Madness? I’d rather see Curt on C-SPAN

There are two types of sports fans in this world: Those who live and die by March Madness, watching every second of every game, and those who, when faced with the option on Thursday, watched the Congressional baseball hearings instead. If past history has taught me anything, brackets will never be my meal ticket in life. So instead of focusing on NCAA basketball, my TV was primarily tuned in to parents, doctors and MLB players testifying in D.C.

Watching most of the three panels that presented their cases either in favor or against Major League Baseball’s new steroid policy and, Major League Baseball itself, I came to a few conclusions. Conclusion number 1: Rafael Palmeiro shouldn’t have been there; he never juiced. Conclusion number 2: If you pretend you don’t understand English, then you too can claim under oath that you didn’t use steroids. Conclusion number 3: Jose Canseco is a snake. (Don’t worry, it didn’t take 11 hours of C-SPAN-style television for me to figure that one out.) Conclusion number 4: It’s time for players to relate with their fans. A tougher testing policy is a good way to do this. Conclusion number 5: McGwire’s not as bad as he seems right now.

I never thought I’d ever endorse McGwire’s character, even less so after the Congressional hearing. But watching him repeat like a broken record that he wasn’t there to discuss the past, I realized McGwire’s a man full of regrets who wants to do the right thing. I also realize that if he wanted to do the right thing, he had a pretty good opportunity on Thursday to admit to using steroids — after all, Canseco didn’t take the fifth, even without immunity. However, McGwire is no longer a hero; he’s just a man, and humans don’t always do the right thing, even when they know what the right thing is.

McGwire underestimated just how hard it would be to dodge the questions of the House Government Reform Committee, the suspicions of the public and most of all, his own conscience. You can almost imagine McGwire’s lawyers the night before the hearing, high-fiving when they came up with the statement, “I’m not here to talk about the past. I’m here to be positive about the future,” and then, subsequently looking around awkwardly for an exit when McGwire proceeded to beat the phrase to death. The point is, McGwire went in there as confident as a guy who had won the hearts of millions, even if it was by cheating. That all changed with the testimonies from the first panel.

The opening statement of Raymond and Denise Garibaldi, a couple whose son, Rob, committed suicide after using steroids, really hit home with McGwire. They weren’t the only parents to testify, but they were the only one to link a specific baseball player to their son’s decision to use steroids. Denise cited the incident when McGwire admitted to using the testosterone-increasing supplement androstenedione as the reason why her son began using “andro” in the first place. Rob’s steroid use spiraled from there.

Being informed that his supplement use led to Rob’s suicide deeply impacted McGwire, who is a father himself. It was clear from his prepared statement that McGwire had not thought about the broad consequences his steroid use would have, only the consequences it would have on himself and his legacy. And yet, I can’t help but wonder if McGwire hadn’t had the lawyer-speak explicitly written in front of him, if he would have cracked and given the committee more direct answers. Time will tell if Thursday’s hearing will achieve all it set out to do, but I can already guarantee that McGwire’s stance on steroids has drastically changed. He’s a strong baseball player, and yet Thursday he appeared to be at his weakest.

Now what’s left is to figure out is how the trial has affected the rest of baseball. Even the pathetic body language readers from US Weekly magazine could tell how the hearings impacted McGwire, but what impact did the hearing have on Bud Selig and, more importantly, the Todd Walkers of the game? What are the thoughts of the pretty good players who don’t use steroids but haven’t been as outspoken on the subject as Schilling? Why haven’t they spoken out more against steroid use since it directly affects the light in which their stats are viewed. These are the guys whose opinions need to change if there will ever be a zero-tolerance policy implemented — which there needs to be in the future.

The Olympics has it right with their one strike and you’re banned rule. It’s interesting because back in the fall I wrote about sprinter Torri Edwards and how I felt she’d been a victim of the policy. I received an interesting e-mail from the husband of an Olympic gymnast soon after the column came out and he reminded me what being able to play sports for a living is all about. These players are professionals and as professionals they can’t be making mistakes. Traders on Wall Street make a ton of money to not screw up; if they do, they could get canned just like that. Insider trading? It’s cheating the stock market, so you go to jail. The argument I defended in the fall that mistakes can happen because of certain foods people eat and medicines containing traces of banned substances is unacceptable. If innocent people are banned from baseball for testing positive, how is it different from a regular Joe messing up on the job? It’s not.

People complained that the strike alienated the common person from the game of baseball, even further widening the gap between players and fans. It’s ironic because many felt McGwire’s epic home run season helped reconcile fans with their pastime. If players fear a no tolerance policy because they’re worried about mistakes occurring in the testing process, then they’ve already alienated themselves from the common working fan.

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