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Just Drop It

Androstenedione is distracting us from McGwire’s heroics.

by Frank Murtaugh

here are those who claim Michelangelo used quick-drying paints to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Blasphemy! How could he?! What about the purity of the slower-drying oils? I’ll never look at The Creation of Adam in the same light.

Seriously, folks, the recent controversy involving St. Louis Cardinal slugger Mark McGwire and the “performance-enhancing” drug androstenedione has become a sad sidebar to what may be the best American sports story of the decade. As McGwire – with Sammy Sosa not far behind – obliterates Roger Maris’ 37-year-old record of 61 home runs in a single season, sports fans would do well to enjoy the glorious ride and ignore media-driven distractions like andro, as the drug in question is casually known.

With “legally accurate” and “even [fill in the blank]s have private lives” among the most discussed expressions in the English language these days, McGwire’s use of androstenedione has a few parallels. First and foremost, in the world of Major League Baseball, andro is perfectly legal, just as it is on the street and in your neighborhood. Classified by the FDA as a “nutritional dietary supplement,” the drug serves as a precursor to testosterone and, used properly, helps muscles recover from stress. McGwire claims he uses andro for quicker recovery from his presumably grueling weight-lifting sessions.

Now, it’s widely known that andro is banned by the NFL, the NCAA, and the International Olympic Committee. Just last week, Paul Wiggins, a reserve offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers, received a four-game suspension for testing positive for andro. The day McGwire decides to begin his career as a defensive end for the St. Louis Rams, well, Big Mac will have a problem and we’ll have a story.

Aside from the legality issue, the most troubling aspect of this controversy is the apparent means by which the story was first broken (by a New York reporter during a Cardinals’ series with the Mets). Just how open McGwire’s locker and its contents are to a reporter’s naked eye is debatable. What we do know is that, in the wake of McGwire’s andro-related headlines, a Denver reporter was caught searching through Colorado Rockies outfielder Dante Bichette’s locker, where he (eureka!) discovered a bottle of andro. The reporter’s credentials were summarily yanked for what was considered a blatant violation of the player’s privacy.

McGwire says several of his teammates also use andro (by the way, none of them has 60 home runs). Houston Astro star Jeff Bagwell, a noted slugger and former MVP, admits to having used the drug himself. Make no mistake, McGwire is the eye of the storm in today’s sports world. What he does and how he does it is going to be magnified more than the Bagwells of the world or any fellow Cardinal. Nevertheless, the media is being less than thorough in reporting a superstar’s use of a certain drug without also disclosing how many .240-hitting catchers are taking the same supplement.

As sports fans, most of us are pulling for McGwire (and Sosa and Griffey, for that matter). As purists and followers of rules, we want whoever breaks this lauded record to do it on the up and up. Until Major League Baseball adds andro to its list of banned substances, as those rightfully ebullient Yankee fans in the Bronx would say, fuhgedaboutit. While androstenedione may play a role (however large or small) in keeping McGwire healthy, it has less to do with his hitting a baseball 500 feet than Cindy Crawford’s eyeshadow does in making her presentable.

(Frank Murtaugh is managing editor of Memphis magazine.)

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