Who looks good in this latest round between baseball and Congress? Most of the politicians look silly, most of the players look like stonewallers, all of the lawyers look like lawyers. Baseball officials, keepers of that great American institution, look completely blind and incompetent.
And Mark McGwire? Hoooo, how Big Mac has fallen.
Thursday's congressional hearing into steroids in Major League Baseball droned on and on and on, and by the time it wrapped up, almost 11 1/2 hours after it began, we were left with the same picture we had when we began.
Baseball has a steroids problem. It's had one. It probably still has one. How widespread it was, or is ... well, that's still a matter of debate. But everybody agrees that, no matter how big, we should get rid of the problem.
Now, is baseball on the right track toward doing that? Is the new steroid policy going to do the trick? Does the new policy go far enough in terms of punishment, does it cover all the ground it needs to cover, does it do it well?
Well, yeah, we're still debating that, too.
What we won't debate, though, is that the biggest loser in Thursday's hearing isn't baseball or politics. It's McGwire, who only six years ago seemed the great American hero.
On Thursday, after an emotional opening statement in which he decried the use of steroids and sympathized with parents of kids affected by them, McGwire was given a chance to deny that he ever used them.
And, shockingly, he wouldn't do so. Maybe he couldn't.
"Can we say you played with honesty and integrity," during your time in the major leagues, Rep. William Lacy Clay of Missouri asked McGwire at one point.
"Like I said. I'm not going to talk about the past," McGwire said.
Earlier, when Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland asked McGwire, in so many words, if he had used steroids, and if he was taking the Fifth, a tight-lipped McGwire simply shook his head no.
"I'm not here to discuss the past," McGwire said. "I'm here to be positive."
This was not an admission of guilt on McGwire's part, but it might as well have been. By essentially unfurling his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, McGwire has thrown a huge cloud over his entire career. The year he hit 70 home runs to break the long-held record held by Roger Maris is now indelibly tainted. The magic summer of '98 now seems so full of naivety.
Sammy Sosa, McGwire's home run partner that summer, maintained in front of the committee that he never used steroids. Rafael Palmeiro was fiery in denying he ever used them. Curt Schilling, never accused, looked like a smooth politician and Jose Canseco, an admitted user and whistle-blower, looked about how you'd expect him to look.
None of them, save Canseco, looked particularly good in dancing around questions on how widespread the use of steroids has been. But McGwire, by refusing to deny he used, looked guilty as a corked bat.
When the House Government Reform committee called this hearing, it was not to out McGwire or anyone else. The hearing, ostensibly, was to look into the steroids problem and to see if Major League Baseball was doing enough to stop it.
But when the committee members began to ask the players about their experiences with steroids and steroids users, it turned dark for McGwire. "I'm retired," he kept saying. "I'm not going to talk about the past," he said. "I want to be positive."
Countered Rep. Mark Souder of Indiana: "This is an oversight committee. If the Enron people come in here and say 'We don't want to talk about the past,' you think we'd let them get away with that?"
And, so, McGwire takes the biggest fall.
Click below for the rest of John Donovan's Viewpoint.