Commentary

Jay McGwire shares steroids secrets

Updated: February 25, 2010, 12:06 PM ET
By Mike Fish | ESPN.com

CORONA, Calif. -- Jay McGwire could strut confidently into a baseball clubhouse and, at first blush, pass for his older brother. Mark, the enigmatic ex-slugger, is a tad taller, but the brothers sport a similar ruddy complexion, scruffy goatee and beefy build.

Back in the day, Mark and his look-alike were as close as brothers could be. They hung out, even shared a bachelor pad when Mark was swatting home runs for the Oakland A's in the mid-1990s. Jay, fresh off modest success as a competitive bodybuilder, says he put into place the doping and intense workout regimen that eventually transformed his then physically "broken-down" brother into a 260-pound behemoth and contributed to his late-career slugging surge.

Only now the brothers are estranged and, by most accounts, haven't spoken since 2002. And while Mark picks his words carefully as he settles in as hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, Jay is more than eager to spill the family secrets about performance-enhancing drugs.

In "Mark and Me: Mark McGwire and the Truth Behind Baseball's Worst-Kept Secret," scheduled to hit the bookstores Monday, Jay McGwire reveals the dosage and array of performance-enhancing drugs he says Big Mac used during a three-year stretch beginning in 1994. The younger brother further suggests Mark didn't tell the whole story when, in a series of interviews since his admission last month, he adamantly denied a link between anabolic steroids and his late-career performance.

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Courtesy of Jay McGwireJay McGwire at a 1994 bodybuilding contest.

"[Mark] knows that he [was] getting stronger and bigger, come on," Jay McGwire said during a series of interviews with ESPN. "He is coming across that it is only for health reasons [that he used the drugs], but he put on 30 pounds of lean muscle mass. That is why a lot of people don't understand why he is not really coming out clean like that. Why not just admit it all? It is OK, everyone knows how powerful these drugs are."

Jay McGwire, a fitness fanatic coming up on his 40th birthday, acknowledges being a former heavy steroid user. He's proud of having lived much of his adult life in gyms. As he prepares for the book's release, he's also hustling to open McGwire's Fitness, a decent-sized club in an Ontario strip shopping center, about an hour's drive east of Los Angeles.

The impression might be that the kid brother is throwing Big Mac under the bus, though Jay claims the book -- first shopped to publishing houses a year prior to Mark's orchestrated admission -- was instead penned to tell of his own personal steroid demons: the dependency, depression and suicidal thoughts. He veers from Big Mac's recent talking points only on the claim that the steroids failed to enhance performance. Jay also lays out the specific drugs he says Mark used. Mark, who ducked the past in a clumsy performance five years ago during a congressional hearing, has stuck by the story that steroids didn't enhance his performance, highlighted by his now familiar: "The only reason I took steroids was for health purposes."

Mark McGwire did not return phone requests left with his spokesman, Ari Fleischer, on Wednesday. Efforts also were made to reach McGwire through the Cardinals.

But according to Jay McGwire, Big Mac wasn't just injecting and ingesting steroids for medicinal purposes to cope with career-threatening injuries. Jay acknowledges the initial purpose was to overcome a series of nagging injuries that led to seven stints on the disabled list in the mid-'90s, but over three seasons McGwire also packed on 30 pounds of muscle. He built noticeable lower-body strength, Jay says, and his bat speed quickened.

Asked about the physical transformation, Jay McGwire told ESPN, "Oh, his strength. His leg strength was awesome. I talked about what he is doing on the leg press -- over 600 pounds for 20 reps. That is pretty good for a baseball player. And that is the key in baseball, I think. … Mark didn't really have big legs until after that. He couldn't do some other serious leg workouts because of his lower back issues, so we had to be careful with that.

"And obviously his arm strength, getting those hands through the [hitting] zone. Think about it, it is pretty remarkable. He is gaining 30 pounds over three years, and that is the right way to do it because you go slow and the body reacts slow in the ways of getting it more flexible. So Mark was more flexible 30 pounds heavier. Now think about that torque that he could have. That is why the ball was going out of stadiums."

Jay says it's far-fetched, though, to imagine that Big Mac can't recall the steroids he used, which has been the claim since his mea culpa in January.

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Courtesy Jay McGwireJay and Mark in 1996.

"Yeah, he knows," says Jay, the youngest of the five McGwire brothers. "I just think he is coached. He didn't want to talk about it."

According to Jay, while Mark was sitting out with a heel injury late in the strike-shortened 1994 season, he talked him into trying a combination of human growth hormone (HGH) and Deca-Durabolin. Jay describes the smorgasbord of drugs as expanding over the next two years to include Primobolan, Winstrol (the steroid that cost Ben Johnson a gold medal at the Seoul Olympics in 1988), Dianabol (Dbol) and Clenbuterol.

Jay McGwire writes that the offseason regimen featured, as an example, "Dbol [oral, 50 up to 70 mgs/day], Winstrol [oral, 50 up to 80 mgs every other day] and Primobolan [oral, 60 up to 80 mgs/day] for a minimum of 12 weeks." He told ESPN that Primobolan and Dbol were not used as healing agents, rather for "strength, size." He further suggests the doses -- measured in milligrams -- were low for a competitive bodybuilder, though others familiar with anabolic steroids describe them as significant for a baseball player.

"If he was doing growth [hormone] by itself, I would say, 'OK, he is looking for healing,'" says Kirk Radomski, a former amateur bodybuilder who pleaded guilty in 2007 to distributing steroids to dozens of current and former baseball players. "But now he is mixing with anabolics and stuff, and he is looking for strength and size. And to build more muscle."

Victor Conte, the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative founder who pleaded guilty in 2005 to distributing what were then undetectable steroids to a cadre of world-class athletes, said the doping regimen sounds like what might be expected of a bodybuilder. He also said the doses and a 12-week cycle are serious stuff.

"Obviously you're going to enhance performance if he is doing that in conjunction with an effective weight training program," Conte said. "The first thing you are going to see is size. You are using Dbol and this stuff at this dosage, you're going to look like Hercules, if he is doing the weight training.

"At 12 weeks and those dosages, this is not baby food."

Jay McGwire repeatedly stressed that any changes weren't just from the drugs, but that his brother trained ridiculously hard, often six days a week. And the combination paid off.

When the brothers showed up at spring training in 1995, Jay recalled them resembling a couple of ripped WWE cartoonish characters. Mark had packed on 15 pounds of lean muscle during the offseason and was proudly in the best shape of his life. The sight was so impressive, Jay McGwire said, that guys around the A's clubhouse started calling him "the Hulk."

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Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesMark McGwire, seen here during his record-setting 1998 season, in January acknowledged using steroids in his baseball career.

"They saw improvement, but he's not going to everyone, 'Hey, I'm on steroids,'" Jay chuckles, knowingly.

And nobody raised the possibility, either. Not his teammates. Not his manager, Tony La Russa, who still remains protective of his former star player, or the A's medical staff and front office.

La Russa has said he didn't know for sure of McGwire's performance-enhancing drug use until his admission last month. Thursday, La Russa told reporters that the allegations in the book sound familiar. He says the book doesn't sound like "first-page-to-last-page damning stuff about Mark." He says the claims have been "gone over a bunch of times" and won't change anything.

"Man, I don't want to put words in his mouth," Jay McGwire says of La Russa, who was Big Mac's manager for all but 1½ of his 16 major league seasons. "But come on, you're around sports. Are you kidding me? You have to know something is going on. Especially, Tony knows me. I'm pretty beefy. He has seen me over the years. I always visited Mark. I'd go down to the clubhouse and hang out with the guys. These guys knew that I was getting big. Obviously, I think they could put it together. No one really talked about it. It is weird. They're happy that Mark is back and hitting home runs. They know Mark's work ethic. He worked hard. Steroids just never came up in the conversation."

Back in the mid-'90s, as McGwire was bulking up, the game basked in a casual "don't ask, don't tell" stance on steroids. Major League Baseball proved to be the last major sports body to implement a comprehensive drug testing policy -- the league started survey testing in 2003, but it wasn't until December 2005 that the players' union voted to approve a tougher policy -- so Big Mac and a bevy of other ethically challenged players technically didn't violate any rules. Only now they're forever vestiges of baseball's steroids era.

Jay McGwire says his initial drug source for Big Mac was a Sacramento, Calif., supplier/trainer. The source, whom Jay refused to identify, had just finished helping him prep for a prestigious bodybuilding event in Contra Costa, Calif., where he captured the heavyweight novice title. Mark McGwire had at least two other drug sources: convicted dealer Curt Wenzlaff, who has admitted supplying performance-enhancing drugs to Big Mac and his then-A's teammate Jose Canseco in the late 1980s; and whoever supplied him after Jay had a religious rebirth and turned away from steroids in 1996.

By the summer of '96, nearly a decade of heavy steroid use had turned Jay McGwire into muscle-bound time bomb. He says it's his story about the dangers of steroids that he wants to get out, as much as to set the record straight regarding Mark. He developed fatty tumors in both his nipples. He ended up suffering from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and elevated liver enzymes. He adds that he is not aware of Mark having suffered side effects.

"It just definitely overtook me -- mentally, emotionally, physically," says Jay McGwire, who began dabbling in steroids as an 18-year-old. "At that time I got into a deep depression … I had suicide thoughts, didn't want to do anything, and wasn't motivated to do anything. This is the time I cried out to God and he answered my prayer."

As he was exiting the steroids scene, Jay says he advised Big Mac to switch to Androstenedione, a compound sold as a nutritional supplement that converts to testosterone once inside the body. Later, during the memorable 1998 season, La Russa and the Cardinals angrily circled the wagons in defense of McGwire after an Associated Press reporter revealed that Big Mac had a bottle of Andro in his locker.

Mark acknowledged last month that he used steroids during the 1998 season, which ended with him as the new face of baseball after he slugged a then-record 70 home runs. With a touch of bravado, Jay suggests any steroids Big Mac used before hooking up with him in 1994 are inconsequential because he hadn't been schooled in how to train properly, while saying Andro later helped maintain most of the gains his brother acquired under his tutelage.

Jay, who was 24 when he began working with his big brother, describes himself as the brains behind the program. No doctor was consulted. It was just Jay and his Sacramento supplier, whom he drove Mark to meet in the summer of 1994.

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Courtesy Jay McGwire. Jay McGwire at age 16 in the summer of 1986.

"I saw Mark hurt all the time," Jay recalls. "So I said, 'Mark this is something you got to think about. This is something that can maybe change your career, in ways of recovery.' Mark was always thinking about recovery, getting his body repaired.

"And we drove up there [to Sacramento] one day and kind of discussed options of what we want to do, [what to] get him on. And just take it slow, little by little. … Well, Mark asked a lot of questions. He was more concerned about something that is going to help him [get] healthy. At that time he had lot of foot problems, lower back problems. So we thought about getting him on HGH and Deca-Durabolin."

Big Mac didn't just get healthy, though. His game picked up as he added lean muscle. Whether he'd also honed his swing or become more adept at studying pitchers while missing large chunks of the 1993 and 1994 seasons, his home run numbers in particular spiked beginning with the 1995 season. Leading up to 1995, he hit 238 home runs in 3,342 at-bats compared with 345 in 2,845 at-bats during the ensuing years. His on-the-field performance also earned him approximately $60 million between 1995 and his 2001 retirement.

"I just look at steroids as a shortcut," Jay says. "It prolonged his career. He got some big contracts out of it. He turned the game around. Come on, he got people in the stands. Remember when they'd go out and hit batting practice there would be 25,000 people for batting practice. That is neat. That is what baseball needed, but the steroid thing got way out of hand and Major League Baseball didn't do anything and it got into the government."

As his kid brother sees it, Big Mac evolved into a rare, physical specimen that fans couldn't resist.

"It was awesome," Jay says of Big Mac's 1998 assault on Roger Maris' home run record. "I was happy for him. … Fans are funny. As soon as he starts hitting home runs they are kissing his butt. It shows you that the fan wants to see things that are freaky. Seeing records being broken. … People like to see freaky people produce, if it is a fight or whatever. That what the fan wants."

So Big Mac was freaky?

"I think he was freaky for a baseball player, absolutely," says Jay, six years Mark's junior. "His forearms are 17½ inches. His biceps were 19-plus. That is pretty freak. His leg power is huge. If you see the before and after pictures -- look back and look at them in '98 compared to '88. It is a huge difference. But I want to make it very clear it wasn't just the drugs. People under estimate the training behind it. Mark busted his butt."

It's his steroid legacy, though, that baseball historians and fans are likely to hang on to, more so than the majestic bombs. His kid brother even places Big Mac just a notch behind Canseco, the other half of the A's Bash Brothers, as the leading face of the steroids era.

"I think these other athletes -- A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez], Manny [Ramirez], [Sammy] Sosa -- they saw Mark way back in the mid-'80s," Jay McGwire says. "They saw him grow and grow and grow. He's not the one telling everyone, 'Hey, I'm doing steroids.' But I think people assumed that he was doing something, so I think that he motivated a lot of people.

"And I think these athletes got overwhelmed. These athletes want to play every day -- steroids do help you heal. And they help you just run faster. They help you in strength and just overall endurance. And so, for the athlete who has a lot of pressure on them to perform day in and day out, the temptation is overwhelming."

McGwire clearly wasn't alone in falling victim to the temptation. Early on, though, Jay says the brothers had an understanding that talk of their steroid dabbling was to be "hush hush.'' That held true until Jay became an author. But before that, no one bothered to ask questions of Big Mac's bodybuilder brother.

According to Jay, baseball security folks never called him. Nor did inquiring reporters. Former Sen. George Mitchell's investigators didn't contact him while conducting a probe for commissioner Bud Selig. No one from the Cardinals called, even after excerpts of Jay's book were widely reported a year ago. Nor did media consultant Ari Fleischer, the ex-White House spokesman who previously had advised MLB and Selig on public relations matters, pick up the phone as he strategized over McGwire's admission in January.

"It's funny, huh?" Jay McGwire says. "You'd think that you'd want to go to the core of the story. And no one has really suspected me. I've been the person all along."

Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Michaeljfish@gmail.com.