Monday, August 01, 2005

Viagra Man strikes out: Rafael Palmeiro tests positive for steroids

Earlier this year, in his statement before Congress, Rafael Palmeiro was emphatic: "I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never." But now things have changed. The latest player to join the 3,000-hit club (and one of only four players all-time with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs) has tested positive for a banned substance (i.e., steroids) and has been handed a 10-game suspension by Major League Baseball. Palmeiro has accepted the suspension, but denies having taken steroids intentionally:

I have never intentionally taken a banned substance. Ultimately, although I never intentionally put a banned substance into my body the independent arbitrator ruled that I had to be suspended under the terms of the program... I am sure you will ask how I tested positive for a banned substance. As I look back, I don't have a specific answer to give. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to explain to the arbitrator how the banned substance entered my body. The arbitrator did not find that I used a banned substance intentionally in fact, he said he found my testimony to be compelling but he ruled that I could not meet the heavy burden imposed on players who test positive under the new drug policy. I accept this punishment...

I suppose we'll have to wait and see what comes of this. For questions abound: Did he or didn't he? He denies it, but how did he test positive? What was in his body? And how did it get there?

I've never really been a fan of any of his teams (Baltimore and Texas, mostly), but I've always liked Palmeiro. In an age of prima donna superstars like Barry Bonds, he always seemed like a real guy who just went out there and did his job. Maybe that's still true, but serious doubt has now begun to pollute his career -- a career that, in my opinion, had him on his way to Cooperstown. No, he was never one of the truly best players in baseball at any given time, but his consistently solid numbers over a lengthy career -- including those 3,000+ hits and 500+ home runs, not to mention nine consecutive seasons (11, if we extrapolate his solid strike-shortened 1994 stats over a full season) of at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI -- should have been enough to convince those notoriously tough voters that he was worthy of a spot in the Hall.

And now? Unless there's a reasonable explanation for the positive test -- and I suspect that there isn't -- it seems unlikely that the voters will give him the benefit of the doubt, at least in the first few years of voting. And that's a shame, given his admirable career, but Raffy likely has no one to blame but himself.

UPDATE: George Vecsey at the Times (see here).

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