Which part of Palmeiro’s story do we believe?

I have to say I’m stunned. Shocked. Knock me over with a feather.

It’s not so much that Rafael Palmeiro tested positive a banned substance under MLB’s new drug policy, it’s that so many people are being so damn quick to crucify him for it. To be clear, I agree that this is a blow to his career and his accomplishments. Furthermore, perhaps most importantly, he certainly could answer a lot of questions — and perhaps clear his name a little bit — if he elaborated on his comments that he “never knowingly took steroids” and that he would love to explain what he tested positive for and why he took whatever it was he took, but he won’t by saying he can’t.

To read Scott Miller’s column, you’d think Miller himself walked in on Palmeiro holding the needle. Buster Olney calls for Palmeiro to explain himself and at least tosses in the conditional “might” before saying his Congressional testimony in March does not appear to have been truthful. The fact of the matter is, we don’t know what Palmeiro tested positive for, and we don’t know that he was telling anything but the truth before Congress. Apparently, such details were not passed on to Miller. It bothers me when journalists are so quick to get their opinion out there, eager to inflate their reputation with strong words and a definitive stance. It’s a tired, repeated refrain (just take a look at any conservative site with regard to the war in Iraq) that the media is so quick to report on the negative and overlook the positive, but it seems not to be restricted to world politics. (And how much does the internet play a role? Would some of these columns look any different if they weren’t rushed “to post” less than six hours after the announcement?)

In my opinion, I think MLB rushed into this policy because it wanted to save face. It had ignored the problem for so long, but now that Congress was getting involved, it had to do something. Almost as soon as the details were announced, they were criticized.

To this day, I wonder if the players have been provided with a definitive list of what will cause their urine sample to come back positive when tested under baseball’s drug policy. Torii Hunter was initially scared to drink Red Bull and I wonder if he’s received any assurances that it’s OK. Senator Joe Biden (Democrat of Delaware) issued a statement in January saying, “The new testing system sounds better than the flimsy one they had before. But the penalties are weak and it is still unclear what substances will be banned under this new agreement.” And in the NFL, they had already learned that some banned substances are not clear on the labels of the supplements they take.

Back to Palmeiro. If it weren’t for Jose Canseco’s book, I don’t think Raffy would have been among the usual suspects with regard to steroids. To me, his career just doesn’t scream “steroid user.” His home run output never had the jump that, say, Barry Bonds’ did when he suddenly hit 73 after never reaching 50 before (or since). He increased his 1992 total of 23 by 15 in 1993, an impressive bump, but not a suspicious one to me. He was 28 that season, too, and how many baseball men will tell you that strong arms and quick wrists that produce lots of line drives and doubles can turn into home runs with a minor adjustment that puts a little more loft on the ball? Sure, it doesn’t help Raffy’s case that the 37 home runs came in the year after Jose Canseco arrived (I’m not going to ignore a fact just to prove my point), but again, it’s not like there were no other possible explanations for the power boost.

Palmeiro played five years in Baltimore — somewhat seen as a welcoming park for the left-handed hitters — and then returned to Texas and its new hitters haven. He was solid and consistent, as are the hitters on his comparable players list. Nothing but reliable Hall of Famers there.

I don’t think Palmeiro’s stupid. I don’t think the combination of his lawyers, agent and wife are, either. Even if he had done something he shouldn’t have in the past, before his appearance before Congress, how could he put himself in such a position to be caught like this? Seriously, do you think a man who has continued to work with Congress, participating in a conference call just a few weeks ago, would accept that invitation while knowingly breaking the rules at the same time?

Last summer in Houston, I stood in a conference room at Minute Maid Park with every living member of the 500 home run club. Steroids had again become a hot topic to the point where that night on Baseball Tonight, I watched Karl Ravech interview Mark McGwire, a conversation that must have happened either moments before or after the press conference I attended. Each hitter had a table to which he went after the initial introduction and camera crews and print reporters alike approached the players as they needed. Aside from the great Willie Mays and the outspoken Reggie Jackson, the players who drew the biggest crowds — and, in the instances I dropped in and heard bits of conversation as I made sure I stopped at each table, fielded the steroids questions — were Bonds, Sammy Sosa and McGwire, the players who then, as now, have drawn the most suspicion.

Among the most accessible tables were those of Ken Griffey Jr. and Palmeiro. In fact, some of Bonds’ overflow spilled into Griffey’s space. In my mind, I still tend to think of Palmeiro as part of that group, the one that included Mike Schmidt, Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey and Frank Robinson; not the group of Bonds, Sosa, McGwire. I’m sure Palmeiro is guilty of something; I don’t think he’s a patsy, I don’t think he’s being set up by MLB. There’s no conspiracy. But I do wonder if we’ll ever know the truth, if every suspended player who says he never took anything more than a supplement will be vindicated or exposed.

While I’m not going to go off half-cocked and absurdly say Palmeiro lied in front of Congress when there is absolutely no such proof to support that accusation, I do wonder just what part of his story I should believe. Unfortunately, I don’t think Raffy will ever tell us, for sure.

One comment on “Which part of Palmeiro’s story do we believe?

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