Non-answers harm McGwire

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

Mark McGwire denied he had ever used steroids on Feb. 6. And he made the same denials Feb. 13.

And then on Thursday, in front of the bright lights and the U.S. Congress, the former St. Louis Cardinals slugger hemmed and hawed like a nervous Grade 9 student on his first summer job interview.

"It's about the future and not the past," McGwire kept saying uncomfortably.

All of which means ...

Well, if you have watched Law and Order, Matlock or Perry Mason, there isn't any need for a two-part episode. His own words, or rather lack of them, convicted McGwire.

Why did McGwire stop with his denials? There are only two choices.

He either received horrible advice from his lawyers or he is as guilty as someone sitting in a Missouri prison.

In a real court, McGwire probably is guilty, but no one knows for sure without a shadow of doubt.

In the court of public opinion, McGwire's non-answers were seen as an admission. An online St. Louis Post-Dispatch poll yesterday had 70% of 2,295 readers voting that, yes, McGwire took steroids, while only 17% said there wasn't any proof.

The people of the U.S. midwest are not cynical New Yorkers. On second thought, maybe that's not the best example as we think back to Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden returning to Shea Stadium after a drug suspension to cheers and standing ovations.

What if, for example, McGwire had continued his denials? What if he had been as convincing as Rafael Palmeiro? Would he be in the clear? It's like a New York cop told us in the late 1970s when we asked what he learned at the Police Academy:

"When Internal Affairs comes and asks to see the pictures, if there aren't any pictures, deny, deny, deny," he said, and we're not sure whether he was joking.

McGwire took over-the-counter supplements such as creatine and andro (legal then, but since banned by baseball) when he broke Roger Maris' single-season home run record in 1998.

That September, I took my son and his pal to Busch Stadium for his once-a-season trip. They saw McGwire hit his 60th and 61st homers to tie Maris. They were high schoolers then and watched through impressionable eyes.

My son has graduated from university and is working. I asked him yesterday if his opinion of McGwire had changed.

He said what McGwire accomplished has not been diminished one bit, that steroids can't improve hand-eye co-ordination and "you're innocent until proven guilty."

SECOND CHANCE

After bowing out of the World Cup qualifier in Colombia because of kidnap threats, Team Canada, managed by Remo Cardinale, will be in Bradenton, Fla., on April 3 along with Team USA and the Czech Republic attempting to qualify for the World Cup in the Netherlands.

Pickering's Lee Delfino, East York's Rob Butler, Guelph's Kyle Leon, London's Geoff McCallum, Nepean's Mikey Kusiewicz, Peterborough's Steve Murray and Windsor's Stubby Clapp are expected to be in the mix when the roster of independent league players is announced.

THAT'S RICH

Strange to see Oakland Athletics righty Rich Harden of Victoria, B.C., complain about his exclusion from Team Canada. In Grade 11, he was an outfielder and in Grade 12 he was just discovering his way around the mound and battling wildness.

In 2001, when Canada went to Taiwan, Harden was a first-year pro, starting 14 games at class-A Vancouver.


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