Mark McGwire just issued the following statement through the St. Louis Cardinals, in which he not only admits to using steroids, but admits to using them in 1998, the year he broke Roger Maris’s home-run record:
“Now that I have become the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, I have the chance to do something that I wish I was able to do five years ago. I never knew when, but I always knew this day would come. It’s time for me to talk about the past and to confirm what people have suspected. I used steroids during my playing career and I apologize. I remember trying steroids very briefly in the 1989/1990 off season and then after I was injured in 1993, I used steroids again. I used them on occasion throughout the nineties, including during the 1998 season.
I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.
During the mid-90s, I went on the DL seven times and missed 228 games over five years. I experienced a lot of injuries, including a rib cage 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.
I’m sure people will wonder if I could have hit all those home runs had I never taken steroids. 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.
Baseball is really different now – it’s been cleaned up. The Commissioner and the Players Association implemented testing and they cracked down, and I’m glad they did.
I’m grateful to the Cardinals for bringing me back to baseball. I want to say thank you to Cardinals owner Mr. DeWitt, to my GM, John Mozeliak, and to my manager, Tony La Russa. I can’t wait to put the uniform on again and to be back on the field in front of the great fans in Saint Louis. I’ve always appreciated their support and I intend to earn it again, this time as hitting coach. I’m going to pour myself into this job and do everything I can to help the Cardinals hitters become the best players for years to come.
After all this time, I want to come clean. 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.”
On the surface, this is hardly a shocker, of course. Only the most naive fan believed that McGwire’s refusal to answer questions at the Congressional hearing in which he repeatedly uttered the infamous phrase “I’m not hear to talk about the past” pointed to any other conclusion. The Associated Press, citing a source close to McGwire, says he also used human growth hormone (HGH), which he doesn’t admit to specifically in the statement.
I give him credit, however, for finally coming clean. It’s something he should have done much earlier, granted, but it still took some courage even now. I suspect the reaction will be largely positive. We’re a forgiving nation, and I think most people realize that the entire culture of baseball during the 1990s included a lax attitude toward performance-enhancing drugs. Mark McGwire was hardly the only one who was juicing up. As the first superstar (I believe) to admit his use — certainly to the extent he has — he is a pioneer, of sorts, and may encourage others to follow suit. (I should mention Alex Rodriguez, who admitted to steroids use last year after SI reported a positive drug test).
I’d suspect that McGwire feels better now that this is out in the open — cleansed, if you will. Now that it’s out there, McGwire can concentrate on doing his job as Cardinals’ hitting coach without the constant questioning. Will it help or hurt his Hall of Fame chances? I doubt if it will have much impact, and if so, my hunch is it will hurt him more than help him. I can’t imagine anyone saying, “Now that he admitted using steroids, I’m going to vote for him.” He wasn’t getting much support, anyway — in the 20-percent range — and there could now be attrition of support from those who voted for him on the premise, “Nothing has been proven; it’s all hearsay.” Well, it’s no longer hearsay.
Personally, I’ve always voted for McGwire, my rationale being that the entire era has been tainted by drug use, and it’s simply not possible to untangle who used and who didn’t. Since the statistics still count, and baseball itself did nothing to curtail or monitor steroids use until testing began in the mid-2000s, I decided to treat each player on their statistics alone. Not that I felt great about that decision, but my feeling was that we were not hired to be the steroids police. I have a hunch that the BBWAA will almost certainly elect someone (if we haven’t already) that used steroids, unbeknown to us. It’s just a slippery slope when we have to determine who used and who didn’t.
Will I rethink my stance in light of McGwire’s admission? Absolutely…especially with the likes of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens on their way to the ballot in coming years. It’s an agonizing question, and one that we, as voters, have little guidance on. Rest assured it’s something I’ll ponder heavily between now and next December, when the 2011 ballot arrives.
(Associated Press photo)