Mark McGwire finally chose to talk about the past, admitting Monday what had been widely suspected, that he used steroids when breaking baseball's season home run record in 1998.
McGwire broke his silence on the matter in a statement and emotional interviews, saying that he used steroids throughout the 1990s, including his then-record-breaking 70 home run season in 1998, and that he immensely regretted doing so.
"I wish I had never touched steroids," McGwire said. "It was foolish, and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era."
McGwire's admission drew praise from some, but others didn't see much to change the impact of his actions.
"I didn't really think too much of it," Tampa's Fred McGriff, the longtime slugger with a reputation for playing clean, told the Times. "I think he just came out so he won't have to answer questions during spring training."
"I don't look at him any differently," said Rays manager Joe Maddon said, who has advocated an amnesty program for steroids users. "I honestly believe him admitting what he did just validates what everybody thought. The way he went through that congressional hearing seemed a bit, um, strange. I also believe it opens the door for him to get back into baseball, and I think it was necessary for him to do if he wanted to do that."
The highest praise for McGwire came, as expected, from St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who said, "his willingness to admit mistakes, express his regret and explain the circumstances that led him to use steroids add to my respect for him."
And there were positive words from baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who said he was "pleased" McGwire confronted the issue: "Being truthful is always the correct course of action."
McGwire's admission comes nearly five years after he refused during a March 2005 congressional hearing to answer questions about steroid use, insisting repeatedly, "I'm not here to talk about the past." He said Monday that he wanted to talk then but was advised by his lawyers that without immunity he risked legal action.
The chairman of the committee, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., said Monday that McGwire was acting on the advice of his counsel because he was still within a five-year statute of limitations on self-incrimination. Davis added that McGwire had admitted his steroid use to the committee's leadership in a pre-hearing meeting.
Davis said that the committee asked then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez to grant McGwire immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony but that the request was denied.
And it comes about five weeks before he returns to the field for the first time since his 2001 retirement, starting a job as hitting coach for the Cardinals, fueling the presumption that addressing the issue was a prerequisite to getting hired.
It also comes after he fell far short of election to the Hall of Fame in his fourth consecutive year on the ballot, though McGwire said his admission had "nothing" to do with his chances for election.
One theme of comments from voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America on Monday was that McGwire's admission was likely to help his cause, as some writers had been withholding their vote until McGwire acknowledged his use.
But McGwire, despite hitting 583 home runs, the eighth-most all time, would still appear to be a long shot to be elected. He has yet to receive more than 24 percent of the vote in his four years on the ballot, with 75 percent needed for election.
McGwire — who said he felt burdened for years by keeping his use secret from even his family — said he first tried steroids after the 1989 season, then again in 1993 and "on occasion" throughout the 1990s. He said he felt steroids would help him "recover faster" from a series of injuries that sidelined him, that "they would help me heal and prevent injuries, too." He also admitted that he used human growth hormone.
From 1986 to 1989, McGwire hit 117 homers, averaging one per 14.1 at-bats. From 1990 on, he hit 466, averaging one per 9.7 at-bats.
"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."
Information from the Associated Press, the Washington Post and ESPN.com was used in this report. Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.