A suggestion for Major League Baseball: When it is time to replace Bud Selig as commissioner, forget businessmen, lawyers or charismatic leaders. Hire a priest.
Monday was Mark McGwire's turn in the confessional.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. A lot of those 583 home runs I hit in the major leagues were juiced, like me. The year I hit 70 and broke the cherished record of Roger Maris, they were all juiced, just like me. I am sorry. I was wrong.
The usual reaction these days is to give the player credit for fessing up and apologizing. There are 37 versions of that right now on MLB.com, which is, of course, owned by Major League Baseball. And those assessments are fair. It is never easy to stand up in public, where you were once cheered and idolized, and admit you were a cheater.
But when will the first public apology take place where there is nothing at stake, nothing forcing it except a throbbing conscience?
A-Rod did his mea culpa after he was caught by an enterprising reporter. Andy Pettitte did his to minimize the damage of the Mitchell Report, as his buddy, Roger Clemens, should have. Now, McGwire weighs in with spring training around the corner, his new job as hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals at hand and baseball writers circling.
If McGwire wanted the job, which he clearly does, then he had to put all the steroid stuff behind him at some point, and this was the best time. As his manager and friend, Tony La Russa, said earlier Monday in a phone interview, noting that the Cardinals had announced McGwire's hiring on the Monday before the World Series, "Baseball doesn't like other news during that time."
Especially this kind of news.
Now McGwire has said it, done the obligatory one-on-one with Bob Costas, and hopes to move on to undisturbed sunny days of nothing but balls and strikes and a blue Florida sky. If he is smart, he will give a few more interviews on the subject to confirm the sincerity of his apology. He probably even needs to do one of those spring training sit-downs, at a long table with 15 microphones, three dozen tape recorders and a roomful of reporters staring him in the face.
Gradually, it will be over. The sight of McGwire sitting in a dugout, or hanging around the batting cage, will become old hat. Our outrage over such things has been tempered now. We just shrug a lot. We are a nation that forgives, and we are very proud of that. Also, we have had lots of practice. We move so fast to acceptance that the damage along the way is long forgotten.
The excitement of the McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run race of 1998, the joy of the fans and rekindled appreciation of baseball, now adds up to millions of dollars spent on a fraud. Not much can be done now. At least in the Olympics, you have to give back the gold medal.
Steve Trachsel is a 39-year-old pitcher who last worked in the majors in 2008 for the Baltimore Orioles. He had a 16-year career with five teams, won 143 games while losing 159, and is best remembered, whether he wants to be or not, for giving up home run No. 62 to McGwire, the one that broke the Maris record.
Trachsel's dad, Roy, of Yorba Linda mused Monday about that home run, a two-iron shot down the left-field line that barely cleared the outfield fence.
"That sure was the shortest of his 70 that year," Roy Trachsel said, wondering how McGwire had been able to hit a pitch, so low on the plate, with such power. "We were amazed."
Probably not any longer.
McGwire's father, John, for years a well-known dentist in Pomona, may have to recall with sadness now those Claremont Rotary meetings where he would talk with such pride. Brothers J.J., the bodybuilder, and Dan, the former Seattle Seahawks quarterback, will feel the sting of this, even though they certainly knew.
Some remaining coaches and faculty at Damien High School, where his home runs were legendary, and at USC, where they were the same, will shake their heads, even though they certainly suspected.
His golfing buddies at Shady Canyon in Irvine, where he effectively disappeared behind the shrubbery for five years, will no longer wonder about those 320-yard drives, even though they probably never did.
And somewhere, Barry Bonds has to be thinking about how to be next.
Now is good. Go for it, Barry. Our hand-wringing, finger-pointing and payback-demanding days are gone. Put it behind you.
The era of steroids in baseball is over. We are on to the era of penitence.