As the World Series is set to begin, the biggest story in baseball isn’t the Phillies quest for a repeat title or the resurgence of A-Rod and the Yankees, but it’s the return of Mark McGwire to baseball as a hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. As expected, many fans are crying foul. Next to Barry Bonds, McGwire is public enemy number two in MLB’s steroid era. News of McGwire’s illegal doping first came to light in Jose Canseco’s book “Juiced.” While McGwire has never failed a drug test, Canseco’s accusation confirmed the widespread suspicions that it was steroids that contributed to his rapid weight gain and 70 home runs. But unlike other players like Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, and Jason Giambi, McGwire has never admitted to taking steroids. Even worse, he has blatently side-stepped the issue when he has been asked about his steroid use and not proclaimed his innocence.
It is this silence that has aroused criticism of the Cardinal’s hiring of McGwire to be their hitting coach. The lead FBI investigator Greg Stejskal had this to say: “It’s basically rewarding a guy who hasn’t stood up and taken a stand against this stuff. There’s been no mea culpa, and instead he became a recluse. It reminds me of a passage from Proverbs: ‘The wicked flee where no man pursueth.'”
The public outrage over Mark McGwire can be traced to both McGwire’s alledged steroid abuse and his refusal to come-clean and repent. The Cardinals have hired a coach who hasn’t “taken responsibility” for his actions. They have shown him grace. The Cardinals have willingly suffered the cost of this public relations nightmare by giving an abandoned transgressor like Mark McGwire new life through a job that allows him to do what he loves.
The Christian understanding of grace is not forgiveness to those who have made amends of their sin or those who properly prepared themselves for grace. But Christian grace is the forgiveness of the wicked (Romans 5:6-10). God does not demand any inclination toward God or movement of our will as a precondition of grace, but freely forgives. Jesus died for all his disciples who abandoned him in the hour of his need (Mark 15:40). As Luther said, “On the part of man, however, nothing precedes grace except indisposition and even rebellion against grace.”
Mark McGwire may be a vile, heartless cheater who destroyed baseball (allegedly), but I hope that he makes a great hitting coach.