Five years ago, I sat one row and six seats to the right of Mark McGwire when he told Congress, “I’m not here to talk about the past.”
Now he wants to talk about the past. Sorry, dude. It’s a little late.
To a certain extent, we can understand why an athlete would take a pill or a stick a needle in their arm to help them run faster, get stronger or hit a baseball 900 feet. The competitive edge that enables them to become a professional athlete — the ego, the arrogance, the drive — can be blinding.
But when record books start looking like cartoons and some of the young athletes who are emulating you are taking drugs to get stronger or faster start dying, that’s when you come clean. That was the point of those Congressional hearings on steroid use in 2005. It wasn’t merely about Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron’s home run record.
McGwire finally came clean Monday. Yes he used steroids. Well, knock me over with prescription pad.
McGwire said in a statement to the Associated Press, “I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.”
Cue the violins.
Here’s the problem. After all this time, there is no reason to believe McGwire suddenly feels remorseful about being juiced when he broke the single-season home run record. He has lived like a hermit since retirement. He was a coward in Washington. On those few occasions he has stepped into the public eye, he said nothing.
So why is he admitting guilt now? Because St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa — who clearly sold his own soul and for years has publicly defended McGwire to anybody who dared broach the subject of steroids — hired McGwire as a hitting coach in October. This meant McGwire was going to be in the public eye come spring training. He would be exposed to the media and the public every day, every workout, every game this season.
Even cowards can only hide for so long.
This wasn’t about McGwire clearing his conscience. This was about avoiding a daily distraction every time the Cardinals arrived in a town. This was about helping St. Louis win games.
Funny. Even now in his retirement, the subjects of drugs and success intersect.
McGwire. Bonds. Roger Clemens. It’s too late for all of them. They’ve lied too long.
In July, Aaron said for the first time that he wanted all drug cheaters exposed and banned from the Hall of Fame. Good for him. McGwire hasn’t come close to being voted into the Hall since getting onto the ballot.
I doubt admitting past guilt now is going to make much of a difference in Cooperstown. He had a window of opportunity. He closed it.