La Russa remains in McGwire's corner
Slugger's longtime manager encouraged truth is out
ST. LOUIS -- Long the most public and vocal of Mark McGwire's defenders, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said on Tuesday that he has no regrets about his vociferous support of McGwire over the years.
McGwire admitted on Monday that he used steroids repeatedly during his Major League playing career, confirming a great deal of suspicion about the slugger. But La Russa, who said he was never certain of McGwire's use of performance-enhancing drugs until Monday, remained steadfast.
"I had many an opportunity to reconsider what I was doing," La Russa said on Tuesday. "I had close friends that said, 'Tony, don't do this, you're just putting your neck out.' And I thought about it. I'm a mature adult. I take my own counsel. I said what I said, and I continue to say it."
For McGwire's part, the Cardinals' incoming hitting coach spent much of the day Tuesday calling media members for interviews. The club does not intend at this point to hold a news conference with McGwire. Instead, he's making himself available one reporter at a time. He said that Tuesday has been a much better day than Monday, when he confessed his use of PEDs.
"It's been good," McGwire said. "I got up today at 5 o'clock. I was in the gym, working out. Now I can talk about it. I don't have to hide it."
Like La Russa, McGwire also stood by some controversial comments on Tuesday. In his interview with Bob Costas on MLB Network on Monday night, McGwire repeatedly asserted that he believed that taking steroids did not aid his performance once he took the field. In light of the criticism those comments engendered, McGwire still said he felt the same way.
"I'm talking from my heart," he said. "That's the way I feel. I took the stuff for my injuries. Taking that stuff allowed me to play more games, to have more at-bats. It allowed me to swing the bat more. Check out my résumé. ... I was born to hit home runs."
McGwire also said Tuesday that despite the difficulty in coming out with his admission, he never had second thoughts about taking the job with the Cardinals. He and La Russa both said that it was understood that before McGwire came to Spring Training that he would have to face reporters and answer their questions.
Still, despite the lengthy delay between McGwire's announcement as the hitting coach and when he talked, McGwire said he never wavered in his intention to coach in 2010. He attributed the delay to various circumstances which the club believed would have conflicted with an announcement, such as award voting and the holidays.
"Absolutely not," he said. "I'm good to my word. I agreed to take the job, and when I did that, I'm sticking with it. The only reason why it took so long was all those things."
McGwire said he may attend this weekend's Winter Warm-Up, the annual fundraiser for the Cardinals' charitable arm, Cardinals Care. La Russa said that he expects McGwire to be in town to meet some of his new charges, but it was unclear whether McGwire would make any kind of official appearance at the Warm-Up. Either way, McGwire is not expected to hold a news conference.
Instead, he's speaking one at a time, with the Costas interview the most prominent. La Russa has taken a similar tack, speaking with numerous representatives of the local and national media.
He chose his words carefully, arguing that since McGwire's infamous appearance before a congressional panel in 2005, he softened his stance a bit. La Russa still stood firmly by his long-held stance that any steroid use on his clubs was done without his knowledge or the knowledge of his coaching staff. That's despite the contention of some players, including most famously Jose Canseco, that it was hard to miss the steroid use. Dave Henderson, a teammate of McGwire's in the 1980s, said on 101 ESPN Radio in St. Louis on Monday that A's players "kind of knew" that McGwire was using the drugs.
"What I said was that I know that there wasn't anything we did improperly with our programs," said La Russa, who managed McGwire for the vast majority of McGwire's career. "That's why I used the word official. The official program with the A's and the Cardinals, you go to the gym, under our supervision, nothing ever was allowed that was improper. Nothing. And that's one reason I was so vocal when the thing first came out, whatever year it was. Because guys with the A's were feeling like they were being tainted."
Mostly, however, he remained emphatic in his backing of his friend and teammate.
"Is it right? No. It's wrong," La Russa said of McGwire's use of PEDs. "It's a mistake. But is it the worst mistake that I've heard players make? No. It's not. It's just wrong. But there's like first degree, second degree, third degree -- there are degrees of culpability. And when he explained it to me, I said you know, this is a good guy.
"Am I disappointed? Yes. But overall I'm so encouraged and gratified that he's come forward. And I'm so impressed with the sincerity of his comments and the scope of what he's saying. What really bothers me is there's been this focus on the fact that he said he could hit home runs without it. OK, let's argue about that. But what about giving him credit for all the other stuff that he said?"
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.