How Alberto Gonzalez Kept Mark McGwire from Being a Hero
I’m an unabashed Yankees fan. Someone who would rather watch a mid-season baseball game between two cellar-dwelling American League teams than a random NFL game.
I understand I am lonely in this. Hey, I’m a baseball fan. I can live with it.
I well remember the baseball strike of 1994. I also remember the crucial role Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa played in bringing disgruntled fans back to the game. And it was clear to me for years that everyone was guilty in the Steroid Era; Players, Owners, Fans, and most of all? The group whose job it was to report on it, the Writers. But that is my opinion, and we can debate that another time.
But cast your eyes back to 1998, when the three-way chase between McGwire, Sosa, and Griffey Jr. to catch Roger Maris’s record of 61 home runs was hot and heavy. It was electric. I remember stopping what I was doing, just to hear a McGwire or Sosa at-bat. Sports talk-radio stations would simulcast just the at-bats, and I hung on my seat. ESPN would cut into programming to show an at-bat. It was amazing.
I was fairly sure they were juicing; we all were. I didn’t care. The spectacle was wonderful.
Now move your eyes forward to March 17, 2005. McGwire (along with others) testified before Congress on the steroid issue. He made a widely documented fool of himself saying “I’m not here to talk about the past. I’m here to be positive about this subject.” The world, and especially the lazy baseball writers mentioned above, ridicule him. The world assumed he had used steroids but didn’t want to incriminate himself.
Now we find out that Mark McGwire, a man who so captivated the sports world, who broke one of the hallowed records in baseball, was prepared to admit to steroid use in front of Congress and the cameras.
Imagine the wonder of it! This giant, so well known to so many, telling the world how easily steroids were available, how often he took them, how doctors helped him, how teammates and coaches looked the other way, how management facilitated his use, and how he lied to fans. The enormous leverage of that moment might have justified the waste of taxpayer resources to hold the damn hearings in the first place! Such a huge public admission by a recently-retired elite player would have likely made the Union and Bud Selig do something about it.
Baseball’s nonchalance regarding steroids would have come to a screeching halt.
So what happened? There’s Mac, the morning of the testimony. He says he will testify, reveal everything, but he wants immunity:
The chairman of the committee, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), said Monday that McGwire was acting on the advice of his counsel at the time, because he was still within a five-year statute of limitations on self-incrimination. Davis added that McGwire had admitted his steroids use to the committee’s leadership in a pre-hearing meeting.
“He couldn’t testify to [his usage], because of the five-year statute of limitations, and had he admitted it, he could’ve been prosecuted,” Davis, who retired from the House in 2008, said in a telephone interview. “So he pleaded the fifth. He was protecting his family. I actually admired how he handled it. He wouldn’t stand there and lie about it.”
Davis said the committee asked then-attorney general Alberto Gonzalez to grant McGwire immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony, but according to Davis, the request was denied. Washington Post
Un-farking-believable. The United States Attorney General took the time to say that a baseball player couldn’t have immunity to testify about steroids at hearing.
Are you kidding me? I could cry. Alberto Gonzalez robbed baseball, and to some degree all sports, of a much-accelerated recovery from steroids.
Any why? Did the Department of Justice investigate McGwire? Prosecute him? Seems not.
So Gonzalez, or one of his underlings in the DOJ, robbed us of a singular opportunity for no reason.