McGwire and Steroids: Together Again
Back on the original Male Pattern Fitness, at the original louschuler.com, I wrote from time to time about steroids, particularly steroids in baseball, and most particularly the Golden Age of steroids in baseball, when Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds all crossed the 60-homer line at points in their careers when they should’ve been in steep decline.
(There’s no easy way to search my archives, but I did find this post, analyzing the career trajectory of another blatant juicer, Rafael Palmeiro.)
Early on, I thought the most logical starting point for Mark McGwire’s steroid use is the 1995 season, when his slugging percentage jumped up to .685, the highest it had ever been for a season in which he played 100 or more games. By comparison, in 1987, his Rookie of the Year season, he slugged .618. He was 31 in ’95, an age at which he had no business recording a career-best power stat.
But after other sources — particularly Jose Canseco — asserted that McGwire had started much earlier, I assumed I’d guessed wrong, and that McGwire just figured out how to use the drugs more effectively by 1995.
Now his brother, of all people, is circulating a book proposal in which he says my original guess was pretty close. From the excerpt on Deadspin:
Shortly after I won the Contra Costa Bodybuilding Championships in May of 1994, Mark took the plunge. I accompanied him to Sacramento where we met with my supplier and trainer, who explained to him how the different drugs would work on his body and answered a myriad of questions from Mark. Given Mark’s curiosity and lack of knowledge about steroids I saw from Mark, I would be shocked if Mark did something like what Jose Canseco claimed happened back in the early years….
[M]ark began to use, but in low dosages so he wouldn’t lift his way out of baseball. Deca-Durabolin helped with his joint problems and recovery, while growth hormone helped his strength, making him leaner in the process. I became the first person to inject him, like most first-timers he couldn’t plunge in the needle himself. Later a girlfriend injected him.
That was a strike season in which McGwire played just 47 games, and there’s really nothing in his stats that suggests chemical assistance. Like I said, the numbers change dramatically in ’95. Consider these slugging percentages from the start of his career (leaving off seasons in which he played fewer than 100 games):
Now, let’s look at what happened after he started taking steroids, if his brother is telling the truth:
He was 35 in 1999, his last full season. (He had a monster half-season in 2000, slugging .746 before he got hurt.) You just don’t see that pattern — getting stronger later in one’s career — at any point in baseball history, except during the Golden Age of steroid use.
So is his brother credible? The stat sheet says yes. Does it matter? I have to think that anyone who doesn’t believe McGwire took steroids wouldn’t be convinced by anything short of a confession from the slugger himself.
And even then, who knows if they’d believe him?