McGwire goes deep [UPDATED: ... but not deep enough]
Mark McGwire could have remained in seclusion, holed up in his seaside California mansion, out of public sight forever, with his family, his millions of dollars and his memories. There was no ambush here -- no magazine bombshell, no hard-hitting book, no long-hidden positive test finally come to light, forcing him out of his bunker.
Make no mistake, McGwire came out of hiding Monday because he needed to -- as a condition of employment as the St. Louis Cardinals' hitting coach. But he wasn't forced into his admission under duress, the way so many others -- pretty much ALL the others -- were. McGwire did this because he wanted to, because suddenly he cares about how he is perceived, because he wanted back in the game. Yes, he did it for PR reasons -- perhaps because he thinks it may eventually get him into Cooperstown. But the thing to remember here, the thing that sets him apart, is that he did this because he wanted to, not because he had to.
I give McGwire credit for his admission. No, it wasn't perfect. I'd love to know the exact timetable of his usage. I'd love to know what substances he took, and how he obtained them. I wish he had acknowledged that it was a desire to be the best -- to hit more home runs than anyone else and make a ton of money -- that was behind his usage, instead of leaning on the recovery-from-injuries excuse. I was there in 1998. I remember the swagger he had. I remember his awe at his own feats.
But despite those shortcomings, McGwire went further than anyone of his stature has ever gone in admitting his usage. He gave the years when he used. He didn't blame a mysterious cousin, or a rogue doctor, or claim he was naive. And he certainly didn't deny. In fact, he has never denied.
On Monday, when I spoke to former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who chaired the infamous March 17, 2005 hearing before the House Government Reform Committee -- in which McGwire repeatedly said he wasn't there to talk about the past -- I asked him if he had been upset with McGwire at the time of the hearing. Davis said McGwire had admitted his usage in a pre-hearing meeting, but could not admit it under oath out of fear of self-incrimination, since there were active investigations and he was within the five-year statute of limitations on such crimes. Davis said he actually came away with newfound admiration for McGwire. While Rafael Palmeiro (and, one supposes, Sammy Sosa) stood there and lied to Congress, McGwire refused to do so.
"He was protecting his family," Davis told me. "What would you have done?"
I would have loved to have been able to shoot back immediately, with conviction: "I would have told the truth!"
But I have a family, too. "Well," I said to Davis, not feeling very good about my answer, but certain it was true, "I guess I would have done the same thing."
[UPDATED, 8 a.m. Tuesday:] I wrote the above prior to watching McGwire's interview Monday night with Bob Costas on the MLB Network. It was not an impressive performance, by either McGwire or Costas. Both did what was required of them, and Costas, in particular, handled a very difficult assignment with class and professionalism. But I was practically screaming at him to ask some tough follow-ups: "Do you think you cheated? If you didn't use steroids to cheat, but to recover from injuries, as you claim, then why do you feel so much anguish? Why would you call the Maris family to apologize if you feel the breaking of Roger Maris's record was legitimate?"
As for McGwire, does he really believe he gained no physical advantage from using steroids? He certainly appeared to believe it, looking Costas directly in the eye on the several occasions on which he stated it. But even if he believes it, such a claim is absurd, and McGwire loses points for failing to go all the way with his contrition.
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