JUPITER, Fla. — The time for tears has apparently passed for, even as he admitted that the need for remorse will be forever. Saying that he is ready to turn “into a positive thing,” McGwire suited up with the on Wednesday morning for the first time since his retirement in 2001.
“The unfortunate thing is that I don’t get to play,” he said.
Hired this winter as the Cardinals’ hitting instructor by Manager, McGwire arrived for his first day of spring training shortly after 9 a.m., asking one of the attendants, “Where do I go?” By early afternoon, after a meeting with La Russa and the other coaches, he stepped outside the team’s headquarters and took questions from about 15 reporters, still in uniform, his eyes hidden beyond a pair of wraparound shades.
Saying that his admission was a “big, big release,” he chatted amiably and spoke casually about the steroid issue for 17 minutes, devoid of the emotion that marked a January news media blitz. In those interviews, McGwire admitted that he was a longtime steroid userthat peaked in 1998 with 70 home runs, breaking ’s record of 61 set in 1961.
After the January disclosure, McGwirefor saying he had taken performance-enhancing drugs only to assist in the recovery of injuries, while refusing to acknowledge the overwhelming statistical evidence that the drugs had helped him become a better player. He continued to make that claim Wednesday, saying, “The reason was because of my injuries — that was the only reason I got into that stuff.”
How did steroids help? It made him healthy and got him back into the batter’s box. The rest of the story was about natural ability, acquired knowledge and hard work. “My swing was evolving into the swing I wound up with,” he said. “That’s what happened.”
As for the skepticism and criticism, McGwire added: “Everybody’s got an opinion. But you know what? I spoke from the heart. I spoke the truth. I’m ready to turn the page, move on with my life. I can’t say that I’m sorry enough to everyone in baseball and everyone across America.”
There was no deviation from the January script, but McGwire did offer something of a rewrite on the statement he made that he wished he had never played in baseball’s steroid era.
“If you want to rephrase it would be, I truly wish there was drug testing,” he said. “If there was drug testing, I don’t think you’d be sitting here asking me these questions. There was no drug testing when I was playing. It was unfortunate, but Major League Baseball and the players association got together and got a very good drug policy.”
Asked if he believed that he and a few other stars had taken an unfair portion of the criticism for what is perceived to have been widespread steroid use, McGwire said he was not interested in focusing or commenting on what others had done. With the blessing of Commissioner, whom he consulted with before getting back into the headlines, McGwire said he had come back to share what he knows about hitting and thinking.
“The one thing that I love to teach is the mental aspect of the game,” he said. “Hitters have to understand that there comes a time in their career where the mind is more powerful than the body. The sooner you understand that this game is all mental, you’ll start taking your career to another level.”
McGwire answered every question with the understanding that many people are of the opinion that his career — thinking man’s approach notwithstanding — was as much artificially enhanced as it was extended. But he said he believed he connected with many fans, judging from the many supportive e-mail and text messages he has received.
Asked how long he believed the steroid issue would dog him, McGwire said: “That’s up to you guys. Listen, I’ve accepted responsibility. I’m ready to move on. I just hope everybody else can.”
Not long after he finished, a Cardinals official predicted that might happen by the end of the week. The word was out thatwas scheduled to make a public apology Friday in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., just a few hours up the road.