My 9-year-old son's first favorite baseball player was Mark McGwire, being that they're both redheads, bat right-handed and take mighty cuts. My son would fall asleep each night under a Winnie the Pooh comforter and a poster of McGwire looking over him.
Last Thursday, as I watched the congressional hearings on steroids in baseball, and after he had walked in and out of the room enough to know in general what was going on, he asked me, "Did Mark McGwire take steroids?"
"Well," I said, "they asked him under oath about steroids and he refused to answer."
"That means he probably did," he said.
He is old enough to know that when someone asks you a question, you answer with the truth. He left the room, more disappointed than disillusioned from what I could tell. I've never wanted my children to look at ballplayers as heroes, but rather to admire their skills. And McGwire is just another reason why.
There was a sadness to McGwire's very shrinking in front of us -- the blubbering, the grandpa glasses perched on his nose, the downsized body, the plaintive voice, the running away from his former self and baseball the way Jose Canseco ran from his book. Let's get this straight: McGwire is no victim. He had every chance to walk into that hearing and swear on oath that he never took steroids and that the use of steroids is cheating. He did not and could not say either. That is his doing, not Canseco's and not Congress'.
He told us he will redirect funds from his foundation to fight steroid use in youngsters, but he had no plan whatsoever, as if the idea came to him on the perp walk into the Rayburn Building. He said he'd make a "great" spokesman to warn kids about steroids. A man who cannot even recognize the obviousness that steroids are a form of cheating is worthless as a spokesman. A man who does not have the fortitude to address in general the past, from which we all learn, is worthless as a spokesman. And it was that lack of honor that produced such sadness.
Even a 9-year-old could see that.
Congress validated the need for the hearings on two fronts: it established for major league baseball that the illegal spread (and baseball's prior tacit approval) of a federally controlled substance is a public health issue. The Garibaldi and Hooton families alone are two reasons too many to know that. Secondly, it embarrassed baseball into acknowledging and closing two major loopholes in its testing program (though others remain), most notably the clause that a player could be suspended or fined for testing positive.
In addition to McGwire, the saddest presence of all, here is how other principals held up under what often was riveting television.