WASHINGTON (AP) — Mark McGwire’s admission that he used steroids came as no surprise to the man who brought the slugger before Congress.
Former Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, was the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee on March 17, 2005, when McGwire repeatedly testified that he would not “talk about the past” when lawmakers asked him about performance-enhancing drugs.
In a telephone interview Monday with The Associated Press, Davis said he met for three hours with McGwire behind closed doors the day before that hearing. During that private session, according to Davis, McGwire made clear he had used steroids and wanted to say so but was worried he would face legal trouble by admitting it then.
“He would have been a nice head to put on somebody’s mantle. So he basically took the Fifth (Amendment),” Davis said.
“It was very clear to everybody involved that he had taken steroids. Otherwise he would have gotten up there and denied it, but he couldn’t. … He looked ridiculous to most of the public, but he didn’t have many good options. We put him in a pretty tight spot. He was candid and honest in our interrogation of him. He said: ‘Some day, I’ll tell the story.'”
Davis added that he was turned down when he asked then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez to grant McGwire immunity in exchange for honest testimony to Congress.
“I look back now, I wish I had got immunity,” McGwire told the AP earlier Monday.
One of his lawyers, Mark Bierbower, said: “He did make an effort to fully disclose the steroid issue and to do so, we sought immunity, but it wasn’t granted. It goes without saying that he walked out of the hearing knowing he had damaged his name, his reputation. But he did it to protect himself and his family, and we’re very pleased for Mark he can say now what he wanted to say then.”
McGwire — recently hired as hitting coach for one of his former teams, the St. Louis Cardinals — said Monday he used steroids and human growth hormone on and off for a decade, starting before the 1990 season and including the year he broke Roger Maris’ single-season home run record by hitting 70 in 1998.
In 2005, Davis’ congressional panel heard more than 10 hours of testimony from executives of baseball and its players’ union; star players like McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco; and others, including Donald Hooton, whose son committed suicide after using steroids.
Hooton was among the people McGwire called Monday to discuss his admission
“I do think he can make a good spokesman on this topic,” Hooton said. “Who better to describe what it’s like to go to the mountaintop and now to be at the depths of the deepest valley for a mistake you made several years ago?”
Hooton, like Davis and many people around baseball, figured McGwire would make this sort of admission soon, given that he’s now employed by the Cardinals.
“This is the right time. He knows he owes the baseball world an explanation,” Davis said. “I think we all knew this. I don’t think anybody’s surprised by this. He was one of hundreds of players who used steroids during this time. … This was so widespread. Had we not held these hearings and put the fear of God into baseball, it would still be going on.”