Commentary

'It was a regrettable thing to do'

In 10-minute interview, McGwire talks about decision to come clean on steroids

Originally Published: January 11, 2010
By Tim Kurkjian | ESPN The Magazine

The press release was issued shortly after 2 p.m. CT, which is about the time Mark McGwire used to begin preparing for a night game. There will be major league games ahead for McGwire, the Cardinals' new hitting coach, so on a cold Monday afternoon in St. Louis, McGwire made a statement that most people knew was coming the day he took a job in baseball, but even still, it created quite a stir: He finally admitted that he had used steroids.

In a 10-minute phone interview Monday (that's all the time McGwire had), his voice cracked several times, but he summed it up by saying his use of steroids: "was absolutely the most ridiculously stupid thing I've ever done in my life. I regret it totally. I can't say I'm sorry enough to everyone in Major League Baseball, the fans, everyone. I wish they had had drug testing when I was playing. I'm so glad they have a very strong drug testing policy now because if they had it when I was playing, I promise we wouldn't be having this conversation."

McGwire said he made his decision Sunday night to admit his use of steroids.

"It was very emotional when I talked to my son, my parents …" McGwire said, then briefly had to stop talking because he was so choked up. "I talked to family and close friends and coaches for the first time. It was the first time anyone had heard me say it. I hid it from everyone. It was a regrettable thing to do, but hopefully, we can begin to move from here."

McGwire said he wanted to say all of this during the congressional hearings in 2005. Instead, he repeatedly said he didn't "want to talk about the past," and was blasted for doing so.

"When I was going to go before Congress, I was ready and prepared to talk about exactly what I'm talking about now," McGwire said. "But my two lawyers, Mark Bierbower and Marty Steinberg, gave me two scenarios. I tried to get immunity, but I was told I wouldn't get immunity and could face possible prosecution.

"I wanted to talk so bad. But if I faced prosecution, all my friends and family would all be included with me. If I couldn't get immunity, I couldn't take my family down that road. Anyone who was in my position would have done the same thing to protect their family and close friends. I wouldn't do that to them. I took a beating. I've been taking hits for five years."

McGwire choked up again reliving that day in Congress.

"Not talking that day just killed me," he said. "Listening to the Hooton family, and other families that lost loved ones [to steroids abuse], to hear the moans, it just tore my heart out."

McGwire said he took steroids to recover from injuries, not to get bigger and stronger.

"From 1993 to 1996, I was a walking M.A.S.H. unit," he said. "My body was beat up. When I was approached about steroids and HGH, I just wanted to feel normal again. I took such a low dose. I never went over 250 pounds. I didn't want to look like Lou Ferrigno. I didn't abuse it. I just couldn't get over the [injury] hump.

"There was always a roadblock. When I got hurt in 1996, I told my father that I was going to retire. In 1997, '98, '99, I did [androstenedione] and my body felt great. But after the All-Star break [in 2000], I broke down and tried more steroids. I really regret it."

By then, he had already had his historic season in 1998 when he hit 70 homers, breaking the single-season record. He said there was "no way that a pill or an injection" was the reason he hit so many home runs compared to "the genetics given to me by my parents. I had the God-given gift of being a home run hitter, but I elected to fall into that line [of steroids use]. And I regret it."

McGwire said he knew "that sometime, somewhere" he was going to have to talk about his steroids use. Then the Cardinals hired him this winter to be the hitting coach. Soon after being hired, the Cardinals' brass, including manager Tony La Russa, asked McGwire if he was ready to talk. He said he told them, "I've been ready to do that for a long time."

McGwire said he came out now "because I didn't want this to be a distraction when we got to spring training."

As for his Hall of Fame chances, and receiving less than 25 percent of the vote in each of his four years on the ballot, McGwire said: "This has nothing to do with the Hall of Fame. This is just about me coming clean. This has absolutely nothing to do with the Hall of Fame."

As he prepared to hang up the phone he said, with great excitement, "I can't wait for spring training to start."

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and became available in paperback in May 2008. Click here to order a copy.