Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Thank You Mark McGwire

Just as Mark McGwire's lip trembled as he read his prepared opening remarks yesterday before Congress, so was I nearly moved to tears by his inarticulacy before the House Governmental Affairs Committee yesterday. Not since Admiral Stockdale's unjust evisceration by the press after an unfortunately hackneyed performance in the 1992 Vice Presidential debate have I been so vividly reminded that the greatest sin in American public life is to look lost before a television camera.

Today, McGwire is alternately ripped and pitied for largely sticking to phrases that reflected this sentiment:

Asking me, or any other player, to answer questions about who took steroids in front of television cameras will not solve his problem. If a player answers no, he simply will not be believed. If he answers yes, he risks public scorn and endless government investigations. My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family or myself. I intend to follow their advice.

But to my thinking, he did exactly what everyone should have done. The players opted not to stick together, and that's a shame. When the threat of subpoena first was presented, there were grumblings that the Players Union would fight it. They should have stood pat and said, in effect, "Okay Congress, I dare you to send the United States Marshalls to a generation of great sluggers in handcuffs before a Congress that has nothing better to do than harass ballplayers." Only then would this sham have been revealed for what it is; only then would Congress have returned to more pressing business like, you know, the President's effort to rob the poor by cutting Medicaid in order to finance his kickbacks to the rich and connected.

But my point, mostly is to defend McGwire against the rush to judgment. Yes, Sosa, through an interpreter, denied using steroids. Yes, Rafael Palmeiro did the same. God only knows what Curt Schilling was talking about, but certainly he appeared more cooperative than McGwire. But McGwire, when he commented that he wouldn't "dignify" Canseco's salacious book, when he indicted Congress for, in effect, serving as yet another marketing outlet for Canseco's book sales, hit the nail on the head.

And shame on the press for piling on. In the Times, Vescey writes of McGwire:

He also said he would use "whatever influence and popularity I have to discourage young athletes from taking any drug that is not recommended by a doctor." He almost sounded as if he was begging for a chance to redeem himself. It would have been better if he had come out and said it.

Said what? Who knows what he did? What ever happened to granting benefit of the doubt to people who generally have behaved honorably. When McGwire dueled with Sosa in pursuit of Maris's single-season homerun record, he was one of the best ambassadors baseball has ever had -- quiet, modest, sportsmanlike, content to let his bat do the talking. Vescey again:

Now, three years after his retirement and two years before his eligibility for the Baseball Hall of Fame, a man once hailed as a hero and a role model has become a sodden hunk of aged and post-verbal sadness.

Press as judge, jury, executioner.

McGwire shouldn't be pitied. He should be applauded for taking a stand when his colleagues rolled over panting inviting Congress would scratch their bellies. McGwire and Schilling, by refusing to cowtow to a bunch of bloodthirsty congressman and their political grand guignol, were better role models than those players who attended just to issue their flat denials in hopes of mitigating the damage of Canseco's book. And so let me be one of the few to say: Thank you Mr. McGwire for treating these hearings with precisely the disdain they warranted, and thank you for attempting to direct attention to the future rather than indulging a he-said-she-said tap-dance through a past the truth of which we could never know anyway.


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