McGwire Turns Page, But Will Fans Let Him?

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Rory Russo will never forget that September night in 1998 as he watched Mark McGwire's record-breaking 62nd homer curl over the fence just inside the foul pole in left field at old Busch Stadium.

Everyone at the ballpark was going nuts except Russo's wife - she had picked that inopportune moment for a trip to the restroom.

"She missed the whole thing," Russo said Monday.

Too bad for her. For Russo, it was a moment the lifetime Cardinals fan still cherishes, even after McGwire's often-criticized congressional testimony in 2005 led many in baseball-crazy St. Louis to conclude "Big Mac" was a steroids user.

On Monday, McGwire confirmed it, saying he used steroids over several seasons, in both Oakland and St. Louis, including that 70-homer season of 1998.

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The admission was all the talk here on Monday, even if it was hardly a surprise. But for the most part, fans were ready to forgive and - if not forget - at least move on.

"It's not surprising but I'm still disappointed," said Chris Freidhoff, 28, who manages Hotshots, a bar in the shadow of Busch Stadium. "Really, Mark, the whole time you were a Cardinal you were using? I mean, I figured he did it, but not the whole time.

"But I'll give him another chance," Freidhoff said. "At least he apologized, even if it did take him a while."

St. Louis has seen its share of baseball glory - 10 world championships and 17 pennants have made the team baseball's most successful outside of the New York Yankees. And few seasons have generated as much excitement as 1998.

The Cardinals acquired McGwire at midseason a year earlier, and even that season, he made a run at Roger Maris' record of 61, ending 1997 with 58.

From the outset in 1998, McGwire was ahead of Maris' pace. Fans lined up to get in for batting practice just to watch McGwire.

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Adding to the excitement was the fact that Sammy Sosa of the rival Chicago Cubs was matching McGwire homer for homer. By September, it was clear both men had a shot to top Maris. Both eventually did - Sosa hit 66.

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608693McGwire tied and set the record at home - against the Cubs. On Sept. 8, with a national TV audience watching, McGwire lined a pitch from Chicago's Steve Trachsel over the wall. He missed first base in his excitement, went back and touched it, then circled the bases as fireworks went off. Maris' family was in the stands. McGwire hugged the Maris family, hugged Sosa, hugged his young son, Matt.

It was a season that many said helped baseball recover from the damage caused by the 1994 labor dispute that forced cancellation of the World Series. Congress honored McGwire and Sosa. Interstate 70 through St. Louis was dubbed "Mark McGwire Highway."

McGwire admitted in 1998 that he used androstenedione, an over-the-counter muscle enhancer banned by the NFL, IOC and others. But it was his evasive testimony at the congressional hearing five years ago that seemed to sour many Cardinals fans. One of his questioners at the hearing, Rep. William Lacy Clay from St. Louis said McGwire's name should be removed from the highway signs.

McGwire's decision to admit using steroids was prompted by his decision to become hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals, his final big league team. Tony La Russa, McGwire's manager in Oakland and St. Louis, has been among McGwire's biggest supporters. CBS News correspondent Armen Keteyian reports La Russa says he'd consider using McGwire as a pinch hitter - giving him more time to convince voters to get into the Hall of Fame.

On Monday, some fans wondered why McGwire waited so long.

"The man went from a normal-sized human being to a behemoth," said Jim Stevens, a 55-year-old Cardinals fan eating a late lunch at the Broadway Oyster Bar next to Hotshots. "This is the move he should have made years ago."

Many, though, said they're willing to welcome McGwire back with open arms when he rejoins the Cardinals next season as a hitting coach.

"We're good baseball fans, of course we'll welcome him back," Russo said. "I'm glad he's our hitting coach."


La Russa immediately praised McGwire's decision to go public.

McGwire's apology even seemed to win over one of his harshest critics.

"I'm glad he finally told the truth and has taken personal responsibility for his mistakes," Clay, the congressman, said in a statement. "He owes that to the Cardinals and to baseball fans everywhere. From my perspective, the issue is now closed and we move on."
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