Mark McGwire's steroids confession is fine, but he should never go to the Hall of Fame

By Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 13, 2010; D01

Let's stop praising Mark McGwire to the skies for finally revealing the world's worst-kept secret -- that he used steroids during his storied major league career.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad McGwire finally 'fessed up. But let's face it, he had to. Next month, he'll be in Florida for spring training, where journalists have almost unfettered access to major leaguers for six weeks. McGwire would have been in for a daily dose of questioning that would have made the 2005 congressional steroids hearing seem like an episode of "Celebrity Jeopardy" by comparison. Now, while he'll still face the dreaded media horde, the big question -- Final Jeopardy, if you will -- has been answered.

McGwire's statement and subsequent interview with Bob Costas was tearful and seemingly heartfelt, for the most part, and I truly believe he is contrite (although his inexplicable lack of facial expressions makes that a bit hard to judge). I also believe McGwire has truly suffered during his largely self-imposed exile from baseball -- as much as one can suffer while hiding in a California mansion, living off his tainted millions.

But I wouldn't elect him to the Hall of Fame, ever, for a variety of reasons. Reason No. 1, of course, is that he cheated. No matter how sorry he is now, the fact remains that he used performance-enhancing drugs to -- wait for it -- enhance his performance. I don't think Major League Baseball will ever be able to "fix" the record books he and others have rewritten, but the Cooperstown honor should remain out of reach for admitted users.

Reason No. 2 is because of this sentence from his statement: "Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era."

Let's be clear. The steroid era isn't something that happened to Mark McGwire. Mark McGwire was one of the driving forces behind the steroid era. Heck, he was -- and perhaps still is -- the poster boy of the steroid era.

The steroid era isn't like the Great Depression. Grandma can complain about living through the Great Depression because she didn't cause it. Richie Petitbon, on the other hand, can't complain about living through the Richie Petitbon era. You see the difference.

And this part of the statement brings me to Reason No. 3: His complete inability to admit that steroids helped him hit balls over fences.

"I'm sure people will wonder if I could have hit all those home runs had I never taken steroids," he said in his statement. "I had good years when I didn't take any and I had bad years when I didn't take any. I had good years when I took steroids and I had bad years when I took steroids."

Sorry to disagree, but I don't wonder for a second if McGwire could have hit all those home runs if he had never taken steroids. Because he couldn't have. If you believe his version of events, he took steroids to recover from injuries. So, by his own line of reasoning, if he hadn't taken steroids, he would have missed more games during the season. Let's say, for example, that he would have sat out an additional two to three weeks in a given season without steroids. McGwire could hit a lot of dingers in two or three weeks.

McGwire would have helped his cause more by being honest with all of us -- and himself -- about what steroids did for his career. Instead, he told the Associated Press this: "There's no way a pill or an injection will give you hand-eye coordination or the ability or the great mind that I've had as a baseball player."

That's true. McGwire could have hit a truckload of homers without drugs, no question. It just would have been a smaller truck. The fact that he can't quite see that belies his great baseball mind.

Here's what he's telling us: "I was great all on my own, but I took steroids so I'd never miss a game and because I had the misfortune to be in baseball during the steroid era."

And yet, despite his inability to face the ultimate truth, McGwire's praises are being sung by all over the country like so many Whitney Houston songs on "American Idol." Here's Bud Selig's audition: "I am pleased that Mark McGwire has confronted his use of performance-enhancing substances as a player. . . . This statement of contrition, I believe, will make Mark's reentry into the game much smoother and easier."

Selig, being Selig, had to slip in a sentence patting himself on the back: "Being truthful is always the correct course of action, which is why I had commissioned Senator George Mitchell to conduct his investigation."

Former representative Tom Davis (R-Va.), who chaired the 2005 congressional inquiry, wasn't going to let that pitch blow by him.

"Had we not held these hearings and put the fear of God into baseball, it would still be going on," Davis told the AP.

Enough, already, with the self-congratulations and over-reaching praise, all for a little dose of honesty. For me, Monday's admission was cathartic for Mark McGwire, but hollow for me, and I'll always wonder: How many homers could he have hit without the drugs? I'm guessing, in his heart of heart, McGwire will always wonder the same thing.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company