December 5, 2009

John Shea wonders what Mark McGwire will say when he faces the media. “What will he say? What will he admit? Will he actually talk about the past? Or will he continue refusing to say whether he used performance-enhancing drugs when hitting all those home runs?
Thirty-seven days after Mark McGwire was hired as the St. Louis Cardinals’ batting coach, he remains quiet. The silence will end this month, according to manager Tony La Russa, who said Thursday he thinks McGwire will address the media before Christmas but not during next week’s winter meetings, which would leave a two-week window.
“He’s planning to do it. It’s going to happen,” La Russa said.
Until McGwire walks to a microphone at a news conference or picks up a phone for a conference call, the public has no idea how he’ll reintroduce himself to the baseball world.
His old A’s teammates don’t know, either.
At least one wouldn’t mind if he cleared the air.
“That’s Mark’s decision. He’s a grown man,” former third baseman Carney Lansford said. “On a personal basis, I would like to see him say something about it.
I think if he did something he shouldn’t have done, come out and say something. … Made a mistake. Apologize. Didn’t mean to do any harm. Wasn’t a rule against it at the time. Whatever.
“That is, if he did something. I’m not sure he did, but the guys who came out and said something, like (Jason) Giambi, people have been forgiven. If he wanted to do that, this is a pretty forgiving country.”
However, ex-pitcher Dave Stewart said he doesn’t expect McGwire to say anything more than he told Congress in March 2005, when his “I’m not here to talk about the past” stance, when quizzed about possible steroid use, damaged his reputation and Hall of Fame prospects.
“He’s going to have to deal with that stuff, but I’m not so sure you’ll get any different approach than the Congressional issue,” Stewart said. “That part, I think he’ll handle the same way. He’ll probably prefer to talk about what he’s doing now, becoming a major-league hitting coach.
“If he does anything else, I’d be surprised.”
Former infielder Mike Gallego, now an A’s coach, is a close friend of McGwire, and they’ve been in contact since the Oct. 28 announcement that McGwire is
coming back. Gallego congratulated him and said McGwire admitted, “I’m actually kind of nervous.”
About what?
“That the players will accept me and like what I have to offer,” said Gallego, repeating McGwire’s words. “I said, ‘You’ll be just fine. Once you get comfortable and show them what you know about hitting and the experience you had in the game, they will completely accept you and enjoy working under you.’
“He was glad to hear that. That kind of goes back to the person Mark McGwire is, just another guy who wants to do his job and be accepted by his
co-workers. He feels he has something to offer and wants to get back to the game that has done well for him and his family.”
McGwire’s comeback was announced the day La Russa’s 2010 contract became official. The same day, general manager John Mozeliak said a media
availability would be “sooner rather than later.” It was held up, La Russa said, because McGwire didn’t want to interfere with news coverage of other baseball events, including the World Series and announcements of awards, for which the Cardinals had several candidates.
If McGwire doesn’t acknowledge his past, it’s possible a dark cloud will continue to follow him, which could turn into a major distraction for the Cardinals, the defending National League Central champs.
But Gallego said, “Knowing Mark and Tony, they’ll downplay that as much as they can and try to get back to the reason Big Mac is doing this, to coach and
pass on some of his knowledge.”
“To me, if he doesn’t talk about the past, that’s his decision, and people have to respect that,” added former outfielder Stan Javier, now working for the players’ union. “I think he has to do what he feels is right and comfortable with.”
McGwire never was fully comfortable in front of media or in crowds (except between the lines), dating to his playing days. Stewart said when he and Lansford took younger teammates to dinner or a nightspot, McGwire was hesitant to go.
“Mac was a very likable kid. He always hid behind a pillar or rock, but at least you knew he was there,” Stewart said. “We’d go out and always have a
two-drink minimum, even if it’s a couple of Cokes. Mac would make it there, but you’d have to turn over the tables to find him. His personality has always
been (like) that.”
Perhaps it’s not shocking, in retrospect, McGwire has been in hiding for nearly five years.
Stewart called McGwire a “really good teammate.” Javier called him “the best teammate I ever had. He was there for you and supported you.” Lansford and
Gallego had similar compliments.
“The biggest complaint a few of us who played with him have had,” Lansford said, “is he hasn’t been accessible, just to go have a beer.”
The chance may come soon.”

Thom Loverro, of the DC Times, chided the “not-for-long” league by saying:  “Hines Ward, meet John Mackey.
Ward, a wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, called out quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for not playing against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday because of a concussion he suffered less than two weeks ago.
Mackey, who played tight end for the Baltimore Colts in the 1960s and early ’70s, dwarfed Ward when it comes to toughness.
“I played an exhibition game [in 1964] against the Philadelphia Eagles in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and the field had poor lighting,” Mackey told me when I co-authored his book, “Blazing Trails,” a number of years ago. “The play was a tight end option. I made my inside move and went right to the posts, and [Johnny] Unitas threw the ball directly overhead. That’s the most difficult pass to catch because you can’t get an angle on it. I was running upfield as fast as I could, looking directly over my head and then – boom! – I ran right into the goal post.
“I was out of it. I got up and walked over to the wrong huddle. It took about two days before I got my memory back. I hurt from that collision in Harrisburg for most of the season. … But I don’t believe you are a real pro unless you can play when you’re hurt, so I wasn’t about to sit down.”
Mackey suffered a concussion on that field in Hershey – a severe one.
I’ve never been able to put that story out of my mind.
Mackey now suffers from front temporal dementia, with memory, communication and social skills all severely diminished.
It’s hard not to think about that concussion and the many others Mackey likely suffered throughout his career.
And it’s hard not to think of those injuries without recalling his now-chilling words: “I don’t believe you are a real pro unless you can play when you’re hurt, so I wasn’t about to sit down.”
If someone had sat him down, maybe Mackey now wouldn’t be a symbol of the fight between retired, suffering players and the NFL over the lack of health benefits.
Maybe he still would be working with the players – just as he did as a pioneering leader of the NFL Players Association – to protect their future.
Somebody needs to.
Ward since has apologized for questioning the toughness of Roethlisberger and for claiming the locker room was split 50-50 on whether he should play. He says he didn’t know that a team doctor had recommended that the quarterback not play.
Still, the incident illustrates the kind of locker room thinking that prompted John Mackey to go back out on the field more than 40 years ago.
It’s the culture of football – one the NFL says it is trying to change.
The league has issued stricter guidelines for when a player should be allowed to return to games or practices after head injuries. A player who suffers a
concussion should not return to action on the same day if he shows certain symptoms – an inability to remember assignments or plays, a gap in memory or persistent dizziness or headaches.
The new standards were drawn up by the NFL concussion committee, team doctors, outside medical experts and the NFL Players Association, according to reports.
The old guidelines, put into place two years ago, said a player should not be allowed to return to the same game if he lost consciousness.
The memo from the league to teams stated that players “are to be encouraged to be candid with team medical staffs and fully disclose any signs or symptoms that may be associated with a concussion.”
It is fine that the football business realizes it might be a good idea to take their workers’ brains turning into scrambled eggs more seriously than it has in the past.
But it is a small step, and far more significant change is necessary. Players who suffer a concussion should be kept out for weeks at a time, as the Redskins have done with Clinton Portis.
Football has a long way to go before it matches the safety level of boxing, where a licensed fighter can’t step into the ring in a state with a sanctioning body for 90 days after he is knocked out.”


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