So, Mark McGwire is officially on the ballot for the Hall of Fame.

Good for him. Surely it was a coincidence that it happened just before his new book comes out.

You know the one. It’s been all over the news.

His publisher says she sees it as a confession. And with a title like “If I Did It,” it surely sounds like one.

Anyway, I was lucky enough to get an advance copy. You wouldn’t believe the stories he tells.

First of all, he never really liked Sammy Sosa. Hard to when the guy kept pounding his chest like he was trying to defibrilate himself, and took a victory lap every time he went to the outfield.

Then all of a sudden he can’t understand English when we went to Congress together?

And the whole huggy-kissy thing with the family of Roger Maris? Turns out that was put into the script by the folks at Major League Baseball.

Made up, just like those home run numbers in the record books.

Remember the scene in the locker room when they brought McGwire the bat Maris used to hit No. 61 just before he went out and hit No. 62? Hard to believe that kind of dialogue made its way off a Hollywood set and onto the sports pages.

“I touched it,” McGwire said of the bat, fighting back tears. “I touched it to my heart.”

Hmmm. Wonder why McGwire didn’t try that one when he went before Congress. Those guys are always saps for a tender story, and the one McGwire tried to sell them about moving forward and forgetting the past didn’t exactly work.

OK, so there really isn’t a book. Turns out O.J. Simpson already had the same title for his tell-all, and there’s no sense confusing this with, well, whatever O.J. actually did.

People are confused enough as it is.

Confused about just what McGwire did to turn himself into a gargantuan freak of a player and hit 70 home runs in one season. Was it the Andro? Steroids? Chocolate milk and donuts?

They’re confused about why McGwire went before a House committee and refused to talk about what he might have done to hit so many home runs. Mobsters are supposed to take the Fifth, not baseball players.

They’re confused about why he hasn’t followed up on his pledge to becoming a public spokesman for baseball to warn kids of the dangers of drugs. The incredibly shrinking McGwire is harder to find these days than a $1.50 gallon of gasoline.

Finally, they’re confused about how he can be on the ballot for the Hall of Fame when Maris himself was never inducted.

Luckily, the people who vote for the Hall of Fame aren’t so confused. They’re the 575 or so members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who are charged with protecting the legacy of the game, and they take their responsibilities quite seriously.

That’s why McGwire won’t likely be joining Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn when this year’s class is enshrined.

True, the same writers gave McGwire a pass by leading the cheerleading when really Big Mac and Sammy were slugging all those home runs back in 1998. Though something was clearly amiss then, few writers questioned it, because they were as anxious as everyone in baseball to erase the taint of the 1994 strike that canceled the World Series.

But they’ve got a chance to make amends now. And thanks to Jose Canseco, Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds and everyone who knows full well what BALCO stands for, they also understand now what happened the day baseball sold its soul to win back its fans.

Bud Selig and his millionaire owners could have already taken care of this by erasing the home run marks set by both McGwire and Bonds and restoring Maris as the single-season home run king. But they were too busy getting taxpayers to build them new stadiums to worry about it.

So the writers will try to help right a wrong. And, judging from a survey conducted by The Associated Press, they plan to do just that.

The AP contacted some 150 baseball writers, and 125 responded – about 20 percent of eligible voters, a lot better sampling than you’ll get in any exit poll. Among those who had made up their minds, the vote was 3-1 against Big Mac ever seeing the inside of Cooperstown without buying a ticket.

All had their reasons. I particularly liked the one from Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News.

“He doesn’t want to talk about the past?” McCoy said. “Then I don’t want to consider his past.”

That alone is good enough for me.

McGwire became a very wealthy man playing baseball, and it wasn’t just because some team owner gave him his millions. That money came from fans who bought tickets, fans who scraped together enough money to bring their kids to the game to watch him play.

McGwire owes those fans something for their money.

If he didn’t do anything wrong, he should have taken the opportunity while under oath before Congress to say so. He didn’t, so now those fans and writers simply – and rightfully so – assume the worst.

McGwire may still some day go into the Hall of Fame. But it’s not going to happen until he comes clean – really clean.

Something tells me that just saying “If I Did It” won’t be good enough.



Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org

AP-ES-11-28-06 1850EST


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