Palmeiro's detractors have point, but no need to rush to judgment

August 25, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

IT'S HARD TO feel sorry for Rafael Palmeiro, because he set himself up for all this. It also is hard not to feel sorry for him as his critics rush to fill the information vacuum that he created when he failed to either fess up to the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs or provide a legitimate explanation for his positive steroid test.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who testified alongside the Orioles first baseman at the March 17 hearing of the House Committee on Government Reform, yesterday joined the chorus of prominent voices who have become convinced that Palmeiro is a cheater whose entire career - along with his personal integrity - has been called into question.

Schilling was asked if he concurred with comments made a day earlier by Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson, who told that Palmeiro's entire statistical record should be wiped out.

"Yeah," Schilling said in a radio interview on WEEI in Boston, "I read something the other day about his career, his career numbers and how a lot of his career numbers coincide with certain dates and he obviously sat next to me in Washington and lied, so I don't know there's any way to prove that anything he did was not under the influence of performance-enhancing drugs."

Neither reaction is surprising in the absence of any exculpatory evidence from Palmeiro or his representatives, who (I believe) made a huge mistake when they attempted to sell the public on a unique plea - not guilty without an explanation. That said, I think it's a bit premature to convict Palmeiro of perjury in the court of public opinion.

Congress still is weighing whether there is enough evidence to bring a perjury charge against Palmeiro for testifying under oath that he "never, ever used steroids, period." The decision is expected any day now, so there really is no reason to jump to any premature conclusion, no matter how obvious it might seem.

Indeed, it is difficult to imagine that a 40-year-old player would use a powerful steroid (stanozolol) for the very first time at such a late stage in his career. Even Palmeiro contended during his "compelling" defense in front of an arbitrator that he would have had to be crazy to start using steroids when a new steroid-testing program had just been put in place and his eventual induction into the Hall of Fame already was a foregone conclusion.

Trouble is, while he would like us to accept that as proof that he must have ingested the substance unintentionally, the same logic can be turned in the opposite direction to bolster the suspicion that he must have been doing steroids throughout his career. It obviously had that effect on Schilling, who went on to encourage Palmeiro to come clean and use this sorry episode for some constructive purpose.

"My hope is that Raffy does whatever he can ... to help further the message that baseball needs to send to kids and to people," he said. "Whether he's going to be able to do that, given what he's done, to me is doubtful. He has no credibility, I don't think, in that area. I think that's gonna be a tough one. I just hope his life gets righted and he does the right thing."

Robinson seems more concerned about Palmeiro's place in baseball history as it relates to the great players of the past, which is understandable. The inflated home run totals of the steroid era have boosted a number of current (and recently retired) players into the same statistical universe as a handful of all-time greats from the previous century, Robinson among them.

There were a total of two 60-homer single-season performances in major league history before the great Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home run chase of 1998. There have been six in the past seven seasons. Enough said.

I'm not sure it would be fair to make Palmeiro the scapegoat for the entire steroid generation - since there are plenty of other players under suspicion - but Robinson is speaking for a lot of people who feel that should be the price for being the first superstar player to get caught.

"I would [wipe out his records]," Robinson said on Tuesday. "He was found to have used steroids, and he served a 10-day suspension. ... Where do you go back, stop and say, `OK, when did he started using steroids?' To eliminate all that, and get the players' attention, you wipe the whole thing out. Why put the burden on baseball to try and figure out where to go, and maybe put an asterisk? Just wipe the whole thing out."

I understand how he feels, but we're getting a little ahead of ourselves.

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