ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak admitted that he was "disappointed" with Mark McGwire's recent admission of past steroid use, but said Saturday that the club would have hired McGwire to be its hitting coach even if it had known in advance that McGwire would make the announcement.
In a 17-minute news conference at the Cardinals' annual Winter Warm-Up fan fest, Mozeliak made it clear that the club stands behind its new coach. He answered a slew of questions regarding the hire, mostly from ESPN reporters, and acknowledged that there were times when he thought the hire might fall through entirely.
Perhaps the most striking statement, though, was Mozeliak's assertion that nothing would have changed if the Cardinals had been informed in advance that McGwire would acknowledge past use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
"The decision would still be the same," Mozeliak said. "I think we've all had our suspicions of what was going on in that time period. More importantly, the thing that we were looking at is, as long as he was being honest with what was happening and what he did, we were definitely willing to forgive him. He was someone that was very much a great part of this organization and a great part of baseball, so we do welcome him back."
With that said, though, Mozeliak acknowledged that it was not a happy day when he received confirmation that McGwire would admit steroid use.
"When I first learned what the story was going to be and what he was going to talk about, my initial thoughts were, I was disappointed," Mozeliak said. "He was someone that I knew back in the mid-90s when he was part of the Cardinals, and someone that I always admired. So to hear what he had to say, there's a level of disappointment.
"But looking at it in a bigger context and understanding that what he's about to tell people, at least he's going to be honest with it, and I think that puts it in a different light. Everybody agrees that what he did was wrong. He's already admitted what he did and how he did it, and for the organization, that was the big hurdle we had to get past. Now that that's happened, it's going to allow us to close the chapter of this and move on to a new one."
McGwire will appear before fans at the Winter Warm-Up on Sunday afternoon, taking the main stage. Shortly before or after that, he will hold his first news conference since his hire -- and since his admission of PED use.
It's a scene that, at times, Mozeliak was unsure would happen. The club announced McGwire's hiring in October, scrambling after word of the appointment leaked before everything was fully in place. On the day of the announcement, Mozeliak said that McGwire would meet the media in relatively short order. However, it took quite a bit longer than that, more than two months in total.
During that time, Mozeliak had his doubts.
"I spoke with his attorneys, letting them understand that there might have to be an exit strategy if things aren't going quite smoothly," Mozeliak said. "But in time, he did confess to what he did. And at that point, we believe that with that confession and what he was going to say, we were still willing to hire him. Once we got to a point where we knew he was going to do that and we knew he was going to admit steroid use, then we were comfortable with the hire and the process."
After McGwire's admission was released on Monday, the club initially seemed reluctant to present him in a full news conference. On Monday and Tuesday, McGwire called numerous media members for interviews but did not provide any availability in a scheduled, group setting. On Saturday, however, the Cardinals announced that McGwire would appear at a podium to speak.
McGwire's name came up in every player's availability session at the Warm-Up on Saturday, a good indication of the degree to which the topic remains a hot one. Shortstop Brendan Ryan, who has hit with McGwire extensively this winter, took an especially large number of questions about the slugger. Ryan said he would not discount McGwire's playing accomplishments as a result of the slugger's drug use.
"For me, I'm not going to judge him either way," Ryan said. "All I know is Big Mac the super-talent that I got to watch on TV. I tell you what, he's taken batting practice with us and it's humbling. It's frustrating. He gets jammed and the ball goes 412 feet or something. So he's still got it. It doesn't change anything to me. I'm not going to judge one way or the other."
It was a tone echoed throughout the day, especially by Mozeliak.
"I don't think making mistakes in your life should prevent you from working," the GM said. "There's no doubt that we don't condone his actions. We take this very seriously. We really hope that this can be used as a springboard to message that steroids aren't good for you and they shouldn't be used. This is an opportunity we think to really push this to a higher level. In Mark's case, he's going to have to take that onto his shoulders as well. But I think the most important thing is his admission, his honesty with it and the fact that he did deal with it head on at this point."