Nice to Be Nice

Okay, now it's clear: Niceness has become an official policy of the Houston Chronicle, according to the time-honored journalism tradition of three examples firmly establishing a trend.

The latest example of Houston's Daily Information Source being Houston's Sunniest Information Source comes courtesy of sports columnist Dale Robertson, whose spring training column March 2 was headlined "Toned-Down Bagwell Shows Clemens Pop in Bat Remains."

In it, Robertson spoke of Astro first baseman Jeff Bagwell's recovery from last year's shoulder injury.

"Because his weightlifting days are over," Robertson wrote, "Bagwell arrived in Kissimmee with a visibly more modest physique. After years of pumping up -- the young Jeff Bagwell the Astros acquired from Boston in August 1990 didn't have the torso of a man who would one day be 20 homers shy of 400 -- he has had to force himself to pump down. So you see him, do a double-take and you make the knee-jerk assumption he has lost strength."

No need to worry, of course, Robertson wrote. The muscles Bagwell lost, he quoted Bagwell as saying, "had nothing to do with baseball." He had them because he "just really loved to lift [weights]. And working on nothing but your abs and your legs all the time is pretty boring."

The same day Robertson's column ran, the New York Daily News's investigative sports reporter T.J. Quinn looked at how players are coping with the new rule that they be tested for steroids this spring. Players will pee in a cup twice to establish a baseline survey of steroid use.

No names were mentioned, but Quinn opened his piece this way: "The veteran baseball player has a plan. He has a large guaranteed contract, so he can afford to glide through spring training without his usual comic-book physique. [After the testing], he'll crack open his little case, fill a syringe with the clear liquid, stick himself in the hip or leg and re-juice his multi-million-dollar muscles."

"Several major stars whose teammates know they use steroids," Quinn wrote, "have reported to camp with noticeably smaller frames…'I've seen a few already that you just say, 'Wow, he's lost a lot of weight,' the Mets' Al Leiter said. 'They're guys that looked really muscular before and are looking 'leaner,' shall we say.' "

Now all this is not to say that Jeff Bagwell uses steroids (or even that he was the unnamed player in Quinn's lead) -- we don't know that. His shoulder injury may have forced him to change the weight-lifting regimen that transformed him, without the use of any steroids, into the muscleman he was up until this spring training.

We're just saying that writing a column on Bagwell's reduced physique without even bringing up the subject of steroids -- especially this spring training, where it's the hot topic -- is very, very Nice.

A Hymn to Him

We didn't see all of it, but we caught several parts of ABC News's Prime Time Thursday look at the Clara Harris case March 6. Defense lawyer George Parnham allowed ABC cameras in for an extraordinarily detailed behind-the-scenes look at his preparations for the case. We're not sure what good it did for Clara Harris, but it did a world of good for George Parnham.

The piece followed his preparations chronologically, building up to the trial and verdict. Along the way, the ABC team, led by Diane Sawyer, seemed mightily impressed that experts in pathology and accident-reconstruction -- experts who had been paid for by the defense -- analyzed the evidence and delivered reports that bolstered Harris's case.

But much more entertaining was the treatment of Parnham. We have nothing against Parnham, as it turns out; we just never realized what a saint the guy was.

There was the usual teary-eyed heartfelt defense of the client; that's to be expected. ABC went well beyond that, though. Parnham was shown tearing himself away from his work to catch his son's football game. As appropriately folksy music played, we saw him take a desperately needed break around a campfire at a ranch, complete with cowboy hat.

And as the jury deliberated, we saw Parnham soulfully wandering the streets of downtown Houston, lost in Deep Thoughts, looking for all the world like the brooding Ringo Starr on the canal banks in A Hard Day's Night. Through a voice-over, we heard him relate just how tough these lonely moments are. (He didn't mention the camera crew following him.)

We didn't catch the end of the piece, but we assume he won the case.

Inside View

KTRK anchor Gina Gaston is pregnant with triplets, and TV news being what it is, she and the station want to tell everybody about it. To the point where the Channel 13 Web site is showing the ultrasound pictures of the kids in the womb.

Pictures of the conception were apparently unavailable; we can only wait to see what happens on delivery day.

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