What is apparently needed here is a basic, introductory course: Steroid Apologies 101.
You admit you took the steroids. You express your regrets for having done so. You appear to be genuinely penitent. You are a sincere seeker of redemption. You are a steroids sinner who has returned to the flock.
What you do not do next, is what Mark McGwire did on Monday in an interview with Bob Costas on the MLB Network. He was fine through the admission and the apology. And then he said that if he had never used steroids he still would have hit all those home runs, because he was just that good. Talk about creating a nice moment and then crushing it.
But what McGwire produced was sort of a confession with asterisks. He acknowledged that he had used steroids, but only as part of rehabilitation from injuries.
"The only reason I took steroids was for my health purposes," McGwire said.
Other players who have acknowledged using performance-enhancing drugs have said the same thing. This is fairly standard stuff. What was different here was that McGwire would not admit that the steroids had helped his performance. He still would have hit the then-record 70 home runs in 1998, and the 583 career homers, McGwire indicated, because he had "God-given ability," and "hand-to-eye coordination," and a stroke that had gradually evolved into a shorter, more effective form.
"That's why it was the most regrettable thing I've ever done in my life," McGwire said of his usage of steroids.
McGwire teared up on numerous occasions, under questioning from Costas that was persistent, probing, yet humane. McGwire repeatedly said he was sorry, and he occasionally listed particular groups and individuals whom he had let down with his use of PEDs.
"I let a lot of people down," McGwire said. "It doesn't feel good."
How then could he expend so much genuine emotion and still miss the middle of this target? If he sincerely believes that the steroids did not aid him as a hitter, among baseball people he will be not be holding anything like a majority opinion. No one diminishes his skill, his ability, his diligence. Those steroids didn't help him hit the baseball. But once the baseball was struck, there was a distinct chance that they had plenty to do with how far the ball went.
McGwire appeared penitent, but then this insistence that steroids did not help his hitting undercut his own penitence. It that sense, this day of open confession was an opportunity only partially seized.
McGwire did a better job of explaining his catastrophic 2005 appearance before a Congressional committee that was investigating the use of PEDs in baseball. This appearance was characterized by McGwire responding to a series of questions with the rote response: "I'm not here to talk about the past."
It became apparent that he was not there to talk about the past, which was, of course, the one thing the committee wanted to ask him about. But it also became apparent this was the performance of a guilty man.
In this non-testimony testimony, McGwire, in brushing aside legitimate questions about steroid usage from elected representatives of the American public, also appeared arrogant. To come off any worse, he would have had to take off all his clothes and scream obscenities at the members of Congress.
Asked by Costas about his responses, McGwire said that he was advised by his lawyers that if he had admitted steroid use, he could have been subject to prosecution. His lawyers, he said, had sought immunity for him from the committee, but had not received it. Thus, in his mind, he responded as he did to protect his family and friends.
He said he knew how badly it looked. "It was killing me," McGwire said of his repetitious responses.
McGwire is back in the game now as the hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals. He was once immensely popular in St. Louis. Given the devotion of the Cardinals' fan base, he might be that again.
"I'm asking for a second chance," McGwire said. "I hope they give it to me."
His Hall of Fame chances are another issue. "I'm not doing this for the Hall of Fame," McGwire told Costas.
That's probably good. In four appearances on the Hall ballot, McGwire has never received as much as 25 percent of the votes. His acknowledgment of steroid use will not hurt him with the voters, who mostly thought he was guilty in any case.
Whether this self-limited acknowledgment will help him get significantly closer to 75 percent is an open question.
But at least one step was taken on the road to repentance.
"I wish I had never touched steroids," McGwire said in his earlier statement. "It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era."
And when Costas asked him what he would say about steroid use to Cardinals hitters now under his tutelage, McGwire responded: "It was the stupidest thing I ever did."
That's a strong message and a good one. We're two-thirds of the way home now. The acknowledgment of the steroid usage, the acknowledgment that it was wrong. What is missing is the admission that steroid usage did in fact add up to a competitive edge; an edge that was pharmaceutical, not human, in nature.