Mark McGwire can come out of hiding now. He can come out of exile and live in his own skin. When you can live there, it doesn't matter whether you're in the Hall of Fame, a place in which McGwire still doesn't belong.
McGwire already has had his enshrinement, as an icon in the American imagination when all of us got carried away with his achievement of breaking what was then the most revered record in sports - Roger Maris' mark for home runs in a season.
At the time, in September 1998, McGwire thanked everyone, including "The Man Upstairs," and added: "People say I brought the country together? So be it. I'm happy to bring the country together."
We all went along for the ride. Having witnessed McGwire's 62nd home run that season, yours truly wrote, "It just cleared the leftfield fence, then soared over baseball's entire history and landed with impact just about everywhere in the country."
We're not going to go through that again. No verbal ticker-tape parade, no teary acclamation allowing him into the game's hallowed Hall just because he finally came clean Mondayand admitted that he had used steroids.
What McGwire did Monday was all good. It took more strength than did all those mammoth home runs (and the fence-scraper that just sneaked out of the playing field to make history in 1998).
If he confessed Monday just to get himself into the Hall of Fame, tough luck. Anyway, he didn't sound as if he were using remorse as a ticket to immortality. He seemed to be trying to make amends with history, with all the people who used to be so thrilled and with The Man Upstairs.
Let's leave it at that. Let's hope we can all ask the same of ourselves.
Credit the Cardinals, his former team, and manager Tony La Russa for flushing out McGwire from his self-imposed Elba. They hired him as hitting coach, knowing that this day would have to come. Understood was that McGwire looked weak when he stonewalled a congressional committee in 2005. Understood was that McGwire has been a recluse since his 2001 retirement because he knew that we knew that he knew his biceps and his home runs had not been all natural.
By giving him a job in the big leagues, La Russa and the team forced him to 'fess up so he could go out into the world and get on with the rest of his life.
That probably will not involve an all-expenses-paid trip to Cooperstown. McGwire never has earned 25 percent of the votes for the Hall of Fame, far short of the 75 percent needed for induction. Don't expect that to change dramatically.
This is and always will be the hardest issue for those of us who vote. Do we give everyone a pass because just about everyone in a certain era was using performance-enhancing drugs? Do we reject only the guys who get caught? Do we give points for contrition? What about modern players who admit they used but insist they did it only a couple of times either because they were injured or thought they were taking cod liver oil in pill form?
I say we're just going to have to take it on a case-by-case basis. Despite having been on the 1998 home run tour with him and written very positively about it, I never have voted for McGwire and do not intend to. My feeling is that his candidacy comes solely from his 583 homers and, estimating from the timetable he gave Monday, all but 107 of those (pre-1990) are tainted.
But that doesn't take anything away from his coming clean. If he were in the Hall, he would see his likeness on a plaque once a year. Whether he's in or out, he must look in the mirror every day, and now the view is much better.