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McGwire admits nothing; Sosa and Palmeiro deny use

WASHINGTON -- In a room filled with humbled heroes, Mark
McGwire hemmed and hawed the most.

His voice choked with emotion, his eyes nearly filled with
tears, time after time he refused to answer the question everyone
wanted to know: Did he take illegal steroids when he hit a
then-record 70 home runs in 1998 -- or at any other time?

Asked by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., whether he was asserting
his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself, McGwire said:
"I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to be positive
about this subject."

Asked whether use of steroids was cheating, McGwire said:
"That's not for me to determine."

To a couple of other questions, all he would say is: "I'm
retired."

The dark clouds over baseball rained on Big Mac, whose powerful
bat once captivated the nation.

"I know that he was in anguish yesterday just being there,"
baseball commissioner Bud Selig said Friday on NBC's "Today"
show. "Everybody has to do what they have to do. The other players
were very outspoken."

Friday morning at the team's training camp in Jupiter, Fla., Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa referred to McGwire's testimony as a "missed opportunity." He also said he thought McGwire was "overcoached" by his lawyers.

"He looked uncomfortable the whole time," LaRussa said. "He has been forceful in his statements denying it. I was surprised that he didn't repeat what he had said earlier."

McGwire was just part of Thursday's show at the House Government
Reform committee's hearing on steroids in baseball, when lawmakers
repeated threatened federal legislation to govern drug testing in
not just baseball, but perhaps all U.S. sports.

President Bush, who in his State of the Union address in 2004
called for a crackdown on steroids, watched the highlights of the
hearings, his spokesman said Friday.

Speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One, press secretary
Scott McClellan declined to offer support for the congressional
effort, saying Bush does not believe that federal intervention is
the way to go.

"Baseball has taken important steps to respond to concerns that
have been expressed about the use of steroids," he said. "It's
important for baseball to continue to take steps to confront the
problem."

Five current and former players, three of them among the 10
leading home run hitters in history, found themselves sitting
biceps-to-biceps on Capitol Hill instead of a baseball field,
wearing business suits instead of uniforms, forced by subpoena to
testify before Congress about whether they cheated by using
steroids.

Heads turned, strobes flashed and necks craned to get a glimpse
of them on a day of extraordinary theater. The players bemoaned
steroids as a problem for their sport but denied the drugs are
widely used.

Jose Canseco, whose best-selling book, "Juiced," drew
lawmakers' attention, said anew that he used performance-enhancing
drugs as a player. Baltimore Orioles teammates Sammy Sosa and
Rafael Palmeiro said they haven't.

McGwire in the past has denied using steroids but under oath
repeatedly declined to respond directly. Peering at lawmakers over
reading glasses, his goatee flecked with gray, McGwire was pressed
to say whether he had taken performance-enhancing substances or
whether he could provide details about use by other players. Over
and over, he said he wouldn't respond.

All of the players offered condolences to the parents of two
young baseball players who committed suicide after using steroids.
The parents testified, too, along with medical experts who talked
about the health risks of steroids.

"Players that are guilty of taking steroids are not only
cheaters -- you are cowards," said Donald Hooton of Plano, Texas,
whose son, Taylor, was 17 when he hanged himself in July 2003.

During a hearing that lasted 11ΒΌ hours, lawmakers questioned
baseball's new drug-testing plan, including a provision allowing
for fines instead of suspensions. A first offense could cost 10
days out of a six-month season, or perhaps a $10,000 fine.

"That's the best we could do in collective bargaining,"
commissioner Selig said. "The penalties would be much tougher if I
had my way."

He added that he would suspend anyone who fails a test, vowing:
"There will be no exceptions."

Canseco's book included claims that he injected McGwire with
steroids when they were teammates with the Oakland Athletics and
that Palmeiro used the drugs. In a tense scene, they sat at the
same table, never directly addressing each other. During a break,
Canseco was left out while the other players huddled.

"Steroids were part of the game, and I don't think anybody
really wanted to take a stance on it," Canseco said. "If Congress
does nothing about this issue, it will go on forever."

Several congressmen gushed about the sport, recalling how as
children they collected baseball cards and autographs and looked up
to players. For the most part, members of the committee appeared
deferential and unwilling to press the players, saving their
harshest criticism for baseball officials.

"Why should we believe that the baseball commissioner and the
baseball union will want to do something when we have a 30-year
record of them not responding to this problem?" asked Rep. Henry
Waxman of California, the committee's ranking Democrat.

The paneled hearing room was full when the players appeared,
with camera crews lining the walls and clogging the aisles. Much of
the crowd cleared out when the players left, leaving empty seats
for Selig's testimony.

He said the extent of steroids in baseball had been blown out of
proportion.

"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."

Questions about steroids have intensified as home runs have
increased. McGwire and Sosa were widely credited with helping
restore baseball's popularity in 1998 when they chased Roger Maris'
season record of 61 homers. McGwire's mark lasted only three
seasons before San Francisco's Barry Bonds hit 73.

Bonds and the New York Yankees' Jason Giambi were not called to
the hearing. Both testified in 2003 to a grand jury investigating a
steroid-distribution ring, and there were concerns testimony to
Congress could hinder the probe.

Boston pitcher Curt Schilling, a vocal critic of steroid use,
sat at one end of the witness table, with Canseco at the other.
Palmeiro, Sosa and McGwire were in between.

Schilling took a shot at Canseco, saying claims in the former
slugger's book "should be seen for what they are: an attempt to
make money at the expense of others." He even called him a
"liar."

But Schilling backtracked from his earlier claims of rampant
steroid use, saying "the issue was grossly overstated by people,
including myself."

While boosting strength, steroids also can lead to dramatic mood
swings, heart disease, cancer, sterility and depression; using most
steroids without a doctor's prescription for medical purposes has
been illegal since 1991.

Baseball banned steroids in September 2002 and began testing for
them with penalties in 2004. Several congressmen pointed out that
other major U.S. sports leagues have stricter policies and
suggested legislation might be needed to make the testing uniform.

Information from ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick and The Associated Press was used in this report.