La Russa: McGwire’s Integrity Makes Him a HOFer

Remember the Mark McGwire era? It was a simpler time back then. There was no war, a robust economy, and children and old people could walk the streets at night with impunity. Tony La Russa still lives in those bygone happy years, telling anyone who will listen that McGwire never used steroids. Now he’s stumping for Big Mac’s Hall of Fame chances.

Tony La Russa and Mark McGwire

La Russa passed up the chance to celebrate Rickey Henderson’s call to Cooperstown, which is OK because Rickey is all the PR that Rickey needs. Instead he steered the conversation toward his favorite ginger hulk, and you’ll never guess his reason for supporting McGwire. (Or maybe you will, since you can read headlines.) Get this: McGwire belongs in the Hall of Fame because of his “certain integrity.”

Let’s get this straight. McGwire may have done more to damage baseball than anyone else. (Barry Bonds? Screw Bonds. No one liked him before his head swelled. But McGwire and Sammy Sosa made the game relevant again.) For those of us who rooted for him, the steroids revelations were the equivalent of finding out Santa doesn’t exist. So La Russa’s going to talk about his integrity?

“This steroid issue, that’s a matter of integrity, right?” La Russa said. “That’s one way to describe it, right? Well, it occurred to me, I know that I’ve never spoken much about it at all, but this guy did something that screams integrity. … How many guys do we know that had a contract like he had? He had a contract in his hand for $15 million over two years, and he walked away from it because he didn’t feel like he could play to that level. That, to me, there’s a certain integrity for the sport, for self-respect and everything.”

The story he’s referring to is that McGwire turned down a two-year, $30 million deal to come back, instead retiring in 2001. Tony, let’s get real. McGwire made $75,000,000 in salary over his career, with countless millions more in endorsements. That’s plenty to retire on. If anything, McGwire was smart to get out of baseball as soon as possible; witness Bonds’ approval rating as he stuck around even after the allegations were out there.

I’m just saying that the fact that he walked away from that money has been an under-discussed, under-publicized — I know I have not discussed it, and I think that is a hellacious sign of the type of person he is, and that should translate into knowing that he’s a special guy. I just never talked about it. I thought I had the chance so I’d mention it.

Tony, you’ve proven two things. One, you have no idea how to use the word “hellacious.” Two, there is such a thing as being loyal to your players to a fault.