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Schilling remains point man

Page 2 of 2 -- "The same players you guys are vilifying and crushing now are the same guys you guys touted to the world for the last 15-20 years," he said. "With the same suspicions that we had. You have four guys in the last 18 years that have done something that has never been done.

"It started in 1988 when Jose went 40-40 [40 homers, 40 steals]. Now an admitted cheater who took steroids his whole career. You have Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, who in 1998 did something that had never been done before. Sammy's hit 60 home runs three times. You have Barry Bonds hitting 73 home runs. All four guys in the court of public opinion are accused of or suspected of using steroids. To the fans, that's 100 percent. The four best players in the game -- not one or two, everybody's suspected.

"So I see where it's hard for people to make that leap from 100 percent of those guys to 1 percent of everybody. If anything, it makes me realize that Alex Rodriguez is more of a genetic freak than we ever thought. Because he's truly the only 40-40 guy to ever play the game."

This is Schilling at his thoughtful best. No one in Congress, and no one with a keyboard, has framed the issue in this manner. (As a bonus, the theory enabled Schilling to become the first person in a Red Sox uniform to say anything nice about Rodriguez this spring.)

Pushing the point, he added, "Our four best players have been going under scrutiny and they all had one thing in common. Physically, they all four drastically changed. So everybody began to accuse or suspect."

Asked to assess the fairness of the suspicions, he said, "I think it's unfair that they were all guilty before being proven innocent. In Jose's case it wasn't unfair. He admitted to being a cheater.

"In the case of the other three, I don't know. That's for you to decide on your own, based on what they've said and how they've acted."

Is the reaction to McGwire unfair?

"I don't know," said Schilling. "Mark is a friend. He made decisions based on advice and I can only speak about my situation and how I would have acted. It's tough when you have a guy sitting there refusing to talk and the guy sitting next to him [Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro] absolutely denying what he did. It made for some very uncomfortable situations, and as a person, not as a player, I felt bad for him to have to go through that.

"I can say this: If my name had been in Jose Canseco's book as a steroid user, two things would have happened. I would have issued a press release to deny it and call him a liar and I would have sued him."

Schilling challenged the intentions of some unnamed members of the committee. He took responsibility for not being versed in the issue for most of his career. Given an opportunity, he was careful not to bash the Players Association for its intransigence in the area of drug testing. But he cleverly created some distance between himself and Messrs. Fehr and Orza.

"I was a player rep through the '90s," he said, "and I know that I never objected to any comments about potential testing or what it would entail."

He said he had no problem with naming names of players who test positive, adding, "No player that isn't cheating has a problem with that. It's very clear now that if someone is a positive, they're done. They might still be able to play after a suspension, but they're forever labeled as a cheater."

He sounds like a man who plans to run for office one day. More than one panel member commented on Schilling's political savvy during Thursday's hearing. Maybe he'll run for president and Reggie Jackson can balance the ticket for him.

In the meantime, Schilling will go back to pitching for the Red Sox, starting tomorrow in a minor league game at the far end of godforsaken Edison Road. He still wants to be Boston's starting pitcher two weeks from tonight when the Red Sox open their championship defense on national television at Yankee Stadium. Despite Terry Francona's pronouncement that David Wells will pitch the opener, we've learned never to count out Schilling. Don't be surprised if Curt vaults out of a wheelchair to take the mound.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. 

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