Well, he didn't, but he didn't explicitly admit to anything either. McGwire delivered a prepared statement to the committee in which he refused to answer questions about his past or about the activities of his teammates while he was a member of the A's and St. Louis Cardinals.

"I have been advised that my testimony here could be used to hurt friends and respected teammates," he said, "or that some ambitious prosecutor can use convicted criminals who would do and say anything to solve their own problems and create jeopardy for my friends."

If that had been the end of it, he might have looked almost noble, but he spent the rest of the hearing stubbornly refusing to answer any questions about his past - stopping short of exercising his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination only because the committee chairman, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Virginia Republican, pulled him off the hook when he was pressed on the issue by Baltimore Democrat Elijah E. Cummings.

Davis rebuked committee members several other times for pressing McGwire on his past behavior, citing a House rule against forcing witnesses to give testimony that would "defame, degrade or incriminate."

Still, no explicit admission was necessary in the most telling exchange of the hearings, when Rep. William L. Clay, a Missouri Democrat, mentioned that there is a highway named after McGwire in St. Louis and then asked one of Missouri's adopted heroes a poignant question.

"Can we look our kids in the eye and tell them that superstars like you played the game with honesty and integrity?" Clay asked.

"I am not going to talk about the past," McGwire replied.

Sosa was nearly invisible, partly because he did an excellent job of hiding behind a supposed language barrier. He had a surrogate deliver his opening statement and gave only brief answers to most of the questions directed at him, but he was unequivocal in his denial of any steroid abuse.

Canseco celebrated steroids in his book, but he expressed surprising contrition during the hearings, claiming that his position has changed since he began writing the controversial biography.

It was great theater, but the crowd that showed up for the "public" hearing found out that there were only nine seats set aside for the public. House press gallery personnel said that they had not issued so many media credentials since the Clinton impeachment trial.

Wertman, who is something of a hearings junkie, had been to the Condoleezza Rice and Ruth Bader Ginsburg confirmation hearings.

"I've never seen a circus like this," he said."

One committee member, Rep. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent, took note of the media crowd - 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.

Sun staff writer Jonathan Pitts and the Associated Press contributed to this article.