Part of getting it, in this case, is the admission that with the usage of performance-enhancing drugs, a wrong was done.
There will be an increasing amount of discussion regarding this issue as several big names, some publicly associated with the use of PEDs, appear on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot. Some of these candidates have yet to arrive at the perspective that has been gained by McGwire.
McGwire has just changed employers, moving from being the hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals to taking the same position with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Whatever view you have of McGwire's playing career, there is no disputing the fact that his three-year coaching tenure with the Cardinals hitters was highly successful. He is very likely to be an important asset for the Dodgers.
In a recent Dan Patrick column in Sports Illustrated, Patrick asked McGwire if he would vote for himself for the Hall of Fame. McGwire responded:
"No, not by the guidelines they have now. I totally respect the Hall of Fame. They have rules. They have guidelines they go by. I totally abide by that. You'll never see Mark McGwire fight it."
The guidelines are general in nature, but you can grasp the point. Eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America are instructed that "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team[s] on which the player played."
The integrity and sportsmanship aspects don't seem to allow for the use of PEDs. But you've already heard from some other Hall candidates who have a completely different version of reality. Essentially, that argument comes down to, "I put up the numbers and anybody who doesn't vote for me must be an idiot."
I suppose that McGwire, instead of saying that he made a mistake and that mistake took him out of Hall of Fame contention, could go around pointing out that he hit 583 home runs, or that he hit 70 home runs in 1998 or that he averaged a home run every 10.61 at-bats.
But he's much better off saying what he's saying. He at least has exhibited some hard-earned knowledge in this area.
It has been a difficult road for this man on this issue. In a 2005 congressional hearing on the issue of steroid use in baseball, McGwire, when asked the central questions, opted to go with the repeated phrase, "I'm not here to talk about the past." He was not well advised in this matter. His seemed to be the response of a guilty man, anyway.
McGwire went into a self-imposed exile from baseball after that. In his first four years of eligibility for the Hall, his vote total was never higher than 23.7 percent, never lower than 21.9 percent. Election requires 75 percent of the vote. After McGwire publicly admitted his use of PEDs, his vote total dropped slightly, falling to 19.5 percent in 2012, his sixth year on the ballot.
Given the current view of PEDs among what appears to be a large majority of the voters, McGwire's candidacy isn't likely to be revived. But he has regained a large measure of credibility through his coaching work, and he has gained more ground by taking a difficult, but accurate, stand on his Hall of Fame candidacy.
At his first news conference as the Dodgers hitting coach, McGwire was asked an inevitable question.
"It something I did, it's something I have to live with the rest of my life," he replied. "I understand everything about what the Hall of Fame is all about, I totally respect that. It was a mistake that I've made, I've owned up to it, I've moved on, I don't know what else to say."
At this point, Mark McGwire doesn't have to say anything more on this subject, because what he has already said is the right thing to say, even if it is painful to say it.
It is a far better thing to hear than hearing, "My numbers were great. I should get 100 percent of the vote!"
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.