The words are powerful, direct and wrenching.
"Looking back, I wish I never played in the steroid era."
When Mark McGwire's day of reckoning arrived Monday -- and as the man said, even he knew the day would come -- what was striking wasn't the admission to things we already knew, but the depth, scope and breadth of it all.
If McGwire was going to go ahead as St. Louis' hitting coach in 2010, it couldn't be behind the shrouded cloak of "I'm not here to discuss the past." He followed inept lawyers down that path once, attorneys who apparently were employed at the Three Stooges law firm Dewey, Cheatem and Howe.
No, McGwire, whose reputation shrunk to humiliatingly low proportions that day in front of Congress, needed something far more if he was ever going to be viewed as something more than a grotesque cartoon character.
And he needed something right now before making his "re-entry" into the game next month.
To his credit, when his long overdue time to talk about that past finally did arrive, he didn't come up with something as hollow as Alex Rodriguez's "my cousin and I were young and stupid", and unlike the case with Barry Bonds, his personal trainer isn't behind bars right now.
His confession that he used steroids off and on for more than a decade -- including during the historic 1998 season -- seemed honest and thorough, if also utterly contrived. It was as carefully orchestrated as the unveiling of a new car model, with him phoning the Associated Press, the Cardinals issuing his statement, the club issuing another statement containing pre-fabricated quotes from chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., general manager John Mozeliak and manager Tony La Russa, the careful revelation that McGwire phoned Commissioner Bud Selig and La Russa earlier Monday and an early evening sit-down interview for McGwire with Bob Costas on the MLB Network.
Even given all that, McGwire didn't hit all his marks: He whiffed badly in insisting to Costas that, while he took steroids for health reasons, they did not help enhance his statistics. That's utterly delusional at best, totally cynical at worst.
And what was most noticeably missing within the detailed admission pre-Costas was a direct apology to the family of Roger Maris, the former single-season home run record-holder whom McGwire toppled during that dirty summer of '98.
Remember the Maris boys joining the parade at the end for those last few games during McGwire's march past their father's 61?
Remember Big Mac embracing them after swatting No. 62 in one big group hug?
Now McGwire wishes he hadn't played in the steroid era.
The thing about that is, none of us gets to choose our era. We're either lucky or unlucky by birth, some circumstances being laid out that either help us along the way or present obstacles for us to overcome. We can't choose our era any more than we can choose our skin color.
However, we can -- and must -- make smart and correct choices within whatever circumstances we're dealt.
McGwire didn't just play in the steroid era, he opted in. The temptation was too much for him and hundreds of others. And because of the raging success McGwire found in the power game, it fueled the steroid era. He was not an innocent bystander, nor was he a victim of circumstances.
The players who remained clean in the era and lost jobs to users as a result, or who played clean and now are stained with the rest are the victims of circumstance.
|With his admission, Mark McGwire can finally start to repair his tattered image. (AP)|
We're through the steroid era, right? Yet this now will be the third consecutive spring training in which steroids (or human growth hormone) will be the dominant story when camp opens. McGwire in his new role as St. Louis hitting coach next month. A-Rod last spring. Andy Pettitte two years ago.
With that come the questions, legitimate questions, such as these:
• Given the guts he spilled Monday, is it really appropriate for McGwire to return to the game's good graces as a full-time employee?
The feeling here is yes, given that he's now taken responsibility for his part in the era. A-Rod and Pettitte are still playing. Manny Ramirez is back. Why shouldn't McGwire coach, if the Cardinals will have him?
• What will this do to McGwire's Hall of Fame chances?
At 23.7 percent of the vote this year, Cooperstown remains far off for McGwire. I don't see this significantly altering voting patterns, partly because his poor showing never has been all about steroids. McGwire finished with just 1,626 career hits. There is a legitimate case to be made that even if you take steroids out of the equation, McGwire was not a Hall of Fame player.
• Will the domino effect from McGwire lead to Barry Bonds?
Probably not anymore than it already has. One key difference between the two: McGwire never denied taking steroids, he just told Congress he didn't want to discuss the past. Bonds has flatly, and repeatedly, denied using performance-enhancing drugs. McGwire has been private and, in his testimony, obviously conflicted. Bonds has been aggressively defiant. Don't hold your breath for a full-metal confession from Bonds anytime soon.
• Should McGwire's confession result in Selig stripping away his numbers?
You can't simply excise homers from McGwire or anybody else, because then you're going to have to go pitcher by pitcher and remove significant numbers from the homers-allowed column. I've always thought the NCAA's method of removing wins and national titles from a university caught cheating is stupid -- we all remember Michigan playing for the basketball championship in 1992 and 1993. What do you mean telling me that, suddenly, they didn't?
The best you can do is determine which years constitute the steroid era and funnel them into a subset within the record book. But that isn't exactly satisfying either.
Probably the best option is to let history be the judge, as it is in so many other cases. Confession aired, McGwire's fate now is in the hands of history, and despite his belated apology, I'm not sure that it will be kind.
La Russa, McGwire's chief sponsor, on Monday told ESPN's Baseball Tonight gang that he's "really encouraged that [McGwire] would step forward. As we go along, his explanations will be well received."
That is wildly optimistic. Maybe, in time, they will be. I'm glad McGwire came clean, because it's good for both him and the game.
And if he truly believes the words in his statement, he can be a positive force in helping to keep things clean in the future with the advice he will dispense to young, impressionable and wildly ambitious hitters.
Following years of self-imposed exile, that's probably as close to a happy ending as McGwire -- or any of us -- should expect from this sad story.