Former career home run king Hank Aaron says Mark McGwire should have a clear conscience after his recent admission he used performance-enhancing drugs as a player.
Aaron said other players still harboring similar secrets also should come clean. "I think baseball is cleaning up its act a little bit, I really do," Aaron said Monday during a visit to Atlanta Braves camp. "I’ve said this and I’ll say it again, over and over again, this is the most forgiving country in the world. If you come through and tell the truth, then you’re going to be forgiven.
"The kid with the Yankees, (Andy) Pettitte, came out and it was a week of news and after that it was over. We all make mistakes. If they ever did enhancing drugs, whatever they did, they should come clean and be able to sleep at night."
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Aaron said McGwire’s admission and apology this year was overdue but still welcome.
"I would have loved to have seen him do it a long time ago, but since he did it, I think that he himself will tell you right now he’s able to sleep at night and he’s able to look at his teammates," Aaron said. "He’s done everything that he can do."
McGwire, who hit a then-single-season record 70 homers in 1998, admitted this year he used steroids and human growth hormone as a player. He is beginning his first season as the Cardinals’ hitting coach.
"It’s nice to have him back," Aaron said.
The 76-year-old Aaron’s enduring popularity was clear as he attracted a crowd of autograph-seekers.
"It makes you feel good," he said. "I’ve tried to carry myself that way. I don’t try to push myself on nobody. I just try to do what I’m supposed to do."
Aaron hit a record 755 home runs for the Braves and Brewers. His record was broken by Barry Bonds, who also eclipsed McGwire’s mark with 73 homers in 2001. Bonds has pleaded not guilty to charges of lying when he told a federal grand jury in 2003 that he never knowingly used steroids.
Aaron did not mention Bonds.
Aaron was asked if he appreciates some fans still referring to him as the home run king.
"Regardless of what happened, I’m not going to hit another home run," he said. "Not in this world. I may do it somewhere else.
"I don’t think I can hit anybody deep. I think my deep is over with. The only thing I can hit is a golf ball — all over the place."
Aaron often visits the Braves’ spring training camp, but he made a rare visit to the team’s clubhouse on Monday.
"It’s the first time I’ve walked through a clubhouse at this time of the year for about 20 years," he said. "It just brings back memories."
He said the smells, some unpleasant, took him back to his days as a player when the first days of batting practice left blisters on his hands.
"I remember going through the clubhouse, my hands were bleeding and tired and everything was sore," he said.
Aaron had praise for Braves manager Bobby Cox, who will retire after the season.
"It’s going to be sad when he leaves," he said. "I don’t know that anybody ever said a bad thing about Bobby."
Aaron said he hoped to meet top prospect Jason Heyward, who is only 20 but has a chance to win a starting job in right field — Aaron’s old position with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves.
Heyward is black and from McDonough, Ga., near Atlanta. Aaron, scanning the players on the field, noted he didn’t see other black players.
"I think we’re on the right track but it dampens my spirit when I come up to spring training and I look around here and you don’t see any black kids," he said. "It hurts you, because Jackie Robinson a long time ago paid his dues and … now we don’t have any.
"And this is a scene you see all over the major leagues. This is not only here with the Braves. You can go to every ballclub and see the same thing, you don’t see too many African-American kids playing baseball, and that’s not very good. Something needs to be done about it."