NEW YORK - Mark McGwire finally came clean, admitting he used steroids when he broke baseball's home run record in 1998.
McGwire said in a statement sent to The Associated Press on Monday he used steroids on and off for nearly a decade. During a 20-minute telephone interview shortly afterward, his voice repeatedly cracked.
"It's very emotional, it's telling family members, friends and coaches, you know, it's former teammates to try to get hold of, you know, that I'm coming clean and being honest," he said. "It's the first time they've ever heard me, you know, talk about this. I hid it from everybody."
McGwire said he also used human growth hormone, and he didn't know if his use of performance-enhancing drugs contributed to some of the injuries that led to his retirement, at age 38, in 2001.
"That's a good question," he said.
He repeatedly expressed regret for his decision to use steroids, which he said was "foolish" and caused by his desire to overcome injuries, get back on the field and prove he was worth his multi-million dollar salary.
"You don't know that you'll ever have to talk about the skeleton in your closet on a national level," he said. "I did this for health purposes. There's no way I did this for any type of strength use."
McGwire hit a then-record 70 homers in 1998 during a compelling race with Sammy Sosa, who finished with 66. More than anything else, the home-run spree revitalized baseball following the crippling strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series.
Now that McGwire has come clean, increased glare might fall on Sosa, who has denied using performing-enhancing drugs.
"I wish I had never played during the steroid era," McGwire said.
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 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."
McGwire said he wanted to tell the truth then but evaded questions at that hearing on the advice of his lawyers.
"That was the worst 48 hours of my life," McGwire said.
La Russa immediately praised McGwire's decision to go public.
"His willingness to admit mistakes, express his regret, and explain the circumstances that led him to use steroids add to my respect for him," the manager said.
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 off-season 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. "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 offence 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."