Mark McGwire: Better Late Than Never

Jeff LeadbeaterContributor IJanuary 11, 2010

12 Oct 2001: Mark McGwire #25 of the St.Louis Cardinals salutes the crowd during team introductions before their game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Elsa/ALLSPORT
Elsa/Getty Images

The big story happened literally while I was exercising today. Mark McGwire finally confessed to what we thought all along: He did steroids during his career.

His admission has been the most candid admission of guilt to come out of the steroid era since Jose Canseco published his first book on the subject. Unlike those who were outed by the list (Sammy Sosa), or those who tested positive but never explained themselves or tried to blame others (Rafael Palmeiro), he flat out said he did steroids and when he did them (including during the 1998 season).

He also showed the greatest contrition of any admitted or outed steroid user thus far. He expressed regret for doing it. Honestly, I think he’s been regretting it since his de facto pleading of the Fifth Amendment before Congress in 2002. Not ready to admit it, but not willing to lie about it, he instead told Congress under oath that he wasn’t there to "talk about the past”.

So the journey that began when Jose Canseco supposedly jammed a needle in Mark’s rear end early on in Oakland has finally come full circle. It’s an admission eight years in the making. It’s long overdue, but at the same time, welcomed.

I know there will be a lot of people who will feel anger for this. For many, it will be yet another ripping-off of the bandage over the steroid era of baseball. But I’m tired of that pain. Long ago, I gave up being angry about the admissions and the revelations. I pretty much assume steroids were widespread in baseball through the 1990s and move on with my life.

It feels kind’ve like The Shawshank Redemption. Like Ellis Redding, so eloquently played by Morgan Freeman, giving his soliloquy on regret and remorse, and the true meaning of rehabilitation, at his 40th year parole hearing. The question is, will his contrition set Mark McGwire free?

It all depends on how you are willing to weigh his merits. You obviously cannot weigh his merits historically, though there’s no way of knowing just how far back, or how huge, the influence of steroids is since nobody tested before 2001, and testing wasn’t regular until 2002. But if you weigh his merits as one of the dominant players of his era, it has a little more weight to the argument.

Do I think he gets in? No. Maybe in the future through the Veterans Committee, but the current BBWAA voters’ pool is too tainted by the spectre of the steroid era to allow anybody who is even remotely alleged to have done steroids in. No Mark McGwire. No Rafael Palmeiro. No Sammy Sosa. No Manny Ramirez. No Barry Bonds.

Would he have my vote? Yes. I think he meets the criteria of being among the most dominant players of his era–the steroid era.

He never actually lied about using steroids when pressed on it. It’s not like Pete Rose, who lied about gambling on baseball for over 15 years and then sold the truth in a book. It’s not like Barry Bonds, who continues to fight allegations of steroids in courts even though a vast majority of people do not believe he was ever clean.

It does not feel quite as bad with Mark McGwire, who clammed up and simply dodged the subject. It must have been Hell for him, not feeling ready to admit it but not willing to lie about it. I can’t help but feel sorry for him.

Hopefully he will be permitted to do his penance now as a coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. It probably won’t save his Hall of Fame credentials, but it should permit him to at least rebuild his reputation as a man and as a baseball player.

There is still one burning question left for me. Because in my mind, I believe steroids were widespread in the 1990s. I don’t believe everybody did them, but I do believe a large number of baseball players did.

The only thing that angers me is that the higher-ups continue to deny knowledge of steroid use during that time. In my opinion, the apparent usage is way too widespread for nobody in a front office capacity to have known about it.

Are Bud Selig, Fay Vincent and Bob DuPuy as wracked with guilt as Mark McGwire has been?