First of all, my apologies for the long-ish absence. Here are four excuses behind that absence. Three are true, one fabricated. Try and guess the fake one:

A) Mrs. Insider and I celebrated our anniversary.

B) My son has been sick.

C) While working on my laptop, I spilled a can of Coke, and it infiltrated the keyboard, disabling the "N" and "Y" keys - particularly troubling, given the state in which Newsday resides.

D) I have been intimately involved in the plans for Derek Jeter's wedding.

Anywho, thanks, as always, to Peter King for the "I think I think" shtick.

1. I think Mark McGwire believes his own nonsense about steroids not contributing to his mammoth home run totals. Call it a mix of pride and stupidity. But I think those comments will prove to be irrelevant for the duration of McGwire's time in baseball.

Forget about the Hall of Fame. McGwire's little Contrition Tour won't impact my opinion on his Hall of Fame candidacy _ at least, I think it won't. I would hope that it wouldn't matter for any voter. Either you believe that illegal PED users go in, or you think they shouldn't. We already held incredibly strong suspicisions that McGwire was an illegal PED user before he admitted as much.

No, what matters most, from an analytical standpoint, is this: Has McGwire done enough to make this a non-story for the 2010 Cardinals? After all, the clear reason behind the timing of this tour is that McGwire is returning to the game as St. Louis' hitting coach.

My sense is, not yet.

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I've never been a public-relations official, but the logic seems simple enough: Feed the beast. The more details you give the public, the quicker you move on. See how it worked for Andy Pettitte, once he opened up. Or, in a non-sports venue, David Letterman.

McGwire hasn't given enough, for that purpose. He's left holes for people to pursue: Where did he get the drugs? Who introduced them to him? Did he really never discuss steroids with other players? That seems hard to fathom.

There will be media folk trying to answer these questions. And every time a morsel of information surfaces, the Cardinals _ perhaps the least media-friendly organization in all of baseball _ will be an unwanted center of attention.

It's a different calculus with a controversial coach than with a controversial player. For whatever distractions Alex Rodriguez caused due to his admissions last year, he more then compensated with his outstanding performance. The same goes for Barry Bonds, during the time when he generated more media attention than the rest of the Giants combined.

But if McGwire can't get out from under this thing? He's only going to provide so much value as a hitting coach. There are probably 20 guys, either in the minor leagues or in other capacities around the game - that aren't currently working as a hitting coach for one of the other 29 teams, in other words - that could do just as good a job as the Cardinals' hitting coach.

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I might very well be alarmist, at this early juncture. I'll apologize down the road if that proves to be the case. But based on what McGwire has and hasn't said these last two days, I'm now going to discuss with my boss (no, not that boss) the increased news value of being in Cardinals camp the day McGwire shows up. Because his tour, IMO, has only heightened the anticipation of that day.

2. I think, to reiterate, these two days won't impact my sense of McGwire's Cooperstown candidacy. As I wrote at the time, I already believed, strongly, that McGwire used steroids when I voted "Yes." It just doesn't matter. Not when no rule existed, on baseball's books, that banned illegal PEDs.

3. I think, does anyone know whether Mike and Mike still have a "Just Shut Up!" award? From this, it appears they do. Because Bud Selig is this week's clear winner.

Did you see Selig's statement? Gooooood Lorrrrrd. Talk about injecting yourself (pun intended) into a story and sullying it further.

First of all, enough already with the self-congratulatory references to the Mitchell Report. Every time we have another steroids confession who evaded the grasp of the noted tobacco lobbyist Mitchell, it makes the report appear all the more impotent.

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We get it - the report kept Congress off baseball's back, and kudos to Selig for that. But he shouldn't use it as a shield against criticisms of his legacy, because - to the contrary - the Mitchell Report is a negative on Selig's ledger. It exemplifies how Selig opted for self-preservation - choosing an investigator who laughed when I asked him, on the day of the introductory news conference whether Selig himself would be interviewed - over a true, internal investigation.

Second of all, "The so-called 'steroid era' ... is clearly a thing of the past"? Seriously? Selig is certain of this? There's no chance that the next generation's Victor Conte is out there right now, aiding players with some ultra-advanced enhancer that beats the drug tests?

Some people never learn.

4. I think I'm going to respectably disagree with my friend Tyler Kepner of The New York Times, who, in this story, writes of McGwire's prime time as "a synthetic era in baseball history."

I say, it's no more synthetic than every game played before 1947, when only white players competed. Or, all the more so, before 1919, when only white players competed AND we'll never know precisely how much pull gamblers had.

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Hank Aaron benefited from playing his home games for nine years in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, a hitter-friendly place. Willie Mays played his home games in 14-plus seasons in Candlestick Park, a pitcher-friendly place. Given how much we truly don't know about the impact of steroids, can we say for sure that the ballpark differential wasn't just as big a factor as illegal PEDs?

Every era is "synthetic," in that looking at statistics without context is fruitless. You always need context. Some contexts are more distasteful than others, clearly. But to discuss the history of the game, and to say that the record book was decimated in the late '90s? I dont buy it. It never has been "clean." It can't be.

5. I think I've just about had it with the Jose Canseco bashing. Here's what McGwire told ESPN's Bob Ley yesterday, responding to Canseco's assertion that he injected McGwire back in the day:

"Jose is out there doing what he's doing, but I'm not going to stoop down to his level."

Seriously? McGwire says he's not going to stoop down to Canseco's level.

I dunno. In my estimation, Canseco would have to stoop to get to McGwire's level.

No one is pure here. Not Canseco, not McGwire, not Selig, not the Players Association, certainly not me or any other member of the media who covered this time and didn't raise enough skepticism.

But if we really want to discuss who brought about change in the game? Who moved things forward from a Wild West-style atmosphere to one in which, at the least, players have to work a little harder to cheat?

Then you need to thank Jose Canseco.

Without "Juiced," there's no 2005 Congressional hearing, and McGwire probably harbors his secret for the rest of his life. And we never get Rafael Palmeiro's finger-wagging moment. And we therefore never learn of Miguel Tejada's B-12 shots. And Tejada doesn't wind up as the one player actually disciplined by the U.S. justice system.

And there's probably no Mitchell Report, which means that Roger Clemens isn't an un-person at the moment. And Canseco doesn't write a second book in which he throws A-Rod's name out there. And maybe A-Rod's indiscretion never emerges.

And there's no tougher drug-testing program. Remember, when Canseco published his book, the system had just been tweaked to mandate a 10-day suspension for a first offense. Now there's have a 50-day suspension for the first offense. Talk about enhancement

Shoot, if Canseco doesn't qualify for the Hall of Fame as a player, should we start considering him in the "Executives and Pioneers" category?

McGwire owes Canseco an apology, as far as I'm concerned. So does Tony La Russa, who worked his darndest to discredit Canseco when the first book came out. So do Selig and the Players Association leadership.

If it's really "about the kids" and all of that crap, then no one has done more to help the kids than Canseco. Who cares what his motivations are? The results are indisputable.

In the meantime, I'd pay $10 to see McGwire and Canseco square off in Canseco's polygraph challenge.

-I'll try to stop by again this week, and then I'm back on the clock Monday.