Editor's note: Steve Wilstein is a retired Associated Press columnist and author. His AP report on Mark McGwire's andro use in 1998 gave the public its first look at what became baseball's "Steroids Era." His work was cited as pivotal by former Sen. George Mitchell in his 2007 report to the commissioner of baseball on steroids in the sport. For other views on McGwire, read here and here
(CNN) -- Mark McGwire deserves a ban from baseball more than any sympathy.
It is sad to hear his quavery confession of a career filled with steroids, his sorrow over the pain it caused his family and fans, his revelation of a life of lies that burned inside him like a hidden disease and consumed the game he loved.
But for those of us who also love baseball, the damage he did was too deep and his further threat to the integrity of the game is too great to justify his return.
McGwire's entire playing career is indelibly stained and his judgment is not to be trusted. What else are we to make of a man who cheated and didn't come clean for 20 years? Can he be trusted to coach other players who may be using steroids? Is he fit for any job that is also a test of character and personal standards? Baseball should bar him from coaching and never again allow his name on a Hall of Fame ballot.
St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, McGwire's longtime apologist, is leading the charge to rehabilitate him in his new role as the Cardinals' batting coach, saying Monday's admission and expression of regret is worthy of respect.
This from a manager who either closed his eyes to drug use on his teams, didn't know what he should have known, or kept conspiratorially silent about it through all the years with McGwire on the Oakland Athletics (along with Jose Canseco) and on the Cards.
So, too, with commissioner Bud Selig and the Cardinals' general manager and the players who would like to see the whole cancer of steroids in baseball vanish in a wash of tears and belated contrition.
Not so fast.
A mea culpa doesn't undo the enormous harm that McGwire and his pumped-up colleagues inflicted on baseball -- worse than all the gambling that has kept Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame and from returning to the game.
McGwire chose the wrong path years ago and stayed on it -- making the mistake of all public figures who try to stonewall their way out of trouble, from Richard Nixon to Tiger Woods. In the end, everybody knows and many will forgive, but the guilty have to live with the consequences of their transgressions.
When I saw the then-legal steroid androstenedione in his locker and reported it during his glorious, now-bittersweet, 70-homer summer of '98, his first instinct was to deny it. Pressed, he admitted using it for more than a year and defended it. He lied about juicing up on more potent steroids and human growth hormone.
Now he wants to put behind him the past he famously refused to talk about with Congress when he was called to testify in 2005. He says it was hard to tell the truth to his family, but it's difficult to believe even that. One of his brothers had already revealed it. Didn't those close to him suspect what everyone else did as they watched him balloon into a freakish hulk during his career?
For two decades -- from the time McGwire now says he started using performance-enhancers, through his retirement in 2001 and self-imposed exile -- he cheated, covered up and remained ignobly quiet while others were exposed, prosecuted and punished. He put the "code of the clubhouse" above the truth in not speaking out about his and others' drug use years ago, at a time when he might have stopped a generation of young athletes from emulating his physique or gaining his advantages.
He put legal consequences ahead of baseball's reputation when he dodged questions from congressmen because he wasn't granted immunity. Could he be trusted to do the right thing if he comes across another player on drugs? He's a compromised man.
He still hasn't detailed all the drugs he used and where he got them, though his much-scorned former Bash Brother, Canseco, seems to have been the bearer of a fair amount of truth all along, no matter how self-serving or uncomfortable his revelations were to baseball.
McGwire explains away all his drug use by saying it was mainly to help him recover from injuries, not just to power him up to hit home runs. He argues that steroids and human growth hormone alone didn't make him a great slugger, saying that he had good and bad years when he was juiced, just as he had good years, such as his record-setting rookie season, when he claims he wasn't chemically enhanced. He trots out the fact that he always worked hard, on and off the field, and that he had God-given talent.
I believe him about all that, though no one should excuse him for it, as he seems to wish. But I believe, too, he became addicted to his strength, his size, the power it gave him, the high arc of his homers, even if he always felt awkward in the spotlight.
Anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs won't give a player the kind of hand-eye coordination, the skills, the quick, sweet swing that McGwire had that enabled him to launch so many balls so far. And he wouldn't have gotten so big, even with hundreds of injections, if he hadn't pumped iron day after day.
Sure, he put in the work in the gym, and, sure, he put in the hours at batting practice. But the drugs are what helped him put in those hours, enabled him to recover more quickly from workout to workout, to maintain a higher level of lean musculature and energy than those who played it straight. They were his shortcut to greatness at the plate.
If McGwire's admissions can serve any good now, it would be to prompt other steroid users to come clean. Confession is not only good for the soul, it would be very good for the game to get it all out now, once and for all.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Steve Wilstein.