Steroids guesswork goes on over unintentional answers

August 03, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

ANAHEIM, Calif. - There is an empty locker between Sammy Sosa and Miguel Tejada in the visitors' clubhouse at Angel Stadium, and it shouldn't be too difficult to guess whose nameplate was supposed to be above it.

Save the real guessing for Major League Baseball's steroid policy, which was supposed to restore confidence in the sport in the wake of the BALCO scandal and a string of other troubling revelations, but - with this latest shocking development - has only generated more questions about the supposed transparency of the upgraded testing program.

Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts pondered the mysteries of the situation yesterday and summed up what a lot of players were thinking on the day after teammate Rafael Palmeiro's impressive career was soiled by the announcement that he tested positive for a banned substance.

"With as much as we know today, you can look at it and say, `Who knows? Maybe that could have been me,'" Roberts said. "When you're not getting answers about what people are caught for, how do you know?"

It's a fair question.

Palmeiro and agent Arn Tellem hid behind a confidentiality agreement when they were asked during Monday's conference call what substance Palmeiro ingested, making it that much harder to believe his contention that whatever was in his system got there unintentionally.

Roberts was not criticizing Palmeiro. Quite the contrary. He was explaining why he and his teammates remain supportive of their tainted teammate, even as the rest of the baseball world seems to be convinced that he's just another steroid cheat delivering the standard steroid cheat excuse.

"Until we start getting answers, I don't believe in accusing someone when I don't have a clue what the facts are," Roberts said. "I guess somebody has the answers, but we don't."

The new drug program does function under a veil of confidentiality, which is intended to protect the privacy of the player, but it defeats the purpose of the supposedly tougher anti-steroid measures if that veil also is used to provide cover for a player who wants to maintain his innocence in the face of a damning test result.

I'm not saying that player is Palmeiro. There is a small mathematical possibility that he was the victim of some sort of supplement contamination or labeling mix-up, but it sure would clear things up if he identified the offending substance so that his claims of innocence or ignorance could be fairly evaluated.

"I would feel that he was being much more honest if he explained exactly what happened ... what did you take," said Hall of Famer Jim Palmer. "Major League Baseball and Raffy have a pact, but there is nothing that says the player can't say anything."

Tellem insisted Monday that all parties are bound by a confidentiality pledge, but it's hard to imagine that it would be in anyone's interest to deny a player the right to defend his good name.

The only plausible explanation, proffered by a baseball official, is that the Major League Baseball Players Association reached the conclusion that it would be better for all the players who test positive to refuse to reveal specifics. It makes sense in a perverted sort of way, because that would protect the integrity of the I-didn't-know-what-I-was-taking defense, which is very hard to disprove in the absence of any real facts.

Can't argue with the logic. If one player breaks ranks and reveals pertinent facts to prove his innocence, then anyone else who fails to do so will be automatically presumed guilty.

That said, does anybody really think that Palmeiro, if he could clear this up by naming the substance or the supposedly innocent supplement, would choose instead to endanger his Hall of Fame credentials to protect the plausible deniability of the real cheaters?

"If you're a Hall of Fame player, it only takes a moment to damage your image," Palmer said. "If you took something accidentally, I think you would do anything you could to clarify the situation. I hope he does that. I hope he does it for baseball. I hope he does it for himself."

I'm not going to hold my breath. I'd like to believe that Palmeiro is the victim of some stupid personal oversight, but he started to lose me when he lawyered up for the conference call.

Baseball's war on performance-enhancing drugs cleared an important public relations hurdle when a superstar player finally tested positive and accepted his 10-game suspension, but wasn't the real goal of the anti-steroid crusade to create a transparent system that restored full public faith in the national pastime?

And if so, why did Monday's stunning announcement still leave us all guessing?

Contact Peter Schmuck at peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

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