Bud Selig should send Mark McGwire some flowers and a thank you card. Better yet, take him out to dinner.
The way Big Mac has shrunk since we all last saw him a few years ago, it looks like he could use a good meal.
He deserves it because Selig and the rest of the flunkies who run major league baseball owe McGwire a big favor for his latest work on behalf of the sport
Make that two big favors, since McGwire and Sammy Sosa already did baseball one by drawing fans back to the ballpark in 1998 while those in charge of the game pretended they had no idea why so many baseballs were flying out of ballparks in Chicago and St. Louis.
McGwire didn't go out of his way to save baseball this time. He was just trying to save his own skin when he appeared Thursday before a group of congressmen with a strategy so lame it couldn't have been concocted by anyone past his first year in law school.
McGwire's ''I'm not here to talk about the past'' defense may have saved him from possible perjury charges, but it destroyed any reputation he had left. At least Sosa issued a denial, then pretended he really didn't understand English that much.
Give McGwire some credit, though. By making himself the fall guy, he saved baseball from a lot more embarrassment on Capitol Hill.
Because of McGwire, the talk the next day wasn't about a drug program that allowed those being tested to leave for an hour before giving a sample to go have a cup of coffee, hit a few baseballs or find some warm urine.
It wasn't about baseball's medical adviser endorsing the new testing program, then admitting that he didn't know many details about it.
It wasn't about ridiculously timid penalties that would cost a player 10 days out of a six-month season or $10,000 out of a $20 million salary.
And it wasn't about Selig uttering his usual nonsense that the problem of steroids in baseball was being blown out of proportion because, well, there's no real evidence other than a lot of baseballs leaving the park.
No, it was all about Big Mac, who flatly denied a few weeks ago using illegal steroids but wouldn't do it under oath when it really counted.
The warm and fuzzy times of seven years ago that brought tears to the eyes of baseball fans around the country as McGwire hugged his son and embraced the children of Roger Maris seem generations ago. In their place now is the cold reality that McGwire cheated his way into the record books.
A Missouri congressman is so upset that he wants McGwire's name stripped off a stretch of Interstate 70. Voters for the Hall of Fame are rethinking what would have been a once-automatic vote for McGwire in 2007.
If Pete Rose can be banned for betting on baseball, McGwire should be banned for cheating in the game.
But shouldn't Selig be apologizing, too, for letting it come to this?
It happened on his watch, when he and owners were more interested in getting new stadiums and figuring out ways to raise parking rates than they were about ensuring a level playing field.
If it wasn't for the BALCO grand jury, baseball still would not have a steroid testing program. As it is, the one introduced with much fanfare earlier this year was revealed in Congress to be a shell of what it pretended to be.
Most of the crowd had long since cleared out of the hearing room when Selig made his appearance. They had come to see the stars, not the suits.
If they had stayed, they would have heard something even more inane than McGwire's ''Past? What past?'' defense.
''Did we have a major problem? No,'' Selig said. ''Let me say this to you: There is no concrete evidence of that, there is no testing evidence, there is no other kind of evidence.''
That's right, Bud, there is no testing evidence, because you never tested anyone. When you were finally forced to, up to 7 percent tested positive in tests that players could see coming a mile away.
One person who did stay to listen to Selig was Donald Hooton, whose son, Taylor, hanged himself at the age of 17. Hooton blames the steroids his son was taking so he could become bigger and a better baseball player.
Hooton believes McGwire is a coward, but he's just as angry with Selig and union head Donald Fehr for not dealing with the issue.
''I have absolutely no optimism whatsoever that Selig and the union will take steps without being forced to,'' Hooton said. ''Just listening to those guys, all I heard was double talk and garbage about players' rights.''
What Congress should do because the people running pro sports won't is require all major sports to abide by the same testing Olympic athletes undergo. Put all testing under the control of the World Anti-Doping Agency and let the chips fall where they may.
Hold another hearing and tell Selig and Fehr they must agree or Congress will pass legislation that will give them no choice.
Whatever you do, though, don't invite Barry Bonds.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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