Mark McGwire finally came clean, admitting he used steroids when he broke baseball's home run record in 1998.
McGwire said in a statement Monday that he used steroids on and off for nearly a decade.
“It’s very emotional, it’s telling family members, friends and coaches, you know, it’s former teammates to try to get ahold of, you know, that I’m coming clean and being honest,” he said during a 20-minute telephone interview, his voice repeatedly cracking. “It’s the first time they’ve ever heard me, you know, talk about this. I hid it from everybody.”
McGwire said he also used human growth hormone, and he didn’t know if his use of performance-enhancing drugs contributed to some of the injuries that led to his retirement, at age 38, in 2001.
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“That’s a good question,” he said.
He repeatedly expressed regret for his decision to use steroids, which he said was “foolish” and caused by his desire to overcome injuries, get back on the field and prove he was worth his multimillion salary.
“You don’t know that you’ll ever have to talk about the skeleton in your closet on a national level,” he said. “I did this for health purposes. There’s no way I did this for any type of strength use.”
McGwire hit a then-record 70 homers in 1998 during a compelling race with Sammy Sosa, who finished with 66. More than anything else, the home-run spree revitalized baseball following the crippling strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series.
Now that McGwire has come clean, increased glare might fall on Sosa, who has denied using performing-enhancing drugs.
“I wish I had never played during the steroid era,” McGwire said.
McGwire’s decision to admit using steroids was prompted by his decision to become hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals, his final big league team. Tony La Russa, McGwire’s manager in Oakland and St. Louis, has been among McGwire’s biggest supporters and thinks returning to the field can restore the former slugger’s reputation.
“I never knew when, but I always knew this day would come,” McGwire said. “It’s time for me to talk about the past and to confirm what people have suspected.”
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig also praised McGwire, saying, “This statement of contrition, I believe, will make Mark’s re-entry into the game much smoother and easier.”
McGwire became the second major baseball star in less than a year to admit using illegal steroids, following the New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez last February.
Others have been tainted but have denied knowingly using illegal drugs, including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and David Ortiz.
Bonds has been indicted on charges he made false statements to a federal grand jury and obstructed justice. Clemens is under investigation by a federal grand jury trying to determine whether he lied to a congressional committee.
“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.”
Big Mac’s reputation has been in tatters since March 17, 2005, when he refused to answer questions at a congressional hearing. Instead, he repeatedly said, “I’m not here to talk about the past” when asked whether he took illegal steroids when he went on that 70-homer rampage in 1998 or at any other time.