A day in honor of Palmeiro would dishonor a proud franchise

Orioles In Crisis

August 04, 2005|By John Eisenberg

IT MIGHT be hard to believe, given the Orioles' ongoing collapse, but their name and uniform do still stand for something.

You don't play 52 seasons in the major leagues without becoming an enduring symbol of professionalism, win or lose.

The people running the Orioles should think about that as they contemplate Rafael Palmeiro's scheduled return next week.

Are they really still going to have a day honoring Palmeiro at Camden Yards on Aug. 14, just a few days after he returns from the most high-profile steroid suspension in baseball history?

Say it ain't so. That might be the worst idea ever.

Sending out a certified juicer to soak up forced applause in a rote ceremony in front of dubious fans would disgrace the uniform.

It would insult the careers of Brooks and Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken and every other player who has accomplished big things while playing for the Orioles - by the rules.

The Orioles can do better than that, and they know it.

They should cancel the day immediately, and while they're at it, tell Palmeiro just to clean out his locker. Thanks for the memories.

To let Palmeiro come back and play now, and force everyone to pretend nothing happened, would be a low point in franchise history.

Give me 0-21 any day. At least that was on the level.

Palmeiro isn't.

He said Monday that he had no idea how steroids got into his system, but the New York Times, Newsday and Associated Press have since reported he tested positive for stanozolol, a powerful steroid experts say is almost certainly taken intentionally. It's the one that brought down sprinter Ben Johnson at the 1988 Olympics.

So the explanation Palmeiro gave Monday now looks about as firm as a shattered bat. Congress is after him to come clean. (He said yesterday that he would cooperate.)

Are the Orioles upset about his shaky explanation? Do they care about their players' credibility and integrity?

As well, it turns out Palmeiro knew in May that he had tested positive and was facing a possible suspension, yet he didn't tell the team as he went about reaching his milestone of 3,000 career hits.

Teammates, opponents and millions of fans became part of the sham as Palmeiro celebrated his milestone while knowing the hammer was about to fall. Only in hindsight did you realize that a fundamental law of sports had been violated, and that what you had seen couldn't be trusted.

The Orioles found out just a few days before the news went public Monday.

Why aren't they as angry as Congress? Why are they rallying around Palmeiro instead of fuming about being deceived for months?

When the news broke, Palmeiro ducked from view, held a conference call with his lawyer and claimed he couldn't speak frankly because of a confidentiality clause in baseball's steroid policy. (The clause exists to keep teams and leagues from releasing damaging information about players, not to keep players from being truthful.)

It was left to Orioles vice presidents Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan and manager Lee Mazzilli to step in front of the cameras and take the heat. Nice.

Palmeiro's teammates? Mazzilli gathered them together and read a statement from the banished star. They never heard his voice.

And now Palmeiro is suspended until late next week as the team's collapse worsens.

This is a guy the Orioles are going to honor? What's next, a bottle-head doll?

Haven't they enabled this charade long enough?

It's a testament to the pathetic weakness of the steroid policy that the Orioles have to deal with this at all. Palmeiro, 40, wasn't coming back in 2006, anyway; he could be gone forever and out of the Orioles' hair if the policy had any teeth.

Instead, Palmeiro is out for 10 days and then back in their laps. What a joke. (Here's hoping Congress eventually sweeps baseball and the other major sports under the umbrella of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which mandates a two-year suspension for first-time offenders.)

There might not be much the Orioles can do about severing ties. When the Anaheim Angels tried to suspend infielder Tony Phllips after he was busted for cocaine possession in August 1997, the players union fought the move and Phillips was reinstated.

But even if the Orioles can't control their relationship with Palmeiro, they can control who they honor, what they value and how they represent themselves to the public.

By standing up and denouncing the idea of stanozolol-aided home runs - a ruinous concept for their game - they can prove that, unlike what their recent results suggest, they do have their house in order.

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