Mark McGwire must think we're stupid.
The former baseball superstar certainly looked the part of a contrite apologist last week during his interview with sportscaster extraordinaire, Bob Costas. With his red eyes brimming and his chin quavering, McGwire finally came clean about his past use of performance enhancing drugs. I truly felt for the man.
"I used steroids during my playing career and I apologize," McGwire said.
He went on to explain that he first dipped his toe into the fetid steroid pool during the 1989 season. After he was injured in 1993, McGwire admitted, he once again began using both steroids and human growth hormones, and he kept using them right through the 1998 season.
That, of course is when he and slugger Sammy Sosa held the nation spellbound as they battled to see who would break the 37 year old home-run record set by the legendary Roger Maris.
He should have stopped talking right there but he didn't.
"I did this for health purposes," McGwire told Costas, explaining that he believed the banned and illegal substances would help him heal faster from his many injuries. "There's no way I did this for any type of strength use."
Oh, really? This from a man who, while on the juice, put on 30 pounds of muscle, sported biceps that looked like bazookas and clocked home-runs off checked swings! I guess he really took no pleasure in piling up the home-run stats. Yeah, he was probably just thinking about his injured heels.
Was McGwire actually denying what every other athlete and pro sports trainer believes -- that steroids give a person more stamina and power in their swing?
"I was given a gift to hit home runs," McGwire declared without a hint of irony. He maintained that simply studying pitchers and adjusting his swing is what caused him to end the '98 season with a record shattering 70 homeruns to Sosa's 66. McGwire insisted he could have hit all those homers without the performance enhancing drugs he was taking.
"I truly believe so," he said.
Again, Mark McGwire must think we're stupid.
In my book you apologize for accidents or mistakes -- not for something you did repeatedly for 10 years! That's like saying you're sorry for deliberately cheating at poker games -- for 10 years! The best apologies are simple declarations, "I did this and please forgive me" usually suffices. "I did this but let me explain it to you...." just feels less like an apology and more like a strategic statement.
Look, I applaud McGwire for coming clean now, better late than never. And I think he still has a major contribution to make to baseball as the new hitting coach for the St. Louis, Cardinals. But Mark McGwire has to know in his heart that those drugs helped him resurrect a faltering career and then go on to break the home-run record.
I'm betting one guy who's watching this all play out closer than anyone is Barry Bonds, the current King of both home-runs and steroid suspicion. In 2001 he outdid McGwire's homeruns by hitting 73 of them. Will Bonds now follow McGwire's lead and come clean? His reputation and the arrogance of our modern day athletes suggests not.
The time for McGwire to have (you'll pardon the pun) stepped up to the plate, was five years ago when Congress summoned him to testify about steroids in pro-sports. He refused to "talk about the past" then because, as McGwire now explains, his lawyers told him his answers could be used to file charges against him.
Oh, really? I can't think of one major league baseball player ever charged with a crime due to steroid use -- ever.
Our nation remains gripped in a double-fisted drug problem; illegal street drugs and the proliferation of too many prescription drugs. As parents try to teach their children about the importance of staying away from drugs, being honest and admitting their mistakes how should they explain this guy to the kids?
"Well, Sonny, see, McGwire admitted he did it and he said he's sorry. So he's getting this great new high paying job back in baseball. And, it's all okay because he said the steroids probably didn't help him beat Roger Maris' record anyway ...." Sheesh.
McGwire says before he went public with his steroid admission he called one of his longtime supporters, Pat Maris, the widow of the man who held the home-run season record of 61 for more than four decades. "I felt I needed to do that," he said. He reports she was disappointed to hear the news.
Many of the rest of us were disappointed at his apology. And, by the way, Mr. McGwire, I don't think you've helped your chances of getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I've been to Cooperstown. You don't belong there.
Diane Dimond may be reached through her web site: www.DianeDimond.com