Thursday, November 8, 2012


Mark McGwire, the new batting coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers, lands at LAX.  He sits alone, but not for long.  A wisp of acrid smoke and next to him sits a man in a red tuxedo. The man radiates heat, and his big smile shows lots of large white teeth.  He has room in his pants for a long tail.

Together they look out the window, and see a battery of news reporters waiting near the Dodgers' private hanger.

“I told you,” says the Devil.  "It's no different here.  Same as St. Louis."

“I was hoping it wouldn't be like this, again,” says McGwire. “I'm being hounded every place I go.  Damn reporters." 

“It's hell, isn't it.” The Devil giggles, and shakes his head. “Come one, McGwire. You've been through this before.  You're what, 49 years old now?  We figure you got maybe twenty five years more of this.”

“Thanks.”  Mark looks over, his eyes dark. “Don't you have some place better to be?  Other poor souls to torment?  Why are you here, anyway?”

“Part of the deal, McGwire. We get to visit from time to time.  Hey, I didn't twist your arm, back then. You came to me, remember?”

"Excuse me, Mr. McGwire," says a steward.  "Would you like something to take with you?  We have coffee, soda, and juice.  Lots of juice."

"No thank you."

"No juice?"

"No juice. NO JUICE," he says.  He turns to the Devil. "And not a word from you."

"Who is're" asks the steward.  "There's nobody sitting..."  He pats McGwire on the shoulder and moves on. 

“All right already," says McGwire. "I screwed up. But, come on, that was a long time ago.”

“What is this?" says the Devil.  "Do I see tears?  We signed a contract, my friend. I did my part, now you're all sad. You're not going to cry?”

“No tears.” says McGwire.

“Be honest. Was any of this my fault?  Come on.  If you had it to do it all over again, would you stay clean?  No steroids?”

“That's what I thought,” says the Devil. “You'd be surprised how many sign up. Five year of glory; World Records, Batting Titles, Olympic Gold Medals. Then, it's over.  Poof, you drop off the map.  It's too much for me personally to handle.  So, to cut down, I only talk to a chosen few.  Like you, McGwire.”  He looked over at McGwire, and rubs his brow. “I'm thinking, I need a vacation, you know.”

“You don't take vacations, I know that.”  McGwire looked out the window at the reporters again. “Every time, it's always the same.  I see that cold hostility in their eyes whenever they interview me.”

The Devil unfolds a piece of paper and holds it up to the light. “Says right here, 'I want to hit more homers than Maris.'” He pokes it in front of McGwire . “That is your signature, right?” He grins.

McGwire pushes it away, and stares down at his hands.

“You wanted to hit more home runs than Maris.” He neatly folds the paper. “Okay, a tall order, but I made it happen. I was your guy, remember. I was your Savior.”

“Enough,” said McGwire. “That was a long time ago. I took your steroids. But, I've confessed...I've confessed.” He rubs his hands together.

“Confession? What confession?” said the Devil. "'Steroids gave me the opportunity to recover from injuries and get back on the field, resulting in more at-bats but not necessarily adding to my home run count.'  Same thing as saying, 'Crap, you caught me.'"

Marc mumbled, “I could hit home runs. I always could. Without your help.”

“My friend, I'm like a loan shark. You take my money.  And when you don't pay on time we break body parts.  But I like you McGwire.  So we've been pretty easy on you. Come on, who do you think kept you in the major leagues, got you these jobs, kept you employed?"

“Should be 'whom.' Not 'who.'   Whom do you think kept you...”

“Shut up, McGwire.  Smart ass.  Look, you were doing us no good in retirement. I consulted with some of my, how do you say, homies, and we worked out a plan.  You had to start paying us back. Get you back in the public eye. So we got you the gig in St. Louis. You saw the movie Damn Yankees, you knew when you signed up how it was going to end. You're not stupid, McGwire. Hell, didn't you go to USC?”

“I was good back then.” says McGwire, picking at his knee. “The drugs didn't change that. I can hit home runs. The steroids got me back on the diamond faster. Quicker recovery time.”

“You keep telling yourself that. Weak, McGwire, weak."

They look out the window again.

“So I have to go through this every time I see a reporter?”

“Now you're getting it, McGwire,” said the Devil. “You will NEVER be asked again, 'How did it feel when you hit a homer?' or 'My son wants your autograph, he wants to be just like you,' or 'Will you come to my son's school on Good Guy Day?' He laughed. “That's hell.”

They came to a stop.  News vans surround the plane.

"So, and this is kind of ingenious, every time your on the field, every time you're interviewed, every time there's a close up, everybody will think steroids. He was a fake, a phony, a traitor to the game.” He looked over at McGwire . “Hey, you gotta laugh. Come on. It's what I live for.”

“I'll bet,” said McGwire, trying not to look into the Devil's burning eyes. “Don't suppose I could get you my contract.”

“You're kidding, right?   Re-negotiate?  Good one. Might be able to pull that crap with management, but it's me you're talking to. I don't negotiate, if you haven't heard.”

“Worth a try, I guess,” said McGwire . “So...Guess I got keep doing this.” He picks up his bag.

“Hope you're not thinking Hall of Fame.”

McGwire raised his eyebrows. “I was thinking maybe...give it time...I know it'll take time...”

“Give it up. McGwire. Would you vote for a steroid user?”

McGwire took a deep breath. “Probably...not.”

“We made Jose write his book. Stroke of genius. We needed kids to see what drugs could do for them.  Makes them hit home runs. They don't have to spend their lives in the weight room.  Come to Papa.  Sign up, and you're a hero. For a while anyway. I tell them what will happen but they don't listen.  They want to be heroes.  Brilliant!  Our master plan. How do you like it, McGwire?  You like it?”

“So you're never going to let up?  No matter who hires me?”

He closes his eyes.“I ain't got time for this, McGwire. Supposed to be talking right now with Sammy, and later today with Barry.  Guys need to get hassled a little.”  He glances down and thumbs his red BlackBerry.  "Go see Mike Trout.  No, he's too good already, damn it.  I  need somebody batting .240 .250."

The Devil looks over, "Re-negotiate?"  He laughs. "McGwire, you crack me up," He shakes his head. “Ciao babe. Gotta fly."  A flash of teeth, a puff of smoke, and he is gone.

Mark McGwire, the new Dodger Batting Coach, takes a deep breath, and walks off the plane. The reporters are there, pointing their microphones, their tape recorders, looking up with half smiles.  And he sees it in their eyes.

“Mark, how did it feel taking those steroids...”

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