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Well, as it turns out, McGwire had another surprise in him. He wanted back into baseball. And to get back in, he was willing to come clean. In late October, La Russa announced that he had hired McGwire as hitting coach, and for three months there were daily rumors that he would talk about the past again—or that he might not.
Then, on Monday, McGwire gave the long-awaited admission, at times heartfelt, at times vague. He said he was just waiting for the right time. He said that he tried steroids in the late 1980s, when he was young and healthy and already one of baseball's premier power hitters. He said that he tried them in the '90s when he lived on the disabled list and worried that his career might be over. He said he used them in '98, when he was a symbol of hope when many wondered if baseball could still capture the nation's attention four seasons after a painful players' strike.
"Looking back," he told the Associated Press on Monday, "I wish I had never played in the steroid era."
He did not make excuses (though he refused to acknowledge the link between steroid use and performance). He did not blame anyone else. The question now is: Will people forgive him? I hope so. I was talking with Bob Costas about this just before he interviewed McGwire on Monday night for the MLB Network. Costas did not know then how the interview would go or how people would react. But he thought that on Opening Day in St. Louis, at least, McGwire would get a standing ovation and huge cheers.
"And you know what that will be?" Costas asked. "It won't be approval. It will be forgiveness."
Now on SI.com
For Tom Verducci's and Lee Jenkins's takes on Mark McGwire, go to SI.com/mlb