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Wilstein was Steroids Era's first whistle-blower

At the time he was labeled a snooper. Now he looks like a genius.

Steve Wilstein is The Associated Press reporter who amid Mark McGwire's home run chase in 1998 wrote a controversial story detailing his use of androstenedione, then a legal over-the-counter drug that raises one's testosterone level.

Sitting on the top shelf of Mark McGwire's locker, next to a can of Popeye spinach and packs of sugarless gum, is a brown bottle labeled Androstenedione.

For more than a year, McGwire says, he has been using the testosterone-producing pill, which is perfectly legal in baseball but banned in the NFL, the Olympics and the NCAA.

The day after the story ran, McGwire reacted angrily, saying, "There's absolutely nothing wrong with it." Manager Tony La Russa called it an invasion of McGwire's privacy and even attempted - ludicrously - to ban AP reporters from the Cardinals' clubhouse.

In the midst of all the good vibes coming from the home run chase, no one wanted the balloon to pop. The public took McGwire's side. So did most everyone in the media. Headlines such as "Focus should be on the field, not the medicine cabinets" ran in major newspapers. And perhaps most importantly, Major League Baseball and the players association essentially chose to look the other way.

How did that work out?

"I went out there intending to write a story about this fun home run chase that had captured the nation's interest," Wilstein, 60, said last week. "I was out there for weeks, and then I write the story about andro and I understand the reaction I got. I didn't take it personally because I was doing what I had to do. From my perspective, it was important for people to understand that there was something phony going on. It wasn't as clean and wonderful as everyone thought."

No one wanted to believe that at the time, not when it was so much fun to simply watch in awe as McGwire and Sammy Sosa hit home runs on a nightly basis.

McGwire stopped taking andro in 1999, saying he didn't want kids to follow his lead. MLB banned it in 2004, around the same time that the FDA banned its sale.

Now retired and living outside of Seattle, Wilstein will forever have a place in The Steroid Era. It all began when he noticed the andro bottle while waiting for McGwire by his locker.

His story, which ran on Aug. 21, 1998, includes quotes from McGwire and Sosa, other players, doctors, trainers and a spokesman for Major League Baseball. Wilstein also quotes Dr. John Lombardo of Ohio State, the NFL's adviser on steroids, calling andro "an anabolic steroid."

The warning signs were there for Major League Baseball to act.

It did not.

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