SportsProf

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Are Viagra Poster Boy's Pants On Fire?

I blogged the other day, right when the news came out, that we needed to wait and see what the real story was behind Rafael Palmeiro's positive test for steroids and his ten-game suspension. I cautioned that we shouldn't throw his career on the garbage heap because of this test (and, from listening to ESPN Radio, some Hall of Fame Voters indicated that they probably would still vote for Palmeiro, if not on the first ballot) without hearing more about what happened.

According to this report, the veteran player who did ads for a prescription drug to spice up his private life was taking a non-prescribed, illegal drug to spice up his professional life. Hard to figure what Rafael Palmeiro was thinking. Was he so close to getting 3000 hits and so fearful he would not that he took this drug to get there? Or was he on it all along, figuring he wouldn't stop until he got caught? Or was it that he figured that he would be able, with lawyers' and his union's help, to defeat any charge that he was using steroids? Or was it something else? It doesn't appear that the "cat ate my homework" or "someone slipped something into my pre-game orange juice" defenses are available here. You wouldn't think that your test would come up positive because you were ingesting something by accident. And if you took something and didn't know what it was, well, you can't hide behind that defense, either.

Is this good for baseball? ESPN Radio presented two takes on it this morning from nationally syndicated columnists, one who said that in naming Palmeiro, baseball can pass the stone that is the steroids scandal because those who were decrying steroid use got the scalp that they were hungry for. The second take was that this is horrible for baseball, because this situation raises more questions than it answers, and the lingering pall of steroids simply intensifies because of this -- it doesn't vanish. (That Jason Giambi, presumably a recovering steroids user, had in July the best month of any position player dating back about three years has not gone totally unnoticed in this discussion).

This cannot be good for baseball, even if the suspension of Palmeiro demonstrates that baseball's compliance program is working. Any time a sport reveals awful news about a player who has had one of the best careers of all time, it's a very sad day. Because instead of saying, "well, now it's over," the average observer will say, "okay, who else is out there that they haven't told us about yet?" At least for a while, they will do just that. Jose Canseco may be a lot of things, but he wasn't totally wrong on this issue.

So what's next for baseballl? Baseball, the Orioles, and Palmeiro will have to weather this storm. Needless to say, some Congressman might inquire whether Palmeiro was in contempt of Congress or, worse, guilty of lying under oath, when he emphatically denied (at the March hearings) that he was using steroids. Baseball, the Orioles and Palmeiro will have to deal with the embarrassing fact that all the while Palmeiro's run toward 3000 hits was being touted and Palmeiro was being praised, he was under investigation for steroids use. Some of the criticism, which no doubt will be withering, will be unfair. Due process is important, and what was supposed to happen while the agreed-to review process within baseball was taking place? Was Palmeiro supposed to stop playing? That had to be a tough situation, especially for the front office of Major League Baseball. No doubt the Orioles benefitted from the entire situation, because a) they were in a pennant race and faring well and b) had the news leaked out regarding Palmeiro's alleged midsdeeds before he reached his milestone, the Orioles wouldn't have gotten the publicity they did because of it. Remember, as bad as steroids can be, some teams in the past definitely have benefitted from its players use of them.

Hard to predict what else is next. Few would have thought baseball would make a clean break from the steroids scandal when it announced its policy earlier this year. This episode will have baseball observers wondering, at least for a while, what other skeletons are in baseball's increasingly well-lit, presumably walk-in, closet.

4 Comments:

Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon said...

I think it's good for baseball.

"Stars" don't get a pass through the testing system. That's good.

The tests work and stand up to the scrutiny of an arbitrator. That's good.

Any diminution of the game caused by bad news with regard to a "star" is temporary and of a smaller magnitude. Has Pete Rose's admitted gambling diminished the game permanently? No. Was Rose a star? He was a whole lot bigger than Raffy will ever be.

Steroids/performance enhancers are here to stay. This will be a constant cat-and-mouse game between athletes' chemists and officialdom's chemists. If that is going to bring down the game, then the downfall is inevitable.

Cue Mark Twain here:

The only difference between a cynic and a realist is whether or not you agree with him...

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