Ripken sees a teachable moment for kids in Palmeiro steroid news

August 10, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

ON THE THIRD day of his family's Bahamas vacation, 12-year-old Ryan Ripken went looking for his dad to tell him about a story that was all over ESPN.

Turns out, Cal Ripken already had seen a television report that his former teammate Rafael Palmeiro had tested positive for steroids, but it was something else altogether to see it again through the eyes of his young son.

"That's the most alarming thing to me," he said yesterday. "I think as adults, you can understand it, rationalize it and interpret it, but kids interpret things differently. Maybe this is an opportunity as a parent to sit down and talk to your kids, because it's a subject that maybe you don't want to avoid."

Right now, it's a subject that is impossible to avoid. Palmeiro and steroids have dominated the headlines and the airwaves for more than a week, and it doesn't look like that is going to let up anytime soon.

There is talk of a possible Palmeiro news conference at Camden Yards tomorrow, and he is eligible to return from his 10-day suspension for tomorrow's series finale against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. What he will say and whether he'll actually return remains the mystery du jour at Oriole Park.

Baseball's all-time ironman doesn't know any more than you do, but he's hoping that Palmeiro has more to say than he did on his conference call Monday of last week.

"If he did it, for whatever reason, then I think he should admit to it and ask forgiveness," Ripken said. "But playing with Raffy and knowing Raffy, I don't want to believe it's true. So maybe I'm in a state of denial, but I'm holding out for an explanation."

Ripken was holding court at the media day for the Constellation Energy Classic at the Hayfields Country Club in Hunt Valley. He is the honorary chairman of the Champions Tour event (Sept. 12-18) for the third year in a row, but the conversation did not stay on golf very long.

He normally is more diplomatic on such weighty subjects, but the steroid issue has hit home, especially with the Cal Ripken World Series about to begin in Aberdeen.

"Being around kids, they ask questions," Ripken said. "I'm not saying they understand what's going on, but they absorb the things that are out there in the media."

But Ripken didn't wait until the Palmeiro bombshell to begin educating his son about a problem that has become one of the biggest scandals in baseball history.

"Since the whole steroid thing unfolded - going on a year - I've been having conversations with Ryan," he said.

In a lot of ways, Ripken reacted to the news of Palmeiro's positive test in the same way as a lot of fans. He expressed sympathy for Palmeiro and his family and tried to keep alive the slim hope that there is an innocent explanation for what happened ... though he really isn't in denial.

"It seemed like he's hurting," Ripken said. "You could hear it in his voice during the phone conference. My heart goes out to him."

There is no such ambivalence about the steroid issue. The wholesome player who spent much of his career as a poster boy for the Mid-Atlantic Milk Marketing Association made it clear that there is no place in baseball for illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

"I'm of the opinion that you want to compete fairly with what you have and you want the field to be level," he said. "Maybe 100 years from now, [steroids] might be viewed as nothing more than good nutrition, but right now, it's cheating."

Ripken is a slam-dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible for induction in two years, but he did sidestep the question of whether steroid cheats should be kept out of Cooperstown.

"I don't know that I have formed an opinion," he said. "It's a very subjective vote that is affected by all kinds of things. I'm sure steroids will be a consideration if there's suspicion or a cloud over somebody's head."

For now, he said that people should give the current steroids program a chance to work.

"I think there is an honest attempt on the part of Major League Baseball to deal with the issue of steroids," Ripken said. "Nothing is perfect. It's going to take some time to get to the point where it works, but I think the Raffy situation alone is going to be a deterrent."

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