Topic: Sports & Entertainment

Rafael Palmeiro: Disgraced
(8/1/2005)

It is the situation that all of baseball knew that it would have to face eventually, but few suspected that it would be with this player, now.

Rafael Palmeiro, the Baltimore Orioles veteran first-baseman who just this month put himself in the record book by becoming only the fourth player in major league history (after Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray) to get 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, has tested positive for steroids under baseball's new random testing procedures. This earns him a mandatory ten game suspension, but that's almost a side issue. Palmeiro becomes the first superstar to be caught cheating under baseball's new policy, which the sport adopted under pressure from Congress.

Now what?

Palmeiro's predicament is especially disturbing, because it was he who issued the most ringing and unequivocal denial of personal steroid use when he testified in hearings before the House of Representatives Government Reform Committee on March 17. While retired slugger Mark McGwire disgraced himself with evasive statements and a guilty demeanor that made it glaringly obvious that the man who broke Roger Maris' single season home run record did so with illegal pharmaceutical assistance, and current Orioles star Sammy Sosa suddenly lost his ability to speak English while delivering carefully parsed semi-denials obviously crafted in a law office, Palmeiro called former team mate Jose Canseco a liar for claiming in his book that he was a steroid user, telling the committee (and national television and radio audiences):

Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never. The reference to me in Mr. Canseco's book is absolutely false. I am against the use of steroids. I don't think athletes should use steroids and I don't think our kids should use them. That point of view is one, unfortunately, that is not shared by our former colleague, Jose Canseco. Mr. Canseco is an unashamed advocate for increased steroid use by all athletes.

Palmeiro's bold denial brought him both praise and prestige. Surely, he was not a steroid-user as Canseco had claimed. Surely he would not lie to Congress, his fans, and the American people. And surely…surely, if he ever had used steroids, he wouldn't be so rash, arrogant, desperate or stupid as to resort to them after proclaiming his innocence.

But he was, he would, and he did.

Before Palmeiro, all the players caught by the random tests had been young borderline major-leaguers, minor-league hopefuls, and one decent relief pitcher, Minnesota's J.C. Romero. But Palmeiro is, or was, a guaranteed Hall-of-Famer. His steroid use brings into sharp focus a dilemma Major League Baseball can no longer postpone.

Is Rafael Palmeiro an all-time great, or an all-time cheat? He is certainly an all-time liar, and that alone should provoke legitimate anger from his fans, if not Congress. As far as his baseball legacy is concerned, the Ethics Scoreboard's opinion is that admission to baseball's Hall of Fame is out of the question now. Baseball can not honor proven cheaters (as well as, quite possibly, proven felons and perjurers) is its revered pantheon of greats while simultaneously proclaiming that steroid use is unacceptable. As for the present, Palmeiro is a fraud; the accolades he received were earned with tainted achievements, and the trust he was accorded was bolstered by lies. Neither fans nor Orioles management should listen to any further denials from him, nor should they entertain any explanations, excuses, or appeals for understanding.

Palmeiro is a liar and a cheat, and treating him as anything else will only embolden more players to lie and cheat like him. If he wants to do the right thing now, he should take his artificially enhanced body and leave the game after apologizing to his team, his sport, Congress, Baltimore, baseball fans, and yes, even to the despicable Jose Canseco. In so doing, he can at least establish a precedent for the other tarnished but as yet unexposed baseball stars who will face Palmeiro's fate in the near future.

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