A tearful Mark McGwire has finally admitted what most fans have long suspected: His assault on baseball's record book was aided by steroids.
The 46-year-old retired slugger, who just rejoined his old team the St. Louis Cardinals as batting coach, famously refused to admit to cheating when he was hauled before a Congressional committee in 2005. But on Monday, he faced his past, in emotional interviews with MLB Network’s Bob Costas and The Associated Press that followed a written statement issued hours earlier.
"I wish I had never touched steroids," McGwire said in the statement. "It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.
Yet McGwire always "knew this day was going to come," he told the AP.
He said the hardest part about coming clean was breaking the news to his wife, parents, close friends and son, who had all been kept in in the dark.
McGwire hit a mind-boggling 70 home runs in 1998, besting Sammy Sosa's 66 as both players shattered Roger Maris' 37-year-old record of 61.
Maris’ family “has every right” to consider the baseball legend’s record the authentic one, McGwire told Costas on Monday night.
Rejoining the Cardinals and his former manager Tony La Russa seems to have prompted McGwire's decision to admit using steroids. La Russa, who also managed McGwire in Oakland, has long championed McGwire and lamented his tarnished reputation.
McGwire said he first used steroids between the 1989 and 1990 seasons after sweeping the World Series with the Oakland Athletics, and resumed doping after the 1993 season to come back from a heel injury.
McGwire also copped to using human growth hormone Monday after not including the detail in his initial statement.
“I did this for health purposes. There’s no way I did this for any type of strength purposes,” he told the AP.
At times in the interview, McGwire seemed to get defensive about how might be perceived and took pains to stress even his little league and high school records.
“There’s no way a pill or an injection will give you hand-eye coordination or the ability or the great mind that I’ve had as a baseball player,” he told the AP.
“I truly believe I was given the gifts from the Man Upstairs of being a home run hitter, ever since ... birth,” McGwire also said. “My first hit as a Little Leaguer was a home run. I mean, they still talk about the home runs I hit in high school, in Legion ball. I led the nation in home runs in college, and then all the way up to my rookie year, 49 home runs.
“But, starting ’93 to ’94, I thought it might help me, you know, where I’d get my body feeling normal, where I wasn’t a walking MASH unit,” he said.
McGwire, who followed up his record-breaking season with a 65-homer campaign, finished his career with 583 home runs. Those numbers would have once won him certain induction into baseball's Hall of Fame, but steroid suspicions have kept him out in the three years he's been eligible.
“This has nothing to do with the Hall of Fame,” he told the AP. “This has to do with me coming clean, getting it off my chest, and five years that I’ve held this in.”
He said he wanted to come clean when he appeared before Congress in 2005, but his lawyers advised he stay mum to keep from being charged criminally and having his friends and family subpoenaed before a grand jury.
“I wanted to get this off my chest, I wanted to move on, but unfortunately immunity was not granted,” McGwire told the AP.
“Every time I’d say, ‘I’m not going to talk about the past,’ I’d hear moanings back there. It was absolutely ripping my heart out,” he said, his voice cracking, the AP reported. “All I was worried about was protecting my family and myself. And I was willing to take the hit.”
McGwire’s lawyer, Mark Bierbower, confirmed to the AP he had told the slugger not to admit to anything while speaking before Congress.
McGwire's admission came nearly a year after New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez admitting juicing last February. Other players who have been suspected of cheating with steroids include Sosa, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, all of whom have steadfastly denied it.
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 in his statement. "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."
"After all this time, I want to come clean," he said. "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."