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Will we ever forgive McGwire and the Steroid Era?

Mark McGwire finally admitted to using steroids on

Mark McGwire finally admitted to using steroids on Jan. 11, 2009. Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images (2001)

Remove Mark McGwire's name from his statistics and forget all about steroids and his embarrassing performance in front of Congress. Just for a second, I promise.

Do those statistics that you see there - namely the 583 home runs to go along with the .394 OBP, .588 SLG, 162 OPS+ - warrant a spot in the Hall of Fame? I think we all can agree they do.

But put McGwire's name back on those statistics and it changes everything. The statistics that are most definitely Hall-worthy are, well, tainted. We have more than enough reason to believe those numbers were not accomplished in a clean fashion.

Nine years into his retirement and four years into his Hall of Fame balloting, there is still no easy answer as to how to treat his baseball career, his legacy and, most interesting of all, his candidacy.

That point was driven home yet again Wednesday, as McGwire's hopes for the Hall of Fame once again remained stagnant. He received 23.7 percent of the vote, which falls in line with his first three years on the ballot (23.5 in '07, 23.6 in '08 and 21.9 in '09).

What we're seeing here is the first true test case for a player from the steroid era's place in the Hall of Fame. This is an important discussion because it's going to come up again and again in the coming years - every time baseball writers with at least 10 years of experience get to cast their votes.

Rafael Palmeiro, for example, appears on the ballot next year.

The case for not voting for McGwire is an easy one. Bottom line: It just doesn't feel right celebrating a person's career when there is enough evidence to reasonably believe it was aided by performance-enhancing drugs.

But looking the other way and hoping everyone just forgets about those players doesn't seem right, either.

I really thought McGwire would take a jump up this year, perhaps up to 30 percent, given that in the past year, three of the best offensive players in the game - Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz - have been linked to performance-enhancers. (A-Rod admitted it, Manny blamed a female fertility drug and Ortiz denied it.)

Seeing those names connected with PEDs once again drove home the point that for a lengthy period of time the game was not clean. Many, many players used performance-enhancing drugs, which in turn enhanced their statistics. Some we know about. Many we don't. And therein lies the problem.

It makes sense that you're comfortable not voting someone in who you believe did steroids. But how comfortable are you about voting someone in who did steroids, and you just don't know about it?

There are no easy answers here, but perhaps the start to this whole process is simply accepting we can't change history. We can't close our eyes and pretend some players never existed. Maybe more good might come out of embracing the past, as ugly as it might be, instead of ignoring it.

Maybe, by simply having McGwire's plaque on display in the Hall of Fame - where his statistical career belongs - we give parents a chance to explain to their sons what he - and so many others - are believed to have done along the way.

Maybe that will help our future generations learn from the past and not commit the same mistakes, rather than teaching them the lesson it's best to look the other way and maybe it will all go away.

Of course all of this would be made so much easier if McGwire would just talk about the past, give his fans something. That could happen soon.

He's returning to baseball as the Cardinals hitting coach this year after several years in hiding, and while he owes nothing to anyone, he can certainly help this process along by, well, talking about the past.

Tony LaRussa told the Contra Costa Times in Thursday's edition, "when he comes forward and whatever's said, we'll be able to go forward."

In the meantime it feels as if we've just been standing in place on this issue, for way too long.

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