NEW YORK — Mark McGwire’s voice repeatedly cracked with emotion during a telephone interview with The Associated Press as he recounted telling his wife, parents and son that he had used steroids.
His voice breaking, McGwire says, “It’s the first time they’ve ever heard me, you know, talk about this. I hid it from everybody.”
During a 20-minute phone call Monday, McGwire says he called commissioner Bud Selig and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa earlier in the day to personally apologize.
McGwire said earlier in a statement sent to The Associated Press on Monday that he used steroids on and off for nearly a decade.
“I wish I had never touched steroids,” McGwire said in a statement. “It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.”
McGwire also used human growth hormone, a person close to McGwire said, speaking on condition of anonymity because McGwire didn’t include that detail in his statement.
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.”
He 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, Sammy Sosa 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 hit a then-record 70 home runs in 1998 or at any other time.
“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.”
The person close to McGwire said McGwire made the decision not to answer questions at that hearing on the advice of his lawyers.
McGwire disappeared from the public eye following his retirement as a player following the 2001 season. When the Cardinals hired the 47-year-old as coach on Oct. 26, they said he would address questions before spring training, and Monday’s statement broke his silence.
“I remember trying steroids very briefly in the 1989/1990 offseason and then after I was injured in 1993, I used steroids again,” McGwire said in his statement. “I used them on occasion throughout the ’90s, including during the 1998 season.”
McGwire said he took steroids to get back on the field, sounding much like the Yankees’ Andy Pettitte two years ago when he admitted using HGH.
“During the mid-’90s, I went on the DL seven times and missed 228 games over five years,” McGwire said in the statement. “I experienced a lot of injuries, including a ribcage strain, a torn left heel muscle, a stress fracture of the left heel, and a torn right heel muscle. 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.”
Since the congressional hearing, baseball owners and players toughened their drug program twice, increasing the penalty for a first steroids offense from 10 days to 50 games in November 2005 and strengthening the power of the independent administrator in April 2008, following the publication of the Mitchell Report.
“Baseball is really different now — it’s been cleaned up,” McGwire said. “The commissioner and the players’ association implemented testing and they cracked down, and I’m glad they did.”
Ronald Blum/The Associated Press