McGwire has been hired by the St. Louis Cardinals as their hitting coach. He's back in the game. That's a plus.
The minus is the same as it has been for some time. There are allegations against McGwire that he used performance-enhancing drugs. And in 2005 testimony before a Congressional committee that was investigating the abuse of PEDs in baseball, McGwire appeared to be not only guilty, but arrogant. From the standpoint of saving a reputation, that was a deadly combination. If the question is, "Have you ever used steroids?" the answer cannot be McGwire's litany: "I'm not here to talk about the past."
The question of McGwire's candidacy for the Hall of Fame was once again upon us this week. If this were merely a question of numbers, he might very well have been enshrined in Cooperstown before now.
But this is not now merely a question of numbers. In the first three years of McGwire's candidacy, he received 23.5 percent of the vote from the eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. In the second year, he got 23.6 percent. In the third, it was 21.9 percent.
Between last year's election and the 2010 balloting, McGwire was hired by the Cardinals. Would his renewed employment in the game make a difference? Not by itself. McGwire this year received 23.7 percent of the votes cast. That was his best showing in four years on the ballot, but with 75 percent of the votes necessary for induction, McGwire remains a third-tier candidate at this point. He is getting enough support to remain on the ballot, but the numbers indicate that he is not a primary contender.
But this can be seen as merely the first step on the road to image recovery for McGwire. Tony La Russa, his manager in both Oakland and St. Louis, has been a staunch and consistent defender.
With McGwire in, what amounted to, exile from the game, La Russa's offer of a job was an act of friendship and support. There is a certain nobility in that. La Russa also looks better with an innocent McGwire, but the manager didn't have to come anywhere near this issue, and yet he did. It was this display of loyalty that opened up the possibility for McGwire's reputation to be restored, or at least, retrieved.
But the hitting coach job itself doesn't change the dynamics of the issue, as writers' votes for the Hall of Fame clearly indicated. The next step on McGwire's road to recovery has to be a full and completely candid discussion on the topic of the relationship of his career to performance-enhancing drugs.
This could be a complete confession, a mea culpa, or a comprehensive denial, for that matter. But it has to be something better than silence.
The record on this issue is crystal clear: The baseball players who have taken PEDs, but subsequently owned up to that usage and apologized, have, in the vast majority of cases, been welcomed back into the good graces of their teams and their fans. They have moved on with their careers and their lives. They might get heckled in road ballparks, but they aren't going to jail.
McGwire was once an immensely popular figure in St. Louis. Cardinals fans are among the most devoted anywhere. This could work.
And it isn't as though McGwire is still trying to hit home runs for a living. His alleged PED usage occurred before baseball even tested for steroids. That wouldn't sanction such usage, but the context of this whole case is historical.
Still, the question of moving forward with the rehabilitation of McGwire's reputation is not up to the media, not up to the fans. It is not even up to the St. Louis Cardinals, although they have offered McGwire a nice, broad avenue for a comeback.
That rehabilitation is up to Mark McGwire. He needs to go public and come clean. With any luck, when he does that, he'll be getting a lot better advice than he received before those Congressional hearings.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.