“Absolutely,” McGwire told The Athletic’s Jayson Stark in an interview published Monday. “I just know myself. I just know. I was a born home run hitter.
“I mean, unfortunately, I did [take PEDs]. And I’ve regretted that. I’ve talked about that. I regretted it. I didn’t need to. That’s the thing. Didn’t need to.”
McGwire, then playing for the Cardinals, and the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa captivated baseball fans in 1998 with their pursuit of Roger Maris’s record of 61 homers, set in the 1961 season. Both players passed that mark, with Sosa hitting 66 and McGwire smashing the record with his 70.
Both players, in part because of the hulking physiques they developed during their careers, subsequently became suspected of using PEDs, and they were among a group of MLB stars asked to testify before a 2005 congressional hearing. While Sosa denied using PEDs at the hearing, McGwire was awkwardly evasive, and five years later he admitted that he had used them.
“I wish I had never touched steroids. It was a mistake,” McGwire said in a 2010 statement released through the Cardinals, shortly after they hired him as a coach. “I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroids era.”
However, he claimed at the time that the true source of his power came from having been “given this gift” for slugging baseballs. “The only reason I took steroids was for my health purposes,” McGwire told Bob Costas in a 2010 MLB Network interview. “I did not take steroids to get any gain for any strength purposes. …
“I’ve always had bat speed. I just learned how to shorten my bat speed. I learned how to be a better hitter.
“There’s not a pill or an injection that is going to give me — or any athlete — the hand-eye coordination to hit a baseball,” McGwire continued. “A pill or an injection will not hit a baseball.”
McGwire offered similar sentiments when asked by Stark if he could have reached 70 homers without the help of PEDs. “Deep down inside, I know me as a hitter,” the 54-year-old former first baseman said. “And I know what I did in that box. And I know how strong my mind is. And I know what kind of hitter I became. And yes. Yes. Definitely.”
Voters for the National Baseball Hall of Fame have largely disagreed with that assessment. McGwire never came close to enshrinement in Cooperstown, despite setting the single-season record, which was broken three years later when Barry Bonds slugged 73, and hitting 583 homers over a 16-year career, putting him fifth on the all-time list when he retired in 2001 — not to mention remaining No. 1 all-time in at-bats per home run (10.1).
The 1987 American League rookie of the year and 12-time all-star never got higher than 23.7 percent of the Hall of Fame vote before falling off the ballot in 2016. The members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, who do the voting, have consistently signaled their disapproval of some strongly suspected steroid cheats, including Bonds, Sosa and ace pitcher Roger Clemens, although a few other barrel-chested sluggers of that era, such as Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza, have gained election in recent years.
In his comments to Stark, McGwire expressed regret that there “wasn’t any testing” for PEDs when he played, and he offered support for MLB’s subsequent efforts to keep players clean, saying, “The game has done a terrific job of doing what they’re doing now. I commend them for doing it.
“I think we all wish [testing] went on when we had played. But unfortunately, it didn’t.”