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It was a throwaway part of the story buried in the vivid description of the you've-got-to-kidding-me Mark McGwire testimony.

Understandably, Sports Illustrated focused on the blood, guts, and unintentional comedy of lines like "steroids is bad" in the St. Patrick's Day Massacre of 2005 in Washington, D.C.

But, there it was. A huge detail.

A few pages in.

And, all but completely overlooked and under read by the audience, but...it was there:

McGwire was going to talk on the day that the world saw him embarrass himself. He was going to acknowledge his steroid use. But, moments before sitting down in front of Congress, his attorneys advised him to keep his mouth shut...because the committee would not grant McGwire immunity. And, with that, the plan to come clean blew up...and the farce of "I'm not here to talk about the past" began in what looked like a performance advised by attorneys with the skill of John Laroquette and Markie Post.

I recall reading that only after it was pointed out by either a caller or a co-host in passing. And, it struck me, even back then, as incredibly important...and incredibly surprising that more people weren't talking about that. It was the great "What If."

What if the committee had granted McGwire immunity from prosecution that day?

When it gets down to it, the only thing that I feel like I *know* would've been different than it is now is that McGwire would have garnered much more than 24% of the baseball writers' votes for the Hall of Fame, because, if anything, his honesty and apology would have been admired...and been the first of its kind...as opposed to what baseball fans have gotten used to, which is the "I'm sorry, but..." that we've heard  from Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, and whoever else has played this public relations game over the last few years.

The fact that he was going to talk in 2005 now is up there with the first few paragraphs of stories documenting McGwire's admission yesterday, but somehow, that fact flew under the radar in 2005.

But, this isn't an "I was going to tell you, but..." revisionist history on the part of McGwire. It's documented that he was going to do it, and now, nearly five years later, it's being reiterated.

I consider that important in how I, personally, as a fan and media member, look at this carnage. Why? Because if I were in his position in 2005, I would've done the exact same thing. I would've planned to be honest and use the moment to come clean...and the minute I heard I could be prosecuted for my honesty, I would've made an ass of myself and been elusive as well. I wouldn't have lied under oath, but I would've stumbled through questions with the tact of Admiral Stockdale's delivery in the 1992 Vice Presidential Debate...and I would've gotten the hell out of there and gone into hiding.

Just like McGwire did.

And, therefore, I can't condemn the St. Patrick's Day Massacre on McGwire's part, but I would like to know the logic of those involved in the decision to *not* grant McGwire immunity five years ago. If anything, in the isolated case of 2005, I do believe McGwire was going to do the right thing, and that, for me, is something I can take solace in. And, furthermore, I admire it.

But, that's about where the feel good portion of this stops.

Just because he appears undoubtedly remorseful now doesn't mean, for me anyway, "everything's cool," although I sense that's exactly what the Cardinals and Major League Baseball would like fans to do.

I mean...just because it's something many---if not damn near all---baseball fans had suspected for the last five years doesn't mean that it's confirmation should somehow be applauded. I don't get that. I really don't.

This admission is only being made because it *had* to be.

In other words, if McGwire wasn't coming back to the Cardinals as a hitting coach, do you really think this statement and the numerous interviews would have taken place?

I personally don't like the manner in which Bud Selig, Bill De Witt, John Mozeliak, and Tony La Russa are patting McGwire on the back for coming clean.

1998 was baseball's equivalent to the U.S. putting a man on the moon. It restored faith in something that, at the time, had been struggling, and it brought people together as millions of fans and non-fans cheered this man on. Now, we're told it was all bullshit.

If Neil Armstrong issued a statement that the moon landing was a hoax and that the whole thing was shot at some studio in Hollywood, I sure as hell wouldn't expect President Obama to pat him on the ass for coming clean.

I don't know about you, but I feel duped. I feel like a dumbshit for buying in 12 years ago. And, if I hadn't become such a cynic based on seeing behind the curtain of professional and collegiate athletics, I'd be mad.

I don't appreciate the commissioner, owner, GM, and manager praising the perpetrator for doing something that he *had* to do without being honest themselves and saying also what I am certain they all feel, which is, "I'm disappointed in that which Mark is apologizing for." January 11th, 2010 is not a good day for baseball or the St. Louis Cardinals, and the manner in which Selig, De Witt, Mozeliak, and La Russa sounded in their statements, you would think that it is.

I think it's good for them in that it's finally over...and that's why they're happy. But, for the fan, it sucks to now know with certainty that something so many of us got caught up in was as real as the Main Event at Wrestlemania.

Sitting on the floor in my office at home among a bunch of other things, there's a framed picture of the moment on September 8, 1998 that McGwire hit #62. It's a beautiful picture that I bought at Busch Stadium in 1999. I had it framed and hung it up in the living room of the hell hole that I lived in when working in Little Rock TV 10 years ago.

I hung it right over my couch, because it reminded me of a great moment in my hometown, and I could always look at it and feel good about what that moment meant.

I don't think I could hang it up now.

It doesn't mean the same anymore. And, if anything, I think people who'd see it would find it to be, perhaps, a bit of joke that it'd even be hanging on my walls if I were to put it up.

And, that's sad.

But, that was 12 years ago and McGwire doing what hundreds of others in the game did doesn't mean he should suffer some lifetime banishment or some faux condemnation from some self-appointed moral highground from clowns like me just because I've been lucky enough to have a podium from which to speak. If the public is willing to forgive so many other ballplayers, I have no problem with McGwire being granted the same second chance even if his apology is only all over TV, the radio, and the Internet today because of his new job. However, I do believe the sincerity level of his remorse is much higher than many of the other culprits from the Steroid Era. After all, he did plan to come clean in 2005...again, because he had to...but still...it's more than anyone else had done.

It's my belief McGwire is a good man who's absurdly shy. It's simple, I think: He loves the game of baseball, but he hates the bullshit that comes with it.

I guess you could say that about many of us, huh?

But, McGwire put much of this bullshit on himself. And, for that, I can't go into pat-on-the-ass mode.

I guess I'll have to finally, officially let September 8th, 1998 go now.

But, I'll hold on to the intent behind March 17th, 2005.

And, I'll hope good comes from January 11th, 2010.


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tmckernan@insidestl.com.

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