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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.

By Dave Sheinin  |  January 11, 2010; 5:34 PM ET
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I'm sorry.
I give him no quarter.
Just because McGwire is good at playing games lawyers love to play doesn't make him credible or honest or pumped full of integrity.
It makes him just another weasel, just like every other slimy weasel floating around, whether in sports or in other venues, like working for major financial institutions and having to confront their double-dealing in hearings.
In my opinion, this puts McGwire in the same cage with Pete Rose and other sports figures who gamble, use steroids, or otherwise pollute the game against the rules.
They all need to banned for life, if the rules are to have any meaning or teeth.
Any suggestion to do less lowers the game to the level of "sports" such as wrestling with the stench of sleaze in the air.
I don't want that to happen to America's Sport.
On the other hand, if it does, I think it bespeaks what America has sunk to, post Y2K.
Maybe this, like the Bush debacle, the pathetic excuse for a war on "terror" (i.e., the corrupting War on Iraq) and the current financial crash, is part of a millenial madness or curse.
We Americans haven't seemed to be able to conduct ourselves with any integrity in a long time.
Barack Obama has a big job trying to change us back to what we used to believe we were.

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | January 11, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

I agree with your thoughts Dave. Just watched the McGwire interview with Bob Costas and even though I don't agree with him that the steroids did not help his game, I think he was trying to be as honest as he could. I think that he has convinced himself that his career would have been the same without steroids. I think this thought is something he has had to tell himself to get by. Damn, I really hate the steroid era for what it has done to baseball and baseball players.

Posted by: jtsw | January 11, 2010 10:33 PM | Report abuse

Why would anyone expect anything more in this country today? Accountability is simply un-American.

Posted by: VeloStrummer | January 12, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Hard to be real sympathetic when McGwire doesn't have the courage to still admit that his use of PEDs significantly helped his stats, esp. HRs. Why say it didn't when we all know that it did. Geesh. Denial is not pretty to watch. I agree with you Dave, just say that you took them because you wanted to be better than anyone else.

Posted by: Sojouner | January 12, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

McGwire's explanation of why he had to lie for the sake of his family could be used to explain away any lie ever told by criminal on the stand.
How we treat these guys from the "steroids era" will directly affect many players decide to do it in the future. If you are able to cheat, then lie about it, then come clean 12 years later and be completely exonerated, why not do it?
Take those records down.
Kick him out of the game. We don't know if Pete Rose's gambling directly affected the games he managed. We do know that McGwire's cheating directly affected the games he played in.

Posted by: minorthread | January 12, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

I agree that McGwire is nuts if he thinks that he did not gain an advantage from PEDs. However, consider this. He has had many years at this point to convince HIMSELF that he did not gain any advantage.

We all do this. We convince ourselves that something we did was only a "little lie" or that it "really was no big deal". Why? Because we want to believe it.

My guess is that McGwire wants to believe that he could have done everything he did regardless of PEDS. He's probably been convincing himself of it for years. For many people, the lie you tell yourself is the hardest one to come clean on.

This is the first step of is admission. The hardest public truth. The hardest truth for him will be the one he accepts internally.

Posted by: NatsWin | January 13, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

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