At last, Mark McGwire is ready to talk about the past.
The slugger admitted today in a statement released by the Cardinals to the Associated Press that he used steroids when he shattered baseball’s home run record in 1998, and revealed that he used them during several other points in his career.
In the statement, which was released by the Cardinals, the team he played for when he set the record and now works for as the hitting coach, McGwire said, “I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.”
McGwire, who retired from baseball after the 2001 season after hitting 583 home runs — including seasons of 52, 65, and his then-record 70 during the ’90s — has been in something of a self-imposed exile from the public eye, particularly since his poorly received appearance regarding steroid use in baseball during a congressional hearing in March 2005.
He refused to answer questions about steroid use during his playing career, flanked by lawyers and repeatedly telling a House committee he was “not here to talk about the past.”
Today, 12 years after he broke Roger Maris’s record of 61 set during the 1961 season, he brought the past to the present, telling the AP in an interview after the statement was released that he has been trying to mend fences, calling commissioner Bud Selig, among others, to apologize.
“It’s very emotional, it’s telling family members, friends and coaches, you know, it’s former teammates to try to get a hold of, you know, that I’m coming clean and being honest,” he said. “It’s the first time they’ve ever heard me, you know, talk about this. I hid it from everybody.”
McGwire said in the statement that he used steroids because of injuries, noting that he missed 228 games during a five-year stretch and was concerned about his inability to stay on the field. The AP also reported that source confirmed McGwire had used human-growth hormone, though there was no mention of that in his statement.
“I experienced a lot of injuries, including a rib cage strain, a torn left heel muscle, a stress fracture of the left heel, and a torn right heel muscle,” said McGwire in his statement. “It was definitely a miserable bunch of years, and I told myself that steroids could help me recover faster. I thought they would help me heal and prevent injuries, too.
“I remember trying steroids very briefly in the 1989/1990 off-season and then after I was injured in 1993, I used steroids again. I used them on occasion throughout the ’90s, including during the 1998 season.”
The timing of McGwire’s statement should not come as a surprise. He was named the Cardinals’ hitting coach in October, and the club said then that the former slugger, now 46, would make a statement about his past before spring training. Tony La Russa, who managed McGwire in Oakland and St. Louis, has long been a McGwire supporter.
And his tepid showing in the Hall of Fame balloting — he received just 23.7 percent of the vote this year, his best showing in four years on the ballot despite being eighth on the all-time home run list — also is a logical reason for speaking up and beginning the process of to salvaging his reputation and legacy.
“I never knew when, but I always knew this day would come,” McGwire said in the statement. “It’s time for me to talk about the past and to confirm what people have suspected.”
McGwire is hardly alone among sluggers of the pre-testing era to be connected to steroids and other performance enhancers. Barry Bonds, who broke McGwire’s single-season home run record in 2001 when he hit 73 and also shattered Hank Aaron’s career record, has denied knowingly using performance enhancers despite connections to BALCO. He has been indicted on charges that he made false statements to a grand jury, among other charges.
Other players whose names have been linked to PEDs include many of the biggest names of this era — among them Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Roger Clemens.
Sammy Sosa, who nearly matched McGwire homer-for-homer during the memorable summer of ’98, which helped rejuvenate baseball after the World Series was wiped out by the players’ strike in ’94, was reported to have failed a test in 2003. Like McGwire, he was similarly elusive during the 2005 congressional hearings, saying he struggled to understand English.
“After all this time, I want to come clean,” said McGwire. “I was not in a position to do that five years ago in my congressional testimony, but now I feel an obligation to discuss this and to answer questions about it. I’ll do that, and then I just want to help my team.”
McGwire was the American League Rookie of the Year with La Russa’s A’s in 1987, hitting 49 home runs while joining Jose Canseco — another admitted steroid user who has written two tell-all books about the subject, with the first one, titled “Juiced,” claiming that he had injected McGwire with steroids — as the A’s feared “Bash Brothers.”
McGwire, who was practically lanky as a rookie compared to his muscle-bound physique during his Cardinals heyday, said he understands if fans have doubts about the legitimacy of his career.
“I’m sure people will wonder if I could have hit all those home runs had I never taken steroids,” McGwire said. “I had good years when I didn’t take any, and I had bad years when I didn’t take any. I had good years when I took steroids, and I had bad years when I took steroids. But no matter what, I shouldn’t have done it and for that I’m truly sorry.”
* * *
McGwire is scheduled for an in-depth interview with the MLB Network’s Bob Costas tonight at 7 p.m.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.