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Mark, Jay and Dad

Neither Jay McGwire nor his upcoming tell-all about his and his big brother Mark’s use of steroids, is news. Word of the book, “Mark and Me: Mark McGwire and the Truth Behind Baseball’s Worst-Kept Secret,” scheduled to arrive in bookstores on Monday, first came out last year when Jay was reportedly shopping the manuscript to publishers.

Mark McGwire (Doug Benc/Getty Images)Not surprisingly, Jay asserts to ESPN that Mark did not tell the whole story – about what he used, how much he used or the perceived benefit – either to Bob Costas or in the subsequent carefully-scripted media tour that followed.

Tell us something we don’t already know, Jay. Timing is everything and your book is at least a year past its expiration date. Your profit window is literally shrinking by the hour.

Normally, this wouldn’t be enough for me to even notice here as I recognize that opinions regarding this issue have long been set. Further, among at least one camp, heavy McGwire fatigue has set in. I imagine that was part of the communications strategy carefully laid out in advance.

Big Mac has been accepted back into baseball and is happily tutoring Cardinals hitters. His Hall of Fame chances rest with the writers with the next mandate still ten months away. These points seem set.

Still, one nagging concern led me to this post.

McGwire generally scored well in terms of sincerity points during his admission tour, even as his misinformed message that PEDs did not affect his performance was appropriately trashed and elements of the rollout itself were bungled.

I have never felt totally comfortable with giving him a sincerity pass, feeling as if it was a professionally-driven attempt to dupe the public. The preparation behind the interviews, followed by a set series of talking points and canned phrases that Big Mac repeated over and over in his scheduled discussions, only added to my discomfort.

One rub regarded McGwire’s interaction with his father. During his tour stop at MLB Network, Big Mac noted that he struggled in breaking the word to both Tony La Russa and his family the day before, as if they would all be stunned by the “news”.

“I told my dad yesterday when I finally had to,” Big Mac tearfully admitted.

I can see how perhaps it was difficult for Mark to own up to it directly, but how in the world could admission of steroid use in his family be a surprise to his dad? Jay McGwire first got into them as a professional bodybuilder two decades ago.

If Mark’s use was news to his father, the only conclusion I could draw from that is that papa must have had some serious issues with ability to deal with reality as well. Jay’s book title says it all – the “worst-kept secret”.

Nothing on the surface would seem unusual. John McGwire is a well-known member of his community, for years a prominent dentist in Pomona, California. He cranked out five big boys, among them Mark, one-time NFL quarterback Dan and Jay.

Black sheep Jay apparently began using steroids in the early 1990’s and stopped in 1996. In between, he was a professional bodybuilder with the typical cartoonish caricature that goes with the sport. He also admitted introducing his older brother to steroids around the time dad talked Mark out of quitting baseball.

How could pop have not noticed his baseball-playing son subsequently getting bulked up? (Make sure you look at the various before and after photos of Jay in the ESPN article.)

“I remember calling him (his dad) in ’96,” Mark told MLB Network. “I was so frustrated with injuries I wanted to retire. He’s the one that told me to stick it out.”

Perhaps dad kept his eyes covered, later accepted his son’s “I did not use steroids” statement and further did not know that behind the embarrassing Congressional testimony from 2005 was Mark’s desire to come clean.

Fast forward to 2009. When news of Jay’s book first came out, how do you suppose that was handled in the John McGwire household? Did family members tear those pages out of his newspaper? Apparently, the estranged siblings did not sit down for Thanksgiving dinner together with the rest of the clan.

Like I have said numerous times, I accept Mark McGwire’s “apology” in terms of him being the new hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals. That doesn’t mean I have to buy his entire story, hook, line and sinker, any more than I care about brother Jay’s money-making spin on the sad escapade.

Let’s face it. At this point, anything that comes out about any members of this family should not be a surprise to anyone. ‘Move on, there’s nothing to see here…’

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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