greatness. As we sit down and read Game Change in the next week, maybe we’ll find the same thing about Bill Clinton.

TJ Quinn listed all the steroids that McGwire used. He talked to players who said that McGwire was one of the big proponents of steroids, how to use them and how to stack them. Did you ever hear anything along those lines?

No, but I wouldn’t be surprised. We do know that when he got to the major leagues, that Jason Giambi hooked onto Mark McGwire as his mentor, as his best friend and all the rest. TJ had done the work for the Daily News, where they linked the drug dealer in Michigan down to Southern California. We were talking about this on MLB the other night. … He was never suspended. He was never in the Mitchell Report. There was the Daily News link, but McGwire had kind of stayed away from it. All we had was what our eyes told us, and that can be deceiving. There are examples of people who either got smaller, like Jeff Bagwell because he had the arthritic shoulder and couldn’t lift a weight in five years, or some other guys who maybe just naturally got bigger. But the whole McGwire thing has seemed so much larger than life. That one piece that TJ did, I thought, pretty much convinced us that he was guilty. Now, of course he’s admitted it. I believe his timeframe. That’s probably true. I think some of the testimony he gave about how much he did in ’89, ’90, I’m not sure how accurate that is.

The whole Hall of Fame question is an interesting one. I know that some of my sabermetric friends believe that this is all irrelevant, that it doesn’t matter who took steroids and who didn’t. I don’t agree with that. I do very strongly believe that once baseball finally had drug testing in 2004, that anyone who violates the drug policy and is caught is automatically disqualified from the Hall of Fame. …

The Hall of Fame is not a right. It’s an honor. Should we honor people that essentially cheated? Somebody said to me, ‘It wasn’t illegal.’ Yeah, but it was in federal law.

So to your mind, Manny is out for the Hall of Fame?

I think Manny and Palmeiro. A-Rod was before testing, before 2004. That was the 2003 random testing that was supposed to be anonymous. But I think that Palmeiro and Manny, I don’t think they have a chance of ever making the Hall of Fame.

Does your viewpoint change if they haven’t tested positive in Major League Baseball? We know what we think about Bonds and Clemens. Will our views soften over the decades based on who they are and what they meant to the game?

I think they may. We do have those issues. Last spring, Mike Piazza walked up to me and said, ‘Can you believe that because of the acne on my back, that I did steroids?’ There are so many players that we think may have done [steroids] but we don’t know, whether it’s Pudge Rodriguez or whoever. It’s a hard thing to live down. I think it would be nice if we had more tests, proof, if we had more ways to judge players. I go back to Bagwell. If you take Bagwell’s home runs, RBIs, runs, extra-base hits, OPS, OPS+, slugging, Gold Gloves, Jim Rice is close to Jeff Bagwell in one statistical category. Yet that question will be raised for him when he goes up in front of the Hall of Fame next year. I’ve talked a lot to his best friend, Brad Ausmus, about it. Brad has sworn up and down, there’s no way that Bagwell did it. But just the notion of it. If Jeff Bagwell is completely innocent but he’s punished because other people flew under the radar, that’s kind of a sad story.

Could Clemens ever do what McGwire did in offering a confession?

No. I thought McGwire was stilted. It wasn’t the personality that I knew on the field or in the clubhouse. But I think Roger is too programmed and too stubborn. I think it would be very difficult. I think he’ll have to do it at some point in his life, but I shudder to think what would happen. I think it could turn into a disaster.

Last time he attempted to tell his side of the story, it was laughable.

It was. That whole question, I actually had a friend who was finishing her PhD in psychology at Boston College, and we used to talk about it in the gym all the time. She used to say, that business of going from self-absorbed to self-delusional is really the essence of most psychology courses. Maybe a lot of these guys will never come out of it. It may be, if – I was going to say Pudge Rodriguez, but he might pull the Sammy Sosa stance and say, ‘I don’t speak English any more; I only speak English when I sign my contracts’ – we’re still a long way. We were looking at the list of guys coming up in the next few years. Juan Gonzalez is on the list next year. Sooner or later, Pudge is going to come up. Sosa is going to come up. This debate is not going away. I think it’s great that McGwire tipped his hat to Bud Selig and the testing policy, that he laid down behind it. That’s a good thing. But still, the question remains, if indeed the Hall of Fame is the highest honor a player can get, and since it’s not a right but an honor, should these guys be put in the Hall of Fame. I think it’s an issue, it’s not a statistical right. Ken Rosenthal the other night pulled out the ballot and read the lines about character. It is something we have to think about.

If he hadn’t done steroids, would McGwire be anything close to a Hall of Fame player? Without steroids, he had no chance. What would vote for Bonds and Clemens?

Right now, given the evidence, probably no in both cases. And I believe very strongly that Bonds was a Hall of Famer before 1999. What it does to the game – and I think Jayson Stark wrote about it very well, what McGwire ignores is what the disillusionment about 1998 means to the sport. I think that’s important. I know the other day, when Tom [Verducci] and Kenny [Rosenthal] and I were talking about the question, Bonds and A-Rod and Clemens all would have been Hall of Famers without steroids. McGwire would go to the Hall of Fame based on power numbers. But I’m not sure it’s that simple.

Why would you want to reward players for greed?

The insecurities of these guys, the frailties. I joke about it all the time, I wish that William Shakespeare were around right now to cover this era. That’s what he was writing about. The insecurity that these guys have is just remarkable to me, that need to somehow be perfect. And I really found that in Alex [Rodriguez] – his need to make people believe that he was perfect on the field and off. Now, people knowing he wasn’t, he was a totally different guy this [past] year. He seemed so much more relaxed, so much happier [after admitting steroid use in an interview with Gammons before the season]. He understood, you know what? It’s about team.

What was interesting last night, when we were doing MLB, Costas was asked, what was McGwire like after the interview? Bob said nothing basically changed. He wasn’t any different. But after I finished the Rodriguez interview last spring, he came back before I left, and chatted. He said, ‘I hope this frees me. I hope that now I can just go on and be a human being and stop pretending.’ I think he got it. He got what he went through. You understood that he was wrong, and I think he understood and I know he understands now, there’s no need to be perfect. Just be a baseball player. Derek Jeter’s not perfect, but people love Derek Jeter. I think Alex learned something from that. I’m not sure these other guys have learned anything from it.

Did you predict that Adrian Beltre would hit more homers than Jason Bay?

Yes, playing in Fenway Park with that lineup, as opposed to Jason Bay in the Mets lineup, yeah, I did.

What do you think for Beltre? Forty homers?

Thirty, 32.

Bay won’t hit 30?

Not in that ballpark.

What about Cameron?

.270, 25 homers, and the best thing about him is the way he absolutely killed – what was it, a .954 OPS against left-handers the last five years? He does absolutely kill left-handed pitchers. In this league right now, in the division where you’re going to see Pettitte, Sabathia, Price, and Matusz probably three, four times apiece, that lineup against left-handed pitching is going to be really important.

Are the Red Sox the second best team in the American League?

Probably the second-best team in baseball.

Are the Red Sox we’ll see in Fort Myers better than in October?

I think they’re better this year. I’ll tell you why. The whole run-scoring thing, I’m not that worried about. I think that the depth of the lineup will be very good. I think the depth of the roster is much better. It’s amazing to me they finished second, they had the second-best record, the second-best run differential, and they had 55 games started by [Brad] Penny, [John] Smoltz, [Paul] Bird, a bad [Daisuke] Matsuzaka, [Michael] Bowden and [Junichi] Tazawa. In 55 games, more than one-third of their games, their starting pitchers had a 6.28 earned run average, and they still had the second-best run differential and record in the league. They could change that a lot.”

By the way, in talking to our old friend Mike Roberts, who used to be a college coach but he runs the baseball program at Athletes Performance in Scottsdale, he said that Matsuzaka is in unbelievable shape. He’s been there for about five weeks so far. He said the transformation from last year is astounding.

Read More: Adrian Beltre, Alex Rodriguez, barry bonds, Daisuke Matsuzaka
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