Mandel’s Musings: Baseball Forgiveness For McGwire and “Pops” Steinbrenner

Published on: 26th October, 2009


Mandel's Musings: Baseball Forgiveness For McGwire and "Pops" Steinbrenner  | read this item

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We are a very forgiving society, here in the U.S. of America, aren’t we? First, news comes across that Mark McGwire, the once-famous, now infamous baseball home run star who was unable to come clean with his use of performance-enhancing drugs to help him to those home run records has just been invited back into baseball by his old Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinal manager, Tony LaRussa. McGwire will be the Cardinals’ new batting coach, in charge of helping their players enhance their batting performances.

All I can think of is Cardinal first baseman, Albert Pujols, himself under suspicion of being a steroid abuser, breaking every batting record next season through McGwire’s enhancements, er, I mean, coaching.

Then, last night, in the Bronx at The New Yankee Stadium, the House that George Steinbrenner and The YES Network and New York City Tax Abatements Built, it was pretty funny to hear Joe Girardi in his post-game press conference speaking affectionately about the 79-year old team owner, George Steinbrenner, referring to him as “Pops.” Pops Steinbrenner? As in, “we really want to win one for Pops.” It has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it. Sort of like when Ronald Reagan, the actor, not the President played George Gipp, the great running back from Notre Dame in the movie, Knute Rockne All-American. As you may recall, Gipp told his teammates from his death bed (tearing up, here), “win one for the Gipper.” 

So now it’s the Yankees who want to win one for Ol’ Pappy Steinbrenner. It conjures up images of Walter Brennan (for those of a certain age) playing the character of Grandpa Amos in The Real McCoys television show. But, for those of you who are history revisionists, Steinbrenner wasn’t always Pops to his friends and to his adversaries in or out of the baseball world. He was a tough, manipulative tyrant of a man who didn’t always play by the rules.

Who can forget the time when the man better known as “The Boss”  was suspended from baseball for a little transgression, when he made illegal payments to the Richard Nixon for President campaign in 1974. Steinbrenner was indicted and later found guilty and suspended from baseball for two years. Upon returning to the big show Steinbrenner proved that he hadn’t missed a step in his absence and promptly signed Reggie Jackson after the team won the American League pennant in 1976. Many fans still feel that the brilliant move to sign “Mr. October” was largely responsible for back-to-back World Championships in both 1977 and 1978. Unfortunately, the trend was short-lived after New York’s initial success in purchasing free agents eventually led to a tendency to overstock the team with superstars to the point where there wasn’t room for them on the payroll or in the lineup. The end result was a series of disastrous acquisitions in the early 1980s and a steady trend of departing superstars escaping from what had been dubbed in the papers as “The Bronx Zoo”. From 1979 through the end of the next decade, the Yankees won only one more pennant and the 1980s ended as the first decade since the 1910s in which the Yankees did not win a single World Championship title.

Pops Steinbrenner also got thrown out of the sport when he bribed a low-life character named Howie Spira to the tune of $40,000 to spy on Dave Winfield, who at the time was Steinbrenner’s best player. Spira was later sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison for attempting to extort $110,000 from the Yankees organization while Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball for conduct unbecoming a once and future “pappy.”

Now, the days and years have passed into the deepest recesses of our memories and Boss Steinbrenner has been transformed into Pops Steinbrenner. Mark McGwire has come full-circle as well, from the tall, gangly kid off the USC campus to the monstrously-sized Bruise Brother along with Jose Canseco to becoming a beloved, Maris-family hugging record-breaker for most home runs in a season to finally being outed by Canseco for steroid abuses. Now, the Bruise Brother will begin his national press tour of American cities to rehabilitate his reputation and his career in baseball. Who knows, the next stop for McGwire could even be the baseball Hall of Fame.

Speaking of forgiveness, where is Pete Rose, these days? We are a very forgiving society, you know.


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