I’ve wanted to stay away from commenting on this whole steroids issue. I’m not trying to ignore it and think that it will go away, because it clearly won’t. But I felt I didn’t have much to say that wasn’t already being thrown about, and that’s still probably the case. But on the heels of last week’s congressional hearing, it’s taken a new turn.

First, there was the delicious sight of Bud Selig squirming and Donald Fehr sounding simply sleazy and heartless. “Progressive punishment?” God. The best thing that came out of the D.C. grandstanding was the exposure of the true wording of baseball’s supposedly “tougher” steroid policy.

As for the players, it was shameful on both sides of the photographers’ pit. The politicians fawned over the players and acted like they’d invited their athletic heroes into their homes and were amazed by their mere presence. For the athletes’ part, they backtracked on everything they’ve said and done in the past few weeks or years. Jose Canseco backed off everything he’s ever said or written about steroids and even Curt Schilling — perhaps the biggest politician in the MLB players’ association — backtracked from what he’s been saying for months about steroids.

But the saddest sights were Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. As Tom Verducci said, here’s a guy who felt free and comfortable talking in English since the 1998 home run chase, and now he doesn’t even open his mouth in his own defense? I have yet to see a news clip since that shows Sosa saying anything. He looks like a mentally challenged hulk sitting there in his suit while his gray-haired lawyer serves as his mouthpiece. And, of course, everyone’s already pointed out his use of the word “illegal” when saying he’d never used “illegal drugs.”

As for McGwire, a player I once enjoyed to watch and marvel over, it was clearly a sad scene — this once Paul Bunyan-esque slugger now appearing smaller, his face markedly clearer, dressed up (it seemed) in grandpa’s reading glasses. All he had to do was come out and say it, say he never used steroids, and he’d be validated. But he didn’t, probably because he couldn’t, and now everyone — Buster Olney, Jayson Stark, the news articles have jumped on the player everyone praised six summers ago.

Except one. Interestingly, Ben McGrath’s “Talk of the Town” piece in The New Yorker is the one column I’ve seen that’s portrayed McGwire in a positive light. But as Verducci said, hasn’t McGwire learned the importance of history, of learning from the past? Clearly, we won’t be learning from him.

* * *

Now what to make of Barry Bonds? Which is the act? His brash bravado during his press conference when he arrived in spring training? Or his quiet, humble, whimpering sob story yesterday? If not somewhere in between, I am going with history here and leaning toward the former. Will Bonds miss the entire season? Doubtful. Is he really done? Probably not. He’s frustrated. True, he has been beaten down by allegations and accusations, but much of it he’s brought upon himself. He berates the media, the sportswriters for bringing him to this point, but he had a choice in how he dealt with the reporters who, for the most part, were simply doing their jobs. He hasn’t been cordial with any of them, or with many fans.

Blaming the writers for his woes, for his family’s “pain,” is weak. It’s part of your job, your privileged career, that you have to live with. With McGwire’s Hall of Fame resume clearly tarnished, in the minds of many, what will we make of Bonds’? Eddie Murray was known to be surly with the press, but he had little trouble getting to Cooperstown. Bonds shouldn’t either, just because — steroids or not — his numbers are so eye-popping.

I, for one, won’t be counting the days until Bonds is back on the field. I’ll monitor his rehab, if only because of the fantasy baseball implications. But if he’s hit his last home run, or if he comes back but still falls short of Hank Aaron’s respectable 755, baseball will be better off. If not, if he gets healthy and passes Babe Ruth this year and Aaron in 2006, it will be a fitting mark on Selig’s tenure — perhaps his lasting impression. Baseball’s greatest record, its home run crown, will be shrouded in a fog of suspicion, forever.

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