Commentary

The past is still McGwire's present

It's past time for Mark McGwire to tell the truth about his relationship with PEDs

Originally Published: November 11, 2009
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Mark McGwire has had nearly five years to figure out what to say next. Yet here we are, weeks after the St. Louis Cardinals hired McGwire to be their new hitting coach, and still not a word.

No news conference. No teleconference. No statement. No nothing.

If a quivering McGwire was unwilling to speak under oath at a March 2005 congressional hearing on steroids, what makes you think he wants to speak about the S-word -- and his alleged use of the juice -- in November 2009?

[+] EnlargeMark McGwire
Mark Wilson/Getty ImagesIt's been four and a half years, and Mark McGwire still can't avoid this particular past.

That's easy: He doesn't.

McGwire would rather chug pine tar than sit in front of another conga line of microphones, in front of an SRO crowd of reporters, and have to explain his relationship with performance-enhancing drugs. But this is the situation he created and a situation only he can resolve.

"I think that's going to be needed, yes," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said when I asked him whether McGwire should address the controversy. "How we'll define that I think we'll still use our time to still figure that out. But that does seem logical."

Logical. Necessary. Unavoidable.

Remember, McGwire is the man who hid behind his retirement from baseball, who slithered around the truth, who, when Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., asked him that March day in 2005 whether he was invoking his Fifth Amendment rights, said famously and disastrously, "I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to be positive about this subject."

Problem is, the past won't go away. It's stuck to his reputation like a wad of bubble gum and chaw. In McGwire's case, the past is still his present.

There is no timetable for a McGwire public appearance. If anything, it sounds as if Mozeliak, the Cardinals and, most of all, McGwire, were unprepared to deal with the premature release of the news of his hiring.

[+] EnlargeJohn Mozeliak
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonCardinals GM John Mozeliak knows something needs to be said. But what exactly is it?

"I think on the McGwire topic right now, the way I'd like to address it is that there's still some things we're talking through," Mozeliak said. "I recognize that it's a very sensitive topic … there's going to be a wide range of what people are hoping to hear or something along the lines of what he may say. For me personally, I'm not, we're not there yet. We don't know what that looks like. Hopefully in the next week or so, we can work through that."

Added Mozeliak: "It's not something we're ignoring or hoping will go away."

McGwire must be dreading this. He is a private person who, even during his then-record-breaking 70-homer season in 1998, had to be pulled out of his personality shell by Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa. They were baseball's odd couple.

Sosa would later forget how to speak English at those same congressional hearings. This past June, The New York Times reported that Sosa was one of 104 players who tested positive for PED use in what was supposed to be an anonymous 2003 drug survey. Gee, what a surprise.

But in 1998, McGwire and Sosa mesmerized a nation with their homers. In 2005, they mesmerized it with their laughable and lawyered-up testimony.

The smart move, the only move, is for McGwire to do what Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez and even Manny Ramirez -- all previously accused of PED use -- did before him: acknowledge, confess and explain. That's because the minute McGwire decided to accept manager Tony La Russa's job offer is the minute he forfeited his baseball privacy.

This is standard damage-control doctrine. Have a one-time news conference, answer every question, then move forward.

"I thought Manny needed to explain himself," said Los Angeles Dodgers GM Ned Colletti. "He's still an active player. He's still a player on the payroll. He's somebody who's vital to the organization and, in a lot of ways, the face of the organization. I think it was incumbent upon him to say something, which he did."

[+] EnlargeMark McGwire
Elsa/Getty ImagesAs a player, McGwire was more than just the face of the franchise.

And this from New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman: "[Pettitte and Rodriguez] came forward to the degree that they felt they could, and I believe they both moved past it and put it in their rearview mirrors. Those were very difficult times in their lives regarding choices they made at certain times of their lives. Thankfully, they emerged and moved on and have continued to be a part of the game they loved."

McGwire was the face, the arms, the legs, the everything of the St. Louis franchise for years. When he steps into the Jupiter, Fla., sun for the first day of spring training -- even as a hitting coach -- he will become a prominent part of the Cardinals once again.

But you can't put on a big league uniform, especially a uni that represents one of the most respected organizations in the majors, without addressing your demons. Anyone who watched McGwire's credibility evaporate in front of that congressional hearing knows he has a bat rack full of them.

Now McGwire gets a rare second chance. At baseball. At the truth.

"The only thing I ever discussed with [Pettitte and Rodriguez] was if they talked about it publicly that they do not lie," Cashman said. "Whatever they decide to give publicly, make sure it's accurate. Because there are no secrets. So if you say something in public that's not accurate, then eventually it will be proven inaccurate. Whatever you speak to, make sure it's accurate. And don't try to mislead people."

Four years and nine months ago, McGwire sat in front of the country and misled it. He did a verbal tap dance. He evaded. And then he disappeared into the darkness.

Soon, he'll sit in front of those microphones again. This time, let's hope he sees something different.

This time, let's hope he sees the light.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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