Bodley: McGwire remains in denial

McGwire remains in denial

Mark McGwire admits he used steroids, is finally at peace with himself to a degree and we can move on. Or can we?

Mark McGwire

If this is about clearing the air so McGwire can put on a St. Louis Cardinals uniform next month as the team's hitting coach, he took a first step on Monday. It was a huge step and a very painful one for him.

Without this admission, his first day in camp would have been a media circus. It would have been impossible for him to pass on the enormous hitting expertise manager Tony La Russa says he has.

Did he or didn't he? That question would have on the tip of everyone's tongue -- as it has been for over a decade.

"I'm here today to come clean, to be honest," McGwire said. "That's why I'm here." But if this is about admitting his foolish mistakes so his chances will be better for election to the Hall of Fame, he can forget it.

There may come a time when voters for baseball's most prestigious and cherished honor don't penalize steroids users, but for me, that's a long way off.

McGwire was a cheater. His records are tainted by any standards you use. How many of the 583 home runs would have been hit without use of the performance-enhancing drugs?

When asked by MLB Network's Bob Costas in an interview on Monday night about the Hall of Fame, how much it matters, McGwire said: "First of all, I'm not here doing this for the Hall of Fame. I'm doing it for me, to get this off my chest. I played the game of baseball because I was given the ability to play. If I'm lucky enough to get in there [Hall of Fame], that's just icing on the cake, but I played this game because I loved it."

McGwire received just 23.7 percent of the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote this year, with 75 percent needed for election.

My guess is that percentage might not change much in the next few years. Admitting he used steroids merely confirms what many of the voters suspected.

He's five years late, but I applaud McGwire for finally telling the truth. He refused to sugarcoat his admission, telling the world that, yes, he used steroids, and yes, he was doing it during that glorious summer of 1998 when he hit 70 home runs and shattered Roger Maris' single-season record of 61.

But as McGwire talked with Costas during Monday's hour-long exclusive interview, he refused to agree that using steroids for much of his career helped him hit all those home runs.

Despite his emotion and anguish during the interview, he insisted he used steroids for health reasons only -- to help him recover from the myriad of injuries he suffered during his career.

From where I sit, that is still a denial. Steroids improve performance. McGwire can talk about his God-given ability and hand-eye coordination all he wants, but there would not have been the firestorm of home runs during his era without performance-enhancing drugs.

In Mark's defense, he may really believe steroids didn't help him hit home runs. I thought he was sincere during the interview, but maybe someday he'll agree, if not realize, there was more to his accomplishments than raw ability.

If he used steroids only for health reasons, why has he refused to come forward before this? He kept saying how much he regretted using the drugs.

I believe fans are poised to forgive him, but yet when he insists steroids didn't enhance his performance, we are far from closure.

Costas asked if during the time when he was using steroids did he feel he was cheating, doing something dishonorable?

"As I look back now as far as my health, trying to help my injuries to help me feel normal, I can see how people can say that," McGwire said. "As far as my God-given talent, hand-eye coordination, the ability and the genetics I was given, I don't see it."

It was so much fun watching McGwire and Sammy Sosa chase the Maris record in '98 -- a competition between the two that excited a nation and helped revitalize baseball from the dreadful 1994-95 players strike.

Now, that compelling moment still seems so empty. There have been suspicions, but Sosa, who hit 66 homers that season, has never admitted to using steroids.

McGwire, who repeatedly said he let his family and friends down, called Patricia Maris, Roger's widow, on Monday to apologize. He said she was very disappointed.

For me this is sad. I spent a lot of time with the Maris family during the chase on Roger's 1961 record, and was often told by Pat and others how happy they were that if the mark fell, McGwire was the right person to do it.

What McGwire really did on Monday was say, yes, I cheated. But he also said he would have hit just as many home runs and hit them as far without the juice.

I like McGwire. He was always one of my favorite players. I enjoyed being in his company and interviewing him.

I still believe he's a very decent person and will make an excellent hitting coach for the Cardinals.

He said he's been living a nightmare of sorts ever since that disastrous day on March 17, 2005, when he refused to answer questions at a Congressional hearing. He repeatedly said, "I'm not here to talk about the past."

Give him credit. He didn't lie or perjure himself then. During the Costas interview, he said he was advised by his lawyers that if he told the truth, he might be subject to legal action that would have jeopardized his teammates, friends and family.

"I never knew when, but I always knew this day would come," McGwire said. "It's time for me to talk about the past and to confirm what people have suspected.

"I used steroids during my playing career and I apologize. I remember trying steroids very briefly in the 1989-90 offseason and then after I was injured in 1993, I used steroids again. I used them on occasion throughout the '90s, including during the 1998 season."

Mark McGwire is obviously seeking forgiveness -- an attempt to exorcise the demons that have haunted him for a decade.

He took a huge step Monday, but it was not quite big enough.

He must shake the denial and admit -- or realize -- that even with his God-given ability, he got an assist from the juice.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.