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Mark McGwire doesn't get it

By Jeff Pearlman, Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jeff Pearlman says Mark McGwire owed (and delivered) apology to Roger Maris' wife, Pat
  • He says steroid user apologies have given a new, ignoble, meaning to "manning up"
  • Even Costas' questions couldn't get McGwire to show grasp of offense, he says
  • Pearlman: McGwire still doesn't see what he did
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Editor's note: Jeff Pearlman is a columnist for SI.com. You can visit his blog at www.jeffpearlman.com.

New York (CNN) -- He called the widow of Roger Maris a few days ago, a surprisingly bold move that surely resulted in one of the most awkward phone conversations this side of Bobby Kennedy-George Wallace.

Mark McGwire apparently felt it was the right thing to do.

And, indeed, he was correct. Pat Maris deserved to hear the words "I juiced" straight from the artificially enhanced horse's mouth; deserved to know why she and her family had unwittingly served as his official cardboard props some 12 years ago; why her late husband's single-season home run mark (arguably the most hallowed standard in all of American sports) had been tattered by a man boasting all the integrity of a Times Square pickpocket.

Think back, if you will, to September 8, 1998, when McGwire hit his record-breaking 62nd homer of the season at Busch Stadium, then immediately walked toward the stands to embrace the Maris children. Later, with tears streaming down his cheeks, McGwire told the media how, earlier that day, he had held the bat Roger Maris used when he set the old mark. "I touched it with my heart," he said. "When I did that, I knew tonight was going to be the night. I can say my bat will lie next to his, and I'm damn proud of it."

By all accounts, back then Pat Maris thought the large humanoid erasing her late husband from the record books to be an honorable fellow, one worthy of holding such a distinguished mark.

And now?

"I think she was shocked when I called," McGwire said yesterday in his interview with Bob Costas Video on the MLB Network. "She was disappointed and she has every right to be."

In case you haven't received the official memo, protocol dictates this as the time when we're supposed to forgive, forget and move forward. Yes, Mark McGwire used steroids and human growth hormone. Yes, it was against the law. Yes, they are termed performance-enhancing drugs for a reason. But in the world of Major League Baseball, where the phrase "manning up" is traditionally applied to an athlete playing through pain or putting on a particularly clutch display, a new, steroid-era definition has been established:

Manning Up (verb): When someone is caught cheating and, following a lengthy period of silence and/or denial, has no choice but to vaguely express remorse/regret or suffer unofficial banishment and a lifetime of Holiday Inn banquet room autograph shows for $15 a pop alongside Erin Moran and the robot girl from Small Wonder. The fawning sports media will immediately compliment his courage and welcome him back with open arms.

So, like Jason Giambi and Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez before him, Mark McGwire finally "manned up."

Twelve years after shattering Maris' record, five years after his embarrassing, I'm-not-here-to-discuss-the-past congressional testimony, the deflated Paul Bunyan of baseball told us that he used PED, and that he was very, very wrong.

Well, very wrong.

Well, pretty wrong.

Well, sorta wrong.

Well, uh, not really wrong at all.

Between the tears and sniffles and awkward pauses, McGwire apologized for, ahem, nothing. Costas asked whether he thought he would have hit 70 home runs without steroids. "Absolutely," McGwire said. "I was given this gift by the man upstairs."

Costas asked whether the steroids made him stronger. "The only reason I took steroids was for my health purposes," McGwire said. "I did not take steroids to get any gain for any strength purposes." Costas asked which drugs he had used. "The names," McGwire said, "I don't remember." Heck, Costas tossed the ultimate underhand softball question, just to help a guy out--Did McGwire feel as if he was cheating?

"As I look back now as far as my health and my injuries, trying to help my injuries to help me feel normal, I can see why people would say that," he said. "As far as the God-given talent and hand-eye coordination and the genetics I was given, I don't see it."

And there lies the reason I have trouble forgiving and forgetting: Mark McGwire doesn't see it.

By using PED, he didn't merely take Maris' record. No, McGwire made millions in endorsements that should have gone elsewhere. He was selected to All-Star Games that should have featured other players. He won Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year as other candidates were overlooked. He convinced a nation of baseball fans that they were witnessing history--real, honest-to-goodness history--when, in fact, it was all a WWE-styled illusion.

Pat Maris received her phone call. Will you be getting yours?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jeff Pearlman.