Justice Is Served

January 15, 2010 1:57 AM

Reclusive McGwire should stay in hiding

The invisible man has reappeared. He's back in baseball, back where he always belonged, back where he had made a name for himself -- a name tarnished now, though.


His return was preordained -- really. Few men with high profiles walk away from the game and leave it in their rearview mirror. And Mark McGwire was hardly different. He was a star, after all; stars can't live without the attention and the adulation that stardom brings.

And not many athletes were as famous as Mark McGwire. Not many men are as infamous as Mark McGwire either.   

What fame he had has long since eroded, washed away in a flood of allegations about his use of steroids.

His assault on Roger Maris' record for homers during the summer of 1998 riveted the sports world. He and Sammy Sosa, a partner in the chase, were nightly fixtures on sports shows.

The two sluggers were the talk of the game, the toast of baseball. More than a few people have claimed McGwire and Sosa fueled the game's revival that summer of 1998.

Much has changed since '98. The allegations about what led to that power surge proved true. McGwire had artificial help. He abused steroids, although his recent confession didn't do anything but state the obvious.

His silence had said plenty already, and only the myopic in the baseball crowd needed to see McGwire confess to have their minds changed.  

To forgive is a wonderful trait to have. It's a decidedly American trait, one not easily discounted. Forgiveness is embedded in this American life, no more discarded than income taxes. Yet forgiveness carries with a heavy price tag when the betrayal was as naked as McGwire's was.  

For how do you forgive somebody who, regardless of his reason, took you from heaven to baseball hell?

In baseball terms, McGwire committed the ultimate betrayal. He cheated, and he turned the summer of 1998 into a fraud.

"I believe I was given this gift," he said in an interview on MLB Network. "The only reason I took steroids was for health purposes."

The sacred record McGwire broke crumpled under the power he used chemicals to enhance. So No. 61, the most revered number in the game, was washed from baseball's record books.

It didn't fall to hard work or to the relentless attention to detail needed to perform a skill at its highest; it was smashed to smithereens with the help only a chemist's handiwork can provide an athlete.

The game is forever wrecked because of it, and the game would have been better served if McGwire had remained a recluse.

But he's back - back in baseball, returning with more baggage to tow than a cargo ship. He's back to face questions about why, about how could he have cared so little about the game he professes to love.   

A thousand confessions won't end the questions. They will dog McGwire throughout his life, dog him the way gambling has dogged Pete Rose and steroids have dogged Barry Bonds, and Sosa, and Roger Clemens, an Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez and ... a generation of baseball stars.

A confession might cleanse a man's soul, but it can't erase the stain McGwire left on the summer of 1998; he cheated. Even worse, a confession alone can't make right what was so wrong.

McGwire's face and his name will forever remind baseball of an era its fans wish had never happened. More than a few of them regret McGwire didn't remain the invisible man. 

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