WASHINGTON - To the man who brought Mark McGwire before Congress, and to so many people around baseball, it always was a matter of when - not whether - Big Mac would admit publicly that he had help from steroids when he was hitting all those homers.
"I think we all knew this. I don't think anybody's surprised by this," said former Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican who chaired the House Government Reform Committee on March 17, 2005, when McGwire evaded questions about performance-enhancing drugs.
In a telephone interview Monday with The Associated Press, Davis said he met for three hours with McGwire behind closed doors the day before that hearing. During that private session, according to Davis, McGwire made clear he had used steroids and wanted to say so but was worried he would face legal trouble.
"It was very clear to everybody involved that he had taken steroids. Otherwise he would have gotten up there and denied it, but he couldn't. ... He looked ridiculous to most of the public, but he didn't have many good options. We put him in a pretty tight spot," Davis said. "He was candid and honest in our interrogation of him. He said: 'Someday, I'll tell the story.'"
That day came Monday. McGwire acknowledged in a statement to The Associated Press that he used steroids as a player, including when he broke the single-season home run record in 1998.
"Maybe he's just trying to clean up the past a little bit and move forward," former major leaguer Greg Maddux said.
Maddux noted that McGwire was recently hired as the hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals. That new job cited by others, too, as a reason why they expected to hear McGwire come clean.
As commissioner Bud Selig put it in his statement: "This statement of contrition, I believe, will make Mark's re-entry into the game much smoother and easier."
In 2005, Davis' congressional panel heard more than 10 hours of testimony from Selig and other executives of baseball and its players' union; star players such as McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco; and others, including Donald Hooton, whose son committed suicide after using steroids.
Hooton was among those McGwire called Monday to discuss his admission
"I do think he can make a good spokesman on this topic," Hooton said. "Who better to describe what it's like to go to the mountaintop and now to be at the depths of the deepest valley for a mistake you made several years ago?"
McGwire himself noted Monday that the most recent image many people have of him is in a suit and tie, right hand raised to take an oath before Congress. Now he'll get the chance to be back in uniform as a coach - and as he returns to baseball, many wonder whether McGwire will one day be elected to the Hall of Fame.
In four appearances on the ballot, McGwire has hovered below 25 percent, not close to 75 percent needed for election.
Some baseball writers who vote for the Hall of Fame and have not backed McGwire in the past said Monday they didn't think Monday's news would change their stances on his candidacy - because they figured all along he had done steroids.
"That was a shocker, only in the fact he finally admitted it," said Bob Sherwin, a former Mariners beat writer and longtime member of the Seattle chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. "I'm not sure this brings him any closer to the Hall's threshold, but it does end the speculation that did nothing but harm his eligibility."
There are those who are sure McGwire's coming clean will bring him more votes, although perhaps not enough to get into the Hall.
"I think McGwire's Hall of Fame chances will be enhanced by his long-overdue admission, but he was more than 275 votes short this time, said Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a member of the writers' wing at Cooperstown. "That many voters are not going to change their minds."
Former player Willie McCovey, voted into the Hall of Fame in 1986, thinks McGwire belongs.
"Whether he took steroids or not, he did so much for baseball. He almost helped save baseball for a few years there," McCovey said. "I don't think he should be punished."