It is time for Major League Baseball to rent a ballroom, set up television cameras, and invite all the players from the 1980s and '90s to tell their steroid stories.

It is time for a Baseball Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The rules are simple: Tell what you did and when, spare no details, and everyone agrees to close the file. No more speculation. No more whispered accusations. No more double-talk.

Everyone acknowledges that MLB slipped off the tracks and that everyone from the commissioners to the owners to the trainers to the players' association to individual players to the media bears some responsibility. Even the players who didn't use steroids, but who kept quiet about the terribly kept secret that their sport was filthy, are culpable.

Truth and Reconciliation. They must be linked. If that approach helped a country as bitterly divided as South Africa move on from the horrors of apartheid, it should do wonders for baseball's recovery from an era of steroid-tainted performance and record-breaking.

The alternative is an endless parade of Mark McGwire confessions and Alex Rodriguez sit-downs - players telling part of the truth when it benefits them, but keeping things as fuzzy as possible for as long as possible.

McGwire tells Bob Costas he took steroids to recover from injuries, not to bulk up and hit baseballs farther, and we're supposed to praise him for finally telling the truth? Not so fast there, Andro Breath.

The illogic is as stunning as ever. Players cheated during that era because it worked. Their grotesque physiques, bloated numbers, and inflated salaries are all the proof any sane person needs. It is heaping insult upon injury to the game of baseball for these guys to pretend they didn't know what they were taking and didn't do it to enhance performance.

It is more likely that many of McGwire's nagging injuries were a result of his drug abuse. Over-strengthening some parts of the body puts undue strain on other parts. This is straight out of Steroids 101.

There are at least three reasons McGwire, Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, and others fudge the details.

One, the full truth would show that they deliberately set out to cheat and engaged in well-planned regimens of regular use of illegal steroids and other performance enhancers. That sounds so much worse than "my cousin bought some boli and we didn't know what we were doing."

Two, there is tremendous ego attached to their accomplishments. It is very hard for players to let go of that, especially when they can rationalize that they hit all those homers against pitchers who were just as juiced, or threw those fastballs past cartoonishly pumped-up hitters.

Three, there are legal ramifications. We are talking about the buying, selling, and consumption of illegal drugs. Not only do the players face criminal prosecution, their admissions could lead to consequences for teammates and friends who provided the drugs.

For those and other reasons, even players who acknowledge steroid use do so in the hazy, carefully calibrated way McGwire did it. They say what they hope will be enough to buy them sympathy from a naturally forgiving public, but leave much more important and relevant information out.

And so it is time - actually past time - for America's pastime to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Every player of the era will be invited to speak, tell the full truth, and be granted official amnesty. As long as the players come clean, they are free to work in baseball, in broadcasting, and for all post-career honors, including the Hall of Fame.

It is past time for the pastime to replace its culture of lying and cheating and secrecy with one of openness, honesty, and fair play. The era was tainted, everyone had a hand in it, so let's acknowledge that and move on.

The record books will simply acknowledge that numbers from that era were posted when the game was dominated by performance-enhancing drugs. Those records will be viewed in context, just as Babe Ruth's records are understood in the historical context of segregation and the end of the dead-ball era.

The alternative is to drag this out for years and years. Eventually, Barry Bonds will publish the tell-all book and Sammy Sosa will come clean on the MLB Network and on and on. Meanwhile, the equally ego-driven voters in the Baseball Writers' Association of America will try to read minds and parse public comments in deciding who gets into the Hall of Fame and who doesn't.

Exposed cheaters will be banned while equally dirty but luckier players get enshrined. The whole mess will never really be cleaned up.

Rent a ballroom. Rent one in every big-league city. Set up cameras and invite everyone who wore a uniform in the last 25 years to tell the truth.

Truth and Reconciliation. It is time.

Phil Sheridan:

Selective media

Mark McGwire's MLB Network interview illustrates the changing landscape of new media and news coverage.

A1.

Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.