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Thursday, March 17, 2005
Fans get in line early to watch the hearings

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The first good laugh didn't come until the hearing was approaching its ninth hour, when former slugger Mark McGwire was asked for the umpteenth time whether he would favor a stricter steroid testing policy.

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  • "What anybody can do to improve it, so that there are no more meetings like this, I'm all for it," said McGwire, prompting a collective chuckle from the packed room.

    Amid the isolated moments of drama and tension in Thursday's House hearing on steroids were yawn-inducing stretches of repetitive speeches and tepid questions from the Committee on Government Reform. It was a very different kind of opening day for baseball.

    "The last thing you want is us making the policy," committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va, told the panel of five players. "We don't do things very well anyway."

    The day's most spiteful words came from the players themselves and were directed at Jose Canseco, whose recent book detailing steroid abuse has been derided by players past and present.

    "I think he's a liar," Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling said.

    For civility's sake, Canseco and the other players -- Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Schilling and McGwire -- never directly spoke to each other. Canseco was kept in a separate waiting room; at the hearing table, he was separated from the others by Sosa's lawyer.

    That didn't keep Canseco from taking a pot shots, particularly at McGwire, who notably did not deny outright that he took steroids.

    "We've got to admit to certain things we've done," Canseco said. "From what I'm hearing, I was the only person to use steroids. That's hard to believe."

    No one asked why the players' union fought steroid testing for so long. Some members didn't ask anything at all, instead using their time to make speeches.

    "I increasingly feel a theater of the absurd unfolding here," Democrat Tom Lantos of California said to no one in particular.

    Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders looked at members of the media -- including more than two dozen cameramen -- and wondered where everyone is when the committee handles other issues.

    "Maybe we'll have to bring in great baseball players to talk about crime and poverty," Sanders said.

    More than 100 spectators lined up before the doors opened, but only nine were allowed inside at a time for 30-minute intervals.

    A poster on one wall titled "Know your opposition" listed negative side effects of steroids -- an unusual piece of signage for a Congressional hearing room.

    Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., had her own paraphernalia: a copy of an old Sports Illustrated featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger with the headline "Hot Stuff." During her questioning, she held up the magazine and said, "Our kids are inspired by this."

    The leadoff witness was a Hall of Famer, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., who won 224 games during a 17-year career that ended in 1971. "What's happening now in baseball isn't natural and it isn't right," said Bunning, who wants steroid-induced records wiped from the books.

    There also was emotional testimony from parents.

    "There is no doubt in our minds that steroids killed our son," said Denise Garibaldi, whose son committed suicide after using steroids in 2002.

    Donald Hooton offered a similar story about his son, telling the committee: "You have the power to do something about this problem, and we are counting on you to do so," a powerful finish that prompted Garibaldi to lean over in her seat and give him a hug.