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Shadow of his former self


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NY Daily News


The best guess is that he has dropped 40 pounds since he last swung a bat in anger.

The Mark McGwire who once personified baseball hugeness, who strained uniform seams with muscles most people don't even know they have, who introduced the word "andro" to the American public, now just looks like a large, but ultimately human, man.


"He looks like he did in the picture on my desk," his former agent Bob Cohen says. "That was 1987 when he was a rookie. People forget he hit 49 home runs that year."


At 40, McGwire has made an almost Bobby Fischer-like exit from his game, refusing to make any public appearances with the St. Louis Cardinals and denying almost all interview requests.


Almost by accident, he made some minor headlines several weeks ago when he beat several PGA pros to win a golf skills competition. After much prodding from ADT Security, which sponsored the event, and NBC TV, which will broadcast it Dec. 27 and 28, McGwire agreed to talk to a few reporters this week about golf. Golf, and nothing else.


"It was my first love," he said. "The first game I ever played."


It's also just about all the man who, along with best supporting slugger Sammy Sosa was credited with saving baseball in 1998, does now. Try to slip a baseball question by him and he fouls it off with a rhetorical flick of the bat.


"Mmmm, no," he said when someone tried.


It isn't that he's trying to be a hermit, he says: "When you retire you retire - you're supposed to go away. You get away from what you used to do. I'm not really doing anything different; I have a new job and my new job is a father and a husband. I'm catching up on all the lost time I had with my (16-year-old) son Matthew - I'm just really enjoying life."


One longtime friend, who asked not to be identified, said McGwire treasures his privacy, but is also wary of being asked about his use of androstenidione, a steroid "precursor," as a massive steroid scandal continues to rattle athletes all over the world. McGwire does not want to be remembered only for using a supplement that was legal when he used it, and one he subsequently denounced.


"He feels like enough is enough - he dealt with it, it's over, he's moved on. How much can a guy say about it?" the friend says.


So McGwire spends time with friends and family, trying to create as much of a normal life as is possible for one of America's most-recognizable men. He and his second wife, Stephanie, have a 14-month-old son, Max, and they are expecting another child the first week of January.


"When I get an hour away from that I go work on my game," he says.


McGwire learned golf from his father, he says, who suffered from polio but still "dragged us down to the course" when McGwire was 5.


During his sophomore year in high school, he says, he actually quit baseball for a season and played for the golf team. Then he returned to baseball, went to the University of Southern California, grew large (at 6-5, his playing weight was about 250), set the single-season home run record in 1998, watched Barry Bonds break the record, and then vanished.


"I didn't pick up a golf club for the last seven years of my career because of my back," he says.


Now that his body has healed and his frame has shrunken, golf is not simply a diversion for McGwire. He works on his game almost every day, he says, and plays a round or two three times a week.


At the ADT Challenge, Peter Jacobsen said he and the other professional golfers cast an analytic eye on McGwire's swing and were amazed that he could do more than hit a ball for distance.


"We were scrutinizing him and we really couldn't find anything wrong with his golf game," Jacobsen says. "Mark really has no flaws in his golf swing. If he worked hard for the next few years, I think he could go to the Q (qualifying) school and get his (tour) card."


McGwire says he has no such plans, though he gave a friendly chuckle at the idea of joining the senior tour in 10 years.


"I might enter some amateur tournaments (like the) Southern California Am. It just depends," he says. "The one thing I really, really enjoyed was the competition. There's just something about grinding and taking one shot as it comes. I don't know where this is going to take me."


These days he mostly plays at Shady Canyon, a private golf club in Irvine, Calif., (full membership, $220,000) where he has a home. When former teammates come to play in Los Angeles or Anaheim they often join him for a round or two. Jason Giambi, his protege when both were in Oakland, is a frequent guest. He doesn't like celebrity pro-ams like the Bob Hope Classic because those are just for fun.


He was invited to the ADT Skills Challenge in Boca Raton just so he could be with top players he says he admires. The competition is broken into several elements, and competing against Jacobsen, Greg Norman, Rich Beem, Nick Faldo, Padraig Harrington, Paul Azinger, Colin Montgomerie and Dudley Hart, McGwire won the drive competition with a shot of 319 yards, and won the short irons when he hit a ball within 21 inches of the cup.


"Greg Norman looked at me and said, 'What's your handicap?'" McGwire says. The answer was "zero." He won $122,500 for his victory, and donated it to St. Louis' "Cardinal Care" charity.


As for a return to public life, at least one where he acknowledges that he ever played baseball, McGwire has said he will be back when the time is right.


Cohen, who no longer represents McGwire, says he isn't the least bit surprised his former client prefers to spend his time on the privacy of a golf course.


"While he was in the public limelight and pursuing and breaking the (home run) record he sort of withdrew," Cohen says. "Now, he's Mark McGwire again."





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He may have used performance enhancing drugs, I don't know, but you have to remember he was pretty skinny as a rookie and he still almost hit 50 homeruns.

Some cheating is still not good. And without steroids, he would of never hit close to 580...he might of never hit 49 again after a certain point. He was so plagued by injury he needed as much of an edge as he can get.

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