Once, he seemed enormous. Both in stature and in deed. He hit home runs at a more rapid pace than anyone had ever seen, and he hit all the right notes when it came to sharing his accomplishments with the world.
Now, all these years later, the marvel that was Mark McGwire has faded. It's true his name is still famous, and his words can still create headlines, but the sense of wonder has given way to a gradual feeling of indifference.
Steroids? Tears? Apologies?
Yeah, what else have you got?
That's what struck me most upon hearing McGwire's carefully planned confession Monday. It wasn't shock. It wasn't outrage. It wasn't sympathy. Those days passed about a dozen failed tests, tell-all books and grand jury testimonies ago.
What amazed me was that I really didn't care all that much. Like a lot of other people, I had long ago come to the conclusion that McGwire was juiced in the 1990s, and hearing him admit it did not bring a lump to my throat or a curse to my lips.
If anything, it made me recognize just how numb we've become to the topic. This would have been stop-the-presses material in 2003. Or '04. Or '05. But we've since followed the BALCO trial, we've read Jose Canseco's book, we've seen Roger Clemens on 60 Minutes, and we've mocked Alex Rodriguez with his sweater and orange makeup.
So just how compelling is the confession of a guy who hasn't played a game in more than eight years?
Don't get me wrong. I think McGwire did the right thing Monday. The truth is always a good idea, particularly when much of the world believes you're a fraud.
But I don't know that McGwire's admission changes history all that much. At best, it reinforces the notion that the steroid era was a somewhat quantifiable period in baseball history. Just like the Dead Ball era in the early 1900s. Or the higher mounds of the '60s, and the artificial turf teams of the '70s and '80s.
If you don't think so, consider this:
The six greatest home run seasons in history are lumped in a four-year span from 1998 to 2001. That's a coincidental convergence of power, don't you think? Particularly if you consider the next-best seasons are spread over an 86-year span from 1921 to 2006.
So do you think steroids might have had something to do with all of those great home run seasons from 1998 to 2001? Especially since the three players we're talking about — McGwire, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa — have all been linked to performance-enhancing drugs?
That's why it was a little disingenuous of McGwire to insist — as he did on MLB Network on Monday night — that he could have hit the same number of home runs without using steroids. If you're going to admit you were part of an era, at least have the decency to acknowledge it might have had some impact on your performance.
But, I suppose, that's nitpicking. For the most part, McGwire handled Monday's announcement correctly. He called Roger Maris' widow and apologized. He answered questions from a select group of reporters and broadcasters. He appeared more contrite than defiant.
And he was honest enough to admit that the only reason he was coming forward now was because he has accepted a job as the Cardinals hitting instructor and knew he had to eventually address these questions.
It also helps that McGwire hasn't been caught in a web of lies. He had never really denied steroid use. Not the way Bonds and Clemens have. Instead, McGwire went into exile after his retirement and showed up in public only on his own terms.
The greatest blow to his image was in 2005 when McGwire was called to testify before Congress and famously repeated that he was not there to talk about the past. He now says he only did that because he was not granted immunity before his testimony.
In the end, I don't think McGwire was a victim or a villain. He was merely a product of his times. He wasn't the first to use steroids, and you can be absolutely certain he wasn't the last. His crime was that he was one of the best, and for that, some will never forgive him.
They say the truth will set you free, but I don't know that it can change your legacy. Not when you waited this long to reveal it. Maybe it would have been different if McGwire had come clean long ago, but we'll never know.
To put it another way:
I am not here to talk about your past.
It no longer interests me.