LOS ANGELES, January 12- Disgraced ex-baseball star Mark McGwire said on Monday he used steroids during his record-breaking home run season, dealing another blow to the drug-tainted image of America's national past-time.The 46-year-old former Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals star expressed regret and confirmed long-held suspicions that he used performance-enhancing drugs for nearly a decade, including the 1998 campaign.
"I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era," McGwire said in a statement on the Cardinals website.
McGwire had consistently declined to comment on drug use in baseball and in 2005 refused to answer questions after being ordered to appear before a congressional hearing on steroid use in the sport.
Commissioner Bug Selig on Monday welcomed McGwire’s admission and claimed steroids have been almost wiped out of the big leagues.
"I am pleased that Mark McGwire has confronted his use of performance-enhancing substances," Selig said. "This will make Mark’s re-entry into the game much smoother.
"The use of steroids and amphetamines amongst today’s players has greatly subsided and is virtually non-existent as our testing results have shown.
"The so called steroid era … is clearly a thing of the past."
The burly slugger captured the imagination of American sports fans in 1998 after becoming involved in a gripping head-to-head battle with the Chicago Cubs Sammy Sosa to break Roger Maris’s coveted single season home-run record.
Maris’s mark of 61 had stood since 1961 but was obliterated by McGwire, who finished the 1998 campaign with 70 home runs. Sosa, who has denied using performance-enhancing drugs, finished with 66 runs.
However question marks have swirled about the legitimacy of McGwire’s record-breaking season for years, which the shamed baseball star admitted on Monday was fueled by illegal drugs.
McGwire said he had decided to come clean after being appointed the Cardinals’ new hitting coach two months ago.
"I never knew when, but I always knew this day would come," McGwire said. "It’s time for me to talk about the past and to confirm what people have suspected. I used steroids during my playing career and I apologize.
"I remember trying steroids very briefly in the 1989/1990 off season and then after I was injured in 1993, I used steroids again. I used them on occasion throughout the nineties, including during the 1998 season."
Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa told ESPN television on Monday that his club ran an honest programme but he also suspected something might be going on outside of his organization.
"I knew the programme we ran in St. Louis was 100 percent legit," La Russa said. "I became aware of what was happening during the times, everybody was trying to get the competitive edge."
McGwire said he had been drawn to steroids after becoming convinced they would help him recover from a series of injuries.
"During the mid-90s, I went on the DL (disabled list) seven times and missed 228 games over five years.
"It was definitely a miserable bunch of years and I told myself that steroids could help me recover faster."
McGwire acknowledged that his hitting feats would forever be questioned following his admission of steroid use, but insisted that he had enjoyed "good years" when he had been clean.
"I’m sure people will wonder if I could have hit all those home runs had I never taken steroids," he said.
"But no matter what, I shouldn’t have done it and for that I’m truly sorry."
McGwire did not hold a news conference on Monday but rather chose to make his admission in an online statement and to select news organizations.
The 1998 home run chase revitalized the baseball world but now McGwire’s admission has given the sport another black eye.
His comments follow a similar admission by New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez 11 months ago.
Major League Baseball home run king Barry Bonds, pitcher Roger Clemens and slugger David Ortiz have also come under suspicion for using performance-enhancing drugs but have denied knowingly doing so.
Bonds has been indicted on US federal charges he made false statements to a grand jury and obstructed justice.
A grand jury is probing Clemens to determine if he lied to a congressional committee.
In 2003, more than five percent of American baseball players tested positive for performance-enhancing drug use.
The San Francisco Chronicle previously reported that Bonds has admitted taking steroids but says he did not know what they were.
On March, 17, 2005, McGwire and Sosa were among several current and former players who testified in front of the House Government Reform Committee probing drug use in baseball.