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McGwire clears up one cloud over baseball, but many remain

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Tracy Ringolsby

Tracy Ringolsby is a Hall of Fame baseball writer. He is in his 37th year covering Major League Baseball, is a co-founder of Baseball America, and is in his fourth year as pregame and postgame analyst for Colorado Rockies games on Root Sports.

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The cleansing process continues for Major League Baseball.

Thanks to Mark McGwire, the game is now another step closer to being able to close the book on a period of shame.

Commissioner Bud Selig and the Major League Baseball Players Association have implemented drug testing in recent years to eradicate the taint of performance-enhancing drugs, but a stench hangs over the game because of the suspicions of who did what prior to the inevitable stern testing.

The feel-good moments of the late '90s when McGwire and Sammy Sosa were luring fans back to a game torn apart by longstanding labor unrest have turned to painful suspicions that all wasn’t fair in the war on the baseball field.

To McGwire’s credit, at least he never made a public denial of using steroids, unlike a Rafael Palmeiro, who flat-out lied under oath. McGwire simply refused to discuss the matter, even when called upon by a Congressional committee, which fueled the speculation that McGwire was an abuser.

Finally, on Monday, McGwire came clean.

It was, undoubtedly, an admission he had to make because he wanted to get back into the game. To hire him as the hitting coach, the St. Louis Cardinals needed McGwire to provide a resounding answer to his steroid questions before spring training started and he became a distraction to what the team wanted to accomplish.

Now, if baseball could somehow wave a wand and clear up the uncertainty that hangs over others from that PED-tainted era it could move on and allow that shady part of its past get pushed into a corner — much like the cocaine scandals of the late '70s and early '80s that ravaged the game or the amphetamines that were such a staple in the days of Pete Rose have become an afterthought.

But is is hard to move on when unfinished business remains. Embracing the game’s drug-testing program seems so half-hearted because of the questions that remain from before the testing program was put in place.

It doesn’t make everything OK to have admissions or factual revelations — like Alex Rodriguez being outed from the testing plan that was supposed to be confidential — but it does, at least, bring closure.

But until a definitive answer is provided for the questions that still remain about a Sosa or Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, baseball will live with the cloud hovering.

Two cents worth of offseason notes:

• The Chicago Cubs reportedly have promised Andre Dawson to retire his number if he has the Cubs cap on his Hall of Fame plaque. That’s why the Hall of Fame has made it clear that it makes the decision on the hat a player is honored with. They don’t want teams pressuring players or buying the recognition in Cooperstown.

• Dawson belongs in a Montreal hat. Yes, he won an MVP with the Cubs in 1987, but he originally signed with Montreal, and he was an Expo longer than he was with any other team.

Want some stats? Eleven of his 21 big-league seasons were spent in Montreal. He appeared in 1,443 of his 2,627 career games with the Expos, had 225 of his 438 Home runs, 838 of his 1,591 RBI and 2523 of his 314 stolen bases there. He appeared in 10 of his career 15 postseason games with the Expos, and he won six of his eight Gold Gloves with Montreal. In addition to spending six years with the Cubs and 11 with Montreal, Dawson also played two with Boston and two with Florida.

• Future decisions that figure to await the Hall will involve Bert Blyleven, who should go in as a Minnesota Twins pitcher, and Mike Piazza, who should go in as a Los Angeles Dodgers catcher. A tough decision will be on Roberto Alomar. Arguments could be made for him with Toronto, where he played the longest, Cleveland, where he had his best seasons, and San Diego, where he began his career.

• The most intriguing list of first-year candidates looms in 2013 when Barry Bonds, Robert Clemens, Mike Piazza and Sammy Sosa all make their debuts. Jeff Bagwell, who unlike the other four hasn’t been tainted by rumors and innuendos of PEDs, also will be a first-time candidate that year. The feel-good year will be 2014, when Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine headline a rookie class that will also include debates on the worthiness of Mike Mussina and Frank Thomas.

• Randy Johnson has officially retired, no surprise. What might surprise some is that not only does Johnson want to stay active in the game, but he would like to do it at the lower levels in the minor leagues. The Big Unit feels that young players will be more receptive students.

Johnson proved to be an excellent mentor in his season with San Francisco. He emphasized to Tim Lincecum that winning a Cy Young was no reason to relax. "I told him my best year was when I won my first Cy Young,’’ said Johnson. He stressed to Matt Cain that if he wanted to avoid no-decisions he needed to pitch seven innings more often because it’s in the sixth and seventh inning that teams use their lesser relievers. He used his own career to get Jonathan Sanchez focused on being more aggressive and throwing more strikes.

• After watching the market for 2B Orlando Hudson disappear last offseason, and seeing the talented switch-hitter sign with the Dodgers for a guarantee of $3.38 million, teams appear to be waiting for the market to fall apart this year for the likes of Hudson, Miguel Tejada and Orlando Cabrera. Tejada has come to grips with reality, and is making it clear that he will move off of shortstop, where he no longer has the range to be a defensive impact player. He still has the bat, however, to make an impact at second or third.

Jason Giambi projects quite nicely with St. Louis. Giambi, who is a marvelous influence in the clubhouse, showed with Colorado in September that he still has what it takes to deliver key hits, but he can’t be expected to carry the workload he was given earlier in the season in Oakland.

The Cardinals needed a left-handed bat off the bench and Giambi would give them an occasional replacement at first base so Albert Pujols can take a day off. Giambi was mentored early in his career by Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire, who was eventually traded to St. Louis during the 1997 season to make room for Giambi in Oakland. The A’s manager in Giambi’s rookie year was current Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

• The smartest decision of the offseason was by Matt Holliday to re-sign with St. Louis. Holliday received plenty of money (seven years, $120 million), but more importantly, Holliday found a comfort zone in St. Louis, where the loyal and educated fan base is a much better fit with his sensitive and low-key personality. Besides, unlike Baltimore, the only known suitor other than the Cardinals, where Holliday would have become the face of the franchise, in St. Louis he has Albert Pujols to deal with expectations of being the main guy in the lineup.

Tagged: Twins, Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals, Jason Giambi

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