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Byline: Gene Frenette, Times-Union sports writer

More than ever, I'm convinced the best tool to keep handy in observing the sports world is a slide rule. Because in no time at all, so much -- the image of Mark McGwire, a team's RPI, David Duval's golf game -- can change.

The magic number is now 180, as in the degrees of turn. What seemed preposterous not so long ago has moved entirely in the opposite direction. We probably should have seen this coming. Ever since the Boston Red Sox erased that 0-3 deficit to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, a lot of things aren't like they seemed.

Take McGwire, who enjoyed practically a free pass through Major League Baseball's steroids controversy. So many of us wanted to believe that when he broke Roger Maris' single-season home run record in 1998 that the game's Paul Bunyan had done it the right way. The clean way.

Yet with each overturned rock, with new evidence continually being unearthed by media outlets, McGwire's image is developing warts. The New York Daily News report that an FBI investigation in the 1990s allegedly linked McGwire to steroids adds more smoke to a potential raging fire, as do the slugger's tepid denials or no-comments.

Who would have thought the same Big Red that was yukking it up with Sammy Sosa during the pursuit of Maris may now be testifying about steroids before Congress?

Whether or not McGwire honors a subpoena, his days of being an innocent bystander in this soap opera appear going, going, gone. We're not as sure of his hero worthiness as we once were.

Take any number of NCAA Tournament teams, starting with Washington. Remember when the Huskies were a football school, winning Rose Bowls and being the West's only legitimate national title contender? …