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In one sad day before committee, McGwire loses his place among baseball legends

Jim Litke Associated Press

WASHINGTON — This is the price of all those home runs:

A hero shamed, diminished not just in size, but in stature, reduced to answering questions from Congress like some fidgety Mafia don — and the game he once dominated unable to crawl out from even that shrunken shadow.

“I’m not going to talk about the past,” Mark McGwire replied on at least eight separate occasions, usually when asked about some of the most revered accomplishments in a game that’s held the nation in its thrall for more than 130 years.

Though only five players and a handful of MLB executives appeared before the House Government Reform Committee, make no mistake. All of baseball — even Barry Bonds, made all the more notable by his absence — was called on the carpet.

But only one man owned up.

“The most effective thing right now,” former MVP and best-selling author Jose Canseco said, “is we’ve got to admit to certain things we’ve done. What I’m hearing is that I’m the only person in the major leagues who used steroids.”

The hearings began with former star pitcher and current Sen. Jim Bunning saying, “maybe I’m old-fashioned. I remember when players didn’t get better as they got older. We all got worse.” The day continued with the anguished stories of two families who lost sons to suicide because those kids believed the advice from coaches and scouts “to get bigger” meant by any means necessary, including the reckless use of steroids.

Then a few of those players who got bigger and better as they got older took the stage, and except for the disgraced — but still not discredited — Canseco, washed their hands of any responsibility. They repeated what has become baseball’s mantra whenever questions about performance-enhancers arise.

“I,” said Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who on Thursday backed off some of his most strident criticism of steroid users, “am not going to dwell on the past.”

That was essentially McGwire’s answer to whether he considered the use of steroids “cheating.”

None of the other players save Canseco were any more forthcoming. They saw no steroid use in the clubhouse and never learned enough about any potential abusers to make confronting them worthwhile.

“It was as acceptable in the late ‘80s and the mid-90s as a cup of coffee,” Canseco said.

Anybody who doubts that now should have spent a few hours in Room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

Rep. Henry Waxman recalled that he and Selig, then the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, were likely the only two people in the room who could recall Congress’ first investigation of what was called baseball’s “alarming” drug problem in 1973. He then reeled off a litany of failed chances that baseball failed to capitalize on ever since.

But none of this apparently bothers fans and it hasn’t cost baseball its special place in America’s sporting life. Yet.

Not so with McGwire.

The redhead whose lightning swing and 20-inch arms captivated us all shuffled out of the room at the end of the day, his accomplishments now as deflated as his once Bunyanesque frame.

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