Sitting down with Bob Costas for an MLB Network exclusive interview Monday night, Mark McGwire decided it was finally time to talk about the past.
The former Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals slugger who captured America’s collective passion in the summer of 1998 by breaking Roger Maris’ single-season home run record, looked nothing like the colossal hero of yore. Instead a tearful and contrite McGwire admitted he had used steroids during his career and offered his apologies to all he had misled for years.
“No matter what, I shouldn’t have done [steroids] and for that I’m truly sorry,” McGwire said in the interview.
Costas, who joined MLB Network from HBO last February, helped the year-old channel score a major get. McGwire’s mea culpa was a highly-orchestrated day-long affair that included a written statement followed by phone interviews with The New York Times, USA Today and ESPN baseball analysts John Kruk and Tim Kurkjian, among others before the Costas sit-down.
The strategy was crafted by former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, according to a report by The New York Times‘ Richard Sandomir. Sandomir adds that Costas is represented by IMG, which owns part of Fleischer’s crisis-management communications company.
Still, the interview was no cakewalk for McGwire, who was repeatedly pressed by Costas as to whether he believed the steroids, which the slugger said he took to recover from injuries, helped propel his home run statistics into the superhuman category. McGwire told Costas he believed he still could have broken Maris’ home run record without using steroids.
McGwire deserves credit for finally coming clean and owning up to what many baseball fans had long suspected, but he repeatedly used his injuries as a crutch for explaining his steroid use and, said he wished he “had never played during the steroid era.” Many pundits have already noted that McGwire’s usage began at the dawn of that era, making him something less than a victim of the times he played in.
While he wasn’t defiant or angry, like other retired baseball stars marred by steroid suspicion, it seemed as though McGwire was trying to downplay his own usage (he told Costas he only used “low, low dosages”) while decrying the fact that baseball had no drug testing during his era and claiming that he was blessed with “a gift to hit home runs.”
The apology may be too late for many baseball fans but it at least allows McGwire to relieve the burden he had been carrying and move on with his life. Other superstars from that tainted era could take McGwire’s lead and step up to the plate themselves.