Mark McGwire is a good and decent man. The man I came to know in the 90s is every bit as shy as he is physically imposing. He worked and played on an enormous stage, from which even in his self-imposed exile, he was never fully able to escape. The shadow never went away. McGwire finally, reluctantly, belatedly and calculatingly came to the conclusion that the shadow could not disappear, until ironically, he turned on the light.
When McGwire agreed to become the hitting coach of the Cardinals a couple of months ago, it was inevitable that he would have to come clean. The only questions were: how and when. His confession of steroid usage is an enormous over-due tax that he had to pay for his re-entry into baseball. No one, not Bud Selig or (I imagine) the Cardinals demanded the mea culpa, but it was a practical reality. His admission was his ticket for re-admission to Major League Baseball. He could have returned without fessing up to anything, but he would have been badgered to say what he said today, relentlessly.
His tearful admission is just the first small step for McGwire on his road to perdition or maybe salvation. Time will tell. Whether he likes it or not, the story will not go away, not right away. It is afterall 17 years (at least) in the making, the last five of those years in total silence.
Does McGwire's confession bring him any closer to the Hall of Fame? In a word, no. The only sour note in day one of the "Big Mac Re-emergence Tour" was his own stubbornness to even consider the possibility that none of his 583 career homeruns (245 of them coming in just 4-seasons, 1996-1999, an average of 61 per season) were not in some way tainted by his steroid usage. Even if he had said, "well, yeah maybe," most of the baseball writers I know, have already voted McGwire off the potential Hall of Fame island. In all likelihood McGwire struck out in the Cooperstown courtroom.
But what about baseball fans and the court of public opinion? He will likely fare better there. Cardinal fans will welcome home their prodigal if somewhat damaged son. He will hear cheers and jeers on the road, but they will be muted. The reality is that the hitting coach is never seen on the field anyway, except during batting practice. Fans used to make it a point to get to the park early to watch McGwire take batting practice. There won't be many arriving early to watch McGwire watching batting practice.
The pain and discomfort in McGwire's face as he answered Bob Costas' direct and compelling questions was unmistakable. Big Mac's escape from his own personal Shawshank was his only way back into the game he has so desperately missed. These interviews with Costas and Ron Blum of the AP, had to have been every bit as excruciating as it was, at the end of the day, liberating. The pain was apparent. The liberation? Only McGwire will know that. So maybe, just maybe, one of the worst days of his life will turn out to be one of the best.
However, Mark McGwire will forever wear the scarlet letter. S. Despite his homerun hitting heroics, it isn't for Superman.
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