January 12, 2010
"It's time for me to talk about the past ... "
— Mark McGwire
* * *
And with that cheeky preface to whet our appetite for destruction, Mr. Mark McGwire sang like a canary for interviewer Bob Costas on the MLB Network on Monday night. It was the most highly anticipated sit-down steroids "tell-all" Q&A since a year ago February, when Alex Rodriguez did likewise with Peter Gammons.
That McGwire referenced his pseudo-trademark phrase — "I'm not here to talk about the past," which he famously said over and over to Congress in 2005 — was no accident. McGwire's first interaction with the press since being hired as Cardinals batting coach was carefully orchestrated by savvy public-relations experts, as Richard Sandomir wonderfully documents in the New York Times.
McGwire should have been warned further, like his lawyers did with Congress: What he says on TV can still be used against him. So let's begin!
Here's video of the full interview via MLB.com and below, with the help of the San Jose Mercury News' partial transcription are highlights from McGwire-Costas. The italicized thoughts are from me. Many of them probably crossed your mind, too.
Bob Costas: When did you first try steroids?
Mark McGwire: I was introduced to steroids [in] the gyms you worked out back in the day. It was readily available. Guys at gyms talked about it. I believe it was the winter of '89 into '90. I was given a couple weeks' worth. I tried it, never thought anything of it, just moved on from it. As far as using it on a consistent basis, the winter of '93/'94.
"Tried it, never thought anything of it. I don't need these steroids. I'm Mark McGwire! God gave me the ability to play baseball. Only he can judge me!" ... I'm getting a little ahead of myself.
BC: You had a series of injuries in the early '90s, mid '90s, and today you indicated that was at least part of the reason why you first steroids. But then, I would guess, the performance-enhancing aspects became evident and, even once healthy, you continued because it helped you perform. Right
MM: Well, no, I did it on health purposes. If you look at my career into '93, '94, '95, '96, I was a walking M*A*S*H* unit [laughs].
A M*A*S*H* unit? So his supplier was Klinger! Man. Trapper, B.J., Hot Lips and Col. Potter are going to be disappointed. Radar? He's gonna be crushed.
MM: I told my dad yesterday when I finally had to tell him about this. I remember calling him in '96.
McGwire pauses, camera pulls in closer to do "a tear check." He's choking up, though not in the baseball sense. No tears yet. It's OK to cry, Mark. Strong men also cry, you know?
MM: I was so frustrated with injuries, I wanted to retire. He's the one that told me to stick it out. At the time, yeah, I was using steroids, thinking it was going to help me. It was brought to my attention it was going to help me heal faster and make my body feel back to normal. I mean, I was a walking a M*A*S*H* unit.
Keeping in this CBS TV from 1980 vein, Jose Canseco was more of a "Jeffersons" unit, then. Bombastic and silly.
MM: It doesn't feel good when you have teammates walking by saying, "He's injured again."
Peer pressure! Dave Stewart and Mike Gallego stuffed him in a locker — Did he mention that?
MM: I knew I was talented. I knew the Man Upstairs gave me the ability to hit this baseball, gave me the hand/eye coordination. My parents gave me the great genetics. But I was running into these roadblocks by something I very muchly regret.
His parents gave him great genetics, but not of the neck. Was there nothing the nip/tuck doctors could do with McGwire's neck when they were lifting the rest of his face? ... Also, I know it's a live interview, but "muchly"? It's "mostliness."
BC: Could you have hit 70 home runs — a home-run ratio greater than anything Babe Ruth did in his time — without using steroids?
MM: Absolutely. I was given this gift by the Man Upstairs.
Again with this "Man Upstairs." Costas, he's telling you that his dealer is upstairs! Find out where he is! Make him show his face!
MM: My track record as far as hitting home runs. ... My first at bat in Little League was a home run; they still talk about the home runs in high school; they still talk about the home runs in [American] Legion; they still talk about the home runs I hit in college. I led the nation in home runs. They still talk about the home runs I hit in the minor leagues.
"I led the nation in home runs." Translation: Why do you hate America, Bob Costas?
BC: Would you have [accomplished all McGwire did] if you had never touched anything but a protein shake?
MM: I truly believe so. I believe I was given this gift.
Look, this is all God's will. Hasn't Costas been told? God gave McGwire the ability. And he made the drugs available in the form of a burning bottle of Andro.
MM: The only reason I took steroids was for my health purposes. I did not take steroids to get any gain for any strength purposes.
BC: (Metaphorically hitting head against wall) But didn't you become stronger incidentally?
MM: For my health purposes.
BC: ... Didn't you get greater bat speed?
MM: I've always had bat speed.
He was taking speed on top of it? And Bat Speed? That's the worst kind of amphetamine. Obviously he didn't know what guano can do to a man. Bruce Wayne never meant for that stuff to hit the market. Also, did the umps ever check Mac's utility belt when he came to the plate? Bunch of enablers.
MM: There is not a pill or an injection that is going to give me the hand-eye — or give any athlete — the hand-eye coordination to hit a baseball. A pill or an injection will not hit a baseball.
Just give science more time!
BC: If that's the case, then you must genuinely regret — not just that you've been in virtual exile for a while, and that you've gotten only 23 percent of the Hall of Fame vote. What you're telling me is, that you could have done what you did without touching PEDs.
MM: That's why it's the most regrettable thing I've ever done in my life.
"What I did was wrong, but it didn't help me." What?
BC: Something was happening in baseball, wasn't it?
MM: It was the era that we played in. I wish I never played in that era. I wish we had drug testing.
He only gets one more wish with the Genie Costas.
BC: What drugs did you use? Were they full-blown steroids?
He already said! Bat Speed.
MM: The names I don't remember. But I did injectables. I preferred the orals.
He "preferred the orals." That's a performance-enhancing double entendre if there's ever been one. Take it away, America!
MM: The steroids I did were on a very, very low dosage. I didn't want to take a lot of that. I didn't want to look like Arnold Schwartzenegger or Lou Ferrigno.
Now he's taking shots at Austrians and the deaf. That's way over the line.
MM: My weight was 250. I finished every season around 235 or 240. I took very, very low dosages because I wanted my body to feel normal. The wear and tear of 162 ballgames and the status of where I was at and the pressures that I had to perform and what I had to go through to get through all these injuries is a very, very regrettable thing.
I can SEE what McGwire is saying. He took steroids to compensate for where God left him deficient — in the ability to stay healthy. Most people aren't going to buy it, or that the benefits of PEDs stop there. He's saying steroids have a therapeutic value. I don't disagree. OK, snark turned back on ... now.
MM: I wish it never came into my life.
Sorry, you have reached your wish limit. The Genie Costas must now go back into the bottle.
MM: I apologize to everybody in major-league baseball. My family, the Marises, Bud Selig. Today was the hardest day of my life.
It should be noted that McGwire has not actually shed any tears to this point. Tears appear to be welling up. He's sniffling. His lip is quivering and he's biting it. His voice cracks. But he's only got warning-track power when it comes to crying. If only he had used some crying-enhancing drugs before going on the air ...
BC: You called Pat Maris, Roger Maris' widow. How did that conversation go?
MM: I think she was shocked I called her. I felt good. I felt I needed to do that. They've been great supporters of mine. She was disappointed and she has every right to be. I couldn't tell her how so sorry I was.
BC: In 1998, you go into the stands and embrace the Maris Family and give [Roger Maris] in death some of the respect he didn't quite receive in life for his achievement. I know the Maris Family appreciates what you did and feels fondly toward you. ... Some of the Maris family have told me that they now consider their father's 61 [homers] in '61 to be the authentic single-season record.
MM: They have every right to. It's unfortunate I played in this era. I wish so heartedly there was testing in this time. I can't turn back the clock. All I tell you is, I'm sorry and it's been one of the toughest days of my life and I totally regret everything I've done.
This is all nice and sentimental, but ... even assuming that Roger Maris never touched a greenie, or compensated in other illegal/pseduo-legal way, we can't assume that about all players of his generation. Even if Harmon Killebrew, for example, never had access to steroids, he did have access to amphetamines that would have enhanced his performance if taken. Maris' era wasn't "clean," either. My favorite sport, historically, has enough shady moments to cool off Kansas in the middle of July.
BC: This is from Jose Canseco's book: "What we did, more times than I can count, was go into the bathroom stall together to shoot up steroids. That's right after batting practice, or right before a game. We would load up our syringes and inject ourselves."
MM: There's absolutely no truth to that whatsoever.
BC: Why do you think Jose would say that?
BC: So that didn't happen in the clubhouse?
MM: Absolutely not. I couldn't be more adamant about that.
That's too bad for McGwire, because if there were anybody I'd want to help me do steroids — it's Canseco. That guy was a pro.
BC: Did Tony La Russa know either in Oakland or St. Louis?
MM: No. He found out this morning. That was a hard call.
Mac's back on the verge of crying, but ... still dry.
BC: Did you let him down?
Costas, going for the Emmy!
MM: He's like talking to my dad. Yeah, I let a lot of people down. It doesn't feel good.
It must not feel good to La Russa, either, that this was going on under his nose, on his watch, in his clubhouse. And he didn't know. That's the most unbelievable part about the whole thing. No, I mean it's literally unbelievable that La Russa didn't know.
BC: Does today feel better in some sense because you're unburdening in a sense?
MM: I don't know. All I wanted to do was come clean. I wanted to come clean since 2005. I didn't know where when or how. I've just been holding this in.
BC: Why did you testify as you did before Congress in 2005? ... Are you OK to continue?
Finally, 15 minutes into the interview, tears have escaped McGwire's ducts.
MM: No, it's fine. Let me take you back to that time.
McGwire's southern California accent made him sound like Spicoli from "Fast Times" right there. "Let me take you back there, Mr. Hand."
MM: So, 2005, I'd been subpoenaed to testify. Flying back there, I was ready, willing and prepared to talk about this. I wanted to talk about this. I wanted to get this off my chest.
BC: You would have said then what you essentially would have said today?
MM: Absolutely. My lawyers, Mark Bierbower and Marty Steinberg, I meet them back there, we talk about this situation. Marty, a former federal prosecutor, laid out a couple scenarios. "If you go out there and talk about this without protection, there's a very good chance of a possible prosecution or grand jury testimonies." So we talked, we were in meeting downstairs with Congressman Waxman and Congressman Davis. Our lawyers were down there trying to get immunity for me. I wanted to talk, I wanted to get this off my chest. Well, we didn't get immunity.
Off the island you go!
MM: Here I was in a situation where I had two scenarios: Possible prosecution or possible grand-jury testimonies. Well you know what happens when there's a possible prosecution? You bring in your whole family, you bring in your whole friends, ex-teammates, coaches, anybody around you. How the heck am I going to bring those people in for some stupid act that I did? So you know what I did? We agreed to not talk about the past. And it was not enjoyable to do that, Bob.
Let me tell you right now, sitting up there and listening to the Hooten family behind me and the other families behind me that lost their loved ones, and every time I kept on saying, "I'm not talking about the past," I hear these moans. It was killing me. It was absolutely killing my heart. But I had to do what I had to do to protect myself, to protect my family and to protect my friends. Anybody who was in my shoes that had those scenarios set out in front of them would have done the same exact thing.
One of McGwire's themes, for every action that he took, seems that "anyone else would have done the same thing." Hear that? You are a Congressional evader just like him! Shame on you all!
BC: I'm not a lawyer but the statute of limitations on these crimes is five years. Does that have anything to do with the timing?
MM: No, the timing has to do with the Cardinals, being offered the hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals.
BS: Do you think you would have come forward if Tony La Russa had not asked you to be the hitting coach?
MM: I knew someday somehow somewhere I was going to have to talk about this. It's funny how the universe works. I didn't expect to get an offered a job. Here it is, I accepted the job. I was the one that went to the Cardinals and said we need to do something about this, I need to come clean. The last thing I want to do is put pressure on the cardinals, the players, teammates, anybody. To have me be a burden and not have this off my chest. So this is what it has come to.
BC: On the "I'm-not-here-to-talk-about-the-past" line being a calculated phrase from keeping him from perjury?
MM: I want to add one more thing: I was not going to lie. I was not going to lie. I wanted to tell the truth. But because of the position I was in, and to protect my family and to protect me, I decided I would take the hits. I think anybody's going to take the hits. I've been taking hits for five years. It doesn't feel very good.
BC: Let's clarify: You're not here to talk about the past. If a congressman said not good enough and you'll be held in contempt..would you have taken the Fifth Amendment?
MM: I agreed with Congressman Davis and Waxman that I would not talk about the past. That was the agreement.
BC: That was the agreement before the hearing began?
McGwire tries to make his performance in D.C look noble. Kind of delusional, given how weaselly it was.
BC: Would family been in legal jeopardy if you admitted using steroids?
Jeopardy! Suck it, Trebek!
MM: Anytime there's a prosecution, any family members and those close to you will be summoned to talk to whoever. Why would I do that when they knew nothing about what I was doing? They just found out yesterday. My parents found out yesterday. My son found out yesterday. I kept this to myself.
If they knew nothing about steroids, then you were protecting yourself from your own family's harassment of you for getting them mixed up in this.
BC: You kept this from everyone, your son Matt who's in your 20s, your younger children, your parents. Did they press you about it?
MM: I've never been asked point blank, "Have you ever taken steroids?"
"If only my teen-age son had confronted me." This guy sure makes it hard to defend him.
BC: From folk hero to exile What toll has that taken on you?
MM: Well I have to correct you there. I wasn't in exile there. It's called retirement.
BC: You weren't out there publicly?
MM: I chose not to. I chose to be retired. I chose to start a family. That was one of the biggest reasons I got away from the game of baseball. I wanted to start a family. I was happy. I've been very happy. For somebody to say I was in exile, I wasn't in exile. I was enjoying my life like everybody should when they retire.
BC: How big of a burden was it to carry this secret until today?
MM: Hmmn. Can't you see it?
The contradiction that you were "enjoying life" but that you were also burdened by this big secret? Yes, yes I can see it.
BC: Conceding the reason you took it in your mind was to stay healthy through a long and grinding season and that you were a very hard worker and understood the science of hitting, didn't you say to yourself in late '90s, "I could do better because of steroids?
MM: No, never crossed my mind. I just believed in my ability and my hand-eye coordination. And I believed in the strength of my mind. My mind was so strong, and I developed that on my own. No pill or no injection is going to do that.
"My brain was bursting out of my skull because of its strength and power. I don't know why, it just was."
BC: Did you do HGH?
MM: I did.
BC: How often?
MM: I tried it, I don't know, once, twice maybe.
Never inhaled, despite how much he liked the orals.
BC: Did steroids cause you to break down physically?
MM: That's a great question. If you look at when I started taking it in the winter of '93/'94, I broke down in '94. Missed three quarters of the year. I go into '95 and I broke down again. I could have been. But for some reason I kept doing it. Mentally I thought maybe keep doing this and maybe I'll feel better and better and I'll get out of this rut of being a M*A*S*H unit.
We're after M*A*S*H by now, Big Mac.
BC: Androstinedione was not illegal in baseball in 1998. [Did you take it as] a decoy?
MM: No. I took Andro — it was over the counter — I took it, it made my body feel good. I started taking it '97, '98, '99.
BC: Was the atmosphere around baseball an open secret, what you and other players were doing?
MM: I don't know. I hid it. I never talked about it. I can't remember ever a conversation about the subject in any of the clubhouses I did. If I did, which I don't remember, I walked the other way.
BC: Do you view your achievements now as authentic?
MM: Authentic in what way?
Did they come with a signed, sealed certificate? Like one of those Bradford Mint collector's plates?
BC: That they're legitimate and should be taken at face value.
The Corleone Family will be going completely legitimate this season as well.
MM: I'll go back to the thing: Unfortunately I took steroids because of injuries. When I look at my hand-eye coordination and what God gave me in my ability, I'd have to think so.
Oh, boy, he's going back to the thing again.
BC: Did prospect of drug testing have anything to do with hastening your retirement?
MM: What? Hastening?
Your honor, we object Mr. Costas' use of a supposed $5 word.
MM: Oh no. I would have loved drug testing when I played.
Peeing in a cup as men in white coats watch? Sign. Me. Up.
MM: At the end of 2001, I said "I am so tired of rehab, I'm done." We wouldn't be here talking about that. I was absolutely tired of rehab and getting beat up physically. I missed the whole second half of 2000 with a knee injury. I rehabbed all winter. 2001 I played, probably shouldn't have, but I played and my knee was still thrashed.
Thrashed? My name is Indigo Montoya, and I don't think that word means what you think it means.
MM: At the time I met my beautiful wife and I wanted to get off and start a family.
Hey! Hey! He wanted to what? ... Man, this guy has a filthy mouth.
BC: How much does the Hall of Fame natter to you?
MM: First of all, I'm not here doing this for the HOF. I'm doing this for me, to get this off my chest. I played this game of baseball because I was given an abililty to play. If I'm lucky enough to get in there, it's just icing on the cake. But I played this game because I loved it.
A practiced answer. "First of all"? Mark, first of all was about 40 minutes ago.
BC: Was that a dagger when you saw those [Hall of Fame voting] numbers?
MM: I had a feeling it was coming. I didn't watch. The only time I know about percentages is when a friend or somebody brings it up and tells me about it. When I retired, I retired. I moved on with my life. Baseball was a chapter in my life and now I'm excited to start another chapter as a hitting coach.
Well, it's clear that baseball is all that Mark McGwire has in his life. It's all he knows. That and, thanks to Bob Costas now, the meaning of "hastening."
BC: If any of the Cardinal hitters ask you about performance-enhancing drugs, what will you tell them?
MM: It's the stupidest thing I ever did.
Hang on, the jury's not back yet. And you're only 46.
MM: There's no reason to even go down that road. It's an illusion. Look what I have to do. I'm sitting here because of a stupid mistake.
He said "illusion." THAT won't be used against him.
BC: Did you feel unfairly singled out because of what happened at Congress?
MM: No, I never thought about it that way. I knew after I left Congress I know what I did, I knew I had to take the hit and I had to live with it. But I knew someday I had to talk about it.
Procrastination is his real sin.
BC: Do you feel better?
MM: No, [laughs]. It's going to take a few days. It's tough because when you have to tell your son and your family for the first time, something I've hid for a long, long time. Especially my wife, close friends, it's not pleasurable doing that.
BC: What were conversations like with your dad, your son, Tony?
MM: I'd like to keep it private. I've always been a private person. Very emotional, they were very very supportive, they were very proud of me.
Can we get a transcript of those talks, too, before we decide?
MM: I just don't want to be a distraction to the Cardinals.
Come April, you probably won't be. Let's get through spring training first.
BC: Is a confession good for soul?
"Soul?" Oh, it's been so long since I had ...
MM: I'm sure I'll find out soon. There's just a lot of built up emotion.
The Devil's on his way, apparently.
BC: My guess is that, in St. Louis, you will be welcomed warmly.
MM: I'm asking for a second chance. I hope they give it to me. Because I have a lot to offer. I have a whole Rolodex of things that I'd love to teach hitters.
Rolodex? I don't see how the phone number for Victor Conte is going to help Skip Schumaker get his OPS over .800. Oh, wait. Maybe I can.
MM: I can't wait to get to spring training to teach. It's been a passion of mine. It came to a head in October when Tony sent me a text to see if I would be the hitting coach.
A passion, ever since I gave this seminar in Washington ...
BC: What made you say yes this time?
Six pints of Ted Drewes' Frozen Custard!
MM: I think my wife. She knows how much I really enjoy teaching.
There's a lot to be learned from McGwire, that's for sure.
BC: I don't sense a lot of antagonism toward you around baseball.
Clearly talking about the players and not the writers.
MM: As far as when as a baseball player, all I ever did was work my tail off to help this ballclub win. I didn't like the attention. I'm a very shy guy.
A shy guy, but not a tie guy. Or an ascot guy. He might want to look into ascot futures.
MM: I did my best with what I could in the media. I tried to include my teammates; they were fantastic to me.
That was smart; it will resonate with players on the Cardinals.
MM: I don't know if a lot of people knew, but I don't have one thing from the '98 season. I didn't keep any of that stuff. I gave everything away to teammates, players, coaches, umpires, people that came through. I just wanted them to have the mementos. It meant more to me to give it to them than to keep it.
Of course you gave it away. It was all evidence!
BC: Can you still look back on those moments [breaking the Maris record] in 1998 and still have a glow about it? Or has it been compromised in some way?
The glow faded some time after he retired in '01, when he stopped using.
MM: That's me. That's who I am. I was that kind of guy. Picking up my son, that's what I felt. Picking up Sammy. Going over to the Marises. That's just the kind of person I am.
BC: If you had a [HOF} vote, would you vote for Mark McGwire?
Mark McGwire? Oh, that's me.
MM: I'll leave it up to you guys. I'll leave it up to the writers.
Bob doesn't have a Hall of Fame vote. Thanks for reminding him. Jerk.
MM: Thank you, Bob, for allowing me to do this.
Genie Costas gets tangled in microphone cord during handshake, then asks McGwire to point him toward the nearest In-N-Out. Post-haste!