Mark McGwire: Mark of Excellence

To reach the summit, McGwire overcame a failed marriage, a crisis of confidence and a pain-racked body. What bred the will to succeed?

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PETER NEWCOMB / AFP / GETTY

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He doesn't have much of a temper, even when he talks about the one transgression he felt he experienced this year, when a reporter peered into his locker before an interview and spotted a bottle of androstenedione pills. This substance is classified by the FDA as a nutritional supplement and is allowed by Major League Baseball. But it is in the same chemical family as the banned anabolic steroids, and like those body-building drugs, "andro" increases the body's testosterone. McGwire's voice doesn't get louder when he discusses it, but his tempo speeds up a bit because he's angry that this breach of privacy might cause kids to try andro. "I discourage children, especially in high school, from taking the stuff," he says. "Androstenedione only helps me get through my workout throughout the season. I've been through so many injuries in my career, this was one little step that helped me. But by no means does it help you hit a baseball. People think it's a drug. It's not a drug. It's a food supplement. It does not help Mark McGwire hit home runs. Mark McGwire's hand-eye coordination was given by the man upstairs." A combination of intense fame and self-help training will make almost anyone talk about himself in the third person.

McGwire never hid the pills, telling most reporters who asked about steroid use throughout the years that he takes anything that's legal. So it upset him not only because of the accusations that he was trying to cheat but also because reporters compared andro to steroids. And steroid use proved a problem for his brother J.J. A star football player whose career got sidelined when a BB-gun accident left him with a glass eye, J.J. became a body builder and, like many of those athletes, began taking steroids. McGwire, LaRose and other friends and members of the McGwire family intervened. "He hasn't done that for three years," says McGwire. For him, the moral code is obvious: if the law, Major League Baseball and the company that has supplied him with andro since 1992 all say it's O.K., then it's O.K.

McGwire is a simple guy. About his recent trip to Australia with his girlfriend Ali Dickson, he says, "It was sort of like going to San Francisco or Hawaii, only it was 14 hours away." He lives alone in a 5,000-sq.-ft. house on the water in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, where he has two powerboats, one a large sleeper moored outside his house that he hopes to take on summer trips after he retires. "I always loved watching the sea gulls and the boats," he says. "I just love the way of life around the beach. It's very kickback."

He also loves classical music, the Three Tenors and a show on the Learning Channel called Trauma: Life in the ER. Never a crazy partyer, he's gone even more Zen in the past few years. "He seems very mature now," says Pitta. "At one point he was going through women like Kleenex. He proposed to one and then called it off. Now he treats women with more respect." Shortly after the season ended, McGwire got back together with Dickson, who had stayed a close friend after they broke up last New Year's Eve. During their breakup, Dickson, who had been a volunteer at a child-abuse clinic, continued to work for the charity to which he weepily pledged $1 million a year at a press conference. Says McGwire: "She's my best friend." She's friends with Kathy, McGwire's ex, and the two couples often hang out. Who are these people?

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