Hurting O's lose Roberts, too

House panel signals depth of its anger with Palmeiro

September 21, 2005|By JOHN EISENBERG

If he didn't know before, Rafael Palmeiro found out yesterday that a congressional committee is interviewing major leaguers he has trained with, trying to find out if he used steroids before last March, and if so, committed perjury when he testified in March that he was clean.

Here's guessing the news didn't make Palmeiro's day.

If he didn't know before, he knows now that the House Government Reform Committee is angry with him. Very angry. Like, out to get him if it can.

The committee has far more important things to do, like hold the hearings looking into the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. One could easily argue that, at such a sobering time, the committee should be concerned with almost anything other than the relatively trifling matter of a ballplayer possibly lying about using steroids.

The fact that the committee continues to pursue Palmeiro illustrates just how angry it is with him.

The Orioles slugger had better hope that "other side of the story" he keeps promising (we're waiting) helps exonerate him. The stakes seem to be getting higher and higher.

The origins of the committee's anger are easily understood. Palmeiro, remember, was the first player to try to get out of the Capitol Hill steroid hearing in March, claiming it conflicted with his wife's birthday.

When that lame excuse didn't get him out of testifying, he showed up in Washington and jabbed a finger at the committee while proclaiming his innocence, only to test positive for steroids just three months later.

Understandably, the committee members want to know if Palmeiro treated them like a bunch of sportswriters, giving them a load of high-flying hooey he figured they would never check out.

Popular athletes have forever taken advantage of sportswriters willing to soft-pedal and/or deny their mistakes and shortcomings, but Palmeiro seemingly forgot the key difference between congressmen and sportswriters.

Congressmen have a secret weapon sportswriters can't use. It's called a subpoena.

Now, Palmeiro could be in a predicament that makes getting booed on the road seem like a breeze. Ear plugs won't help, let's put it that way.

According to a story in The Sun yesterday, the committee has already interviewed several major leaguers, including Jorge Piedra, a Rockies outfielder who has worked out with Palmeiro and also tested positive for steroids this season. The names of other players contacted by the committee figure to surface soon.

Many observers figured the committee would never carry the investigation this far because it had other things to do, and the additional questioning would be time-consuming and painstaking. The smart guess was Palmeiro probably didn't have to worry about a perjury charge.

But now, it appears he isn't going to get off so easily. The committee is talking to major leaguers specifically because it wants to nail him for perjury.

Here's the situation: The documents major league baseball turned over to the committee in August to help with the Palmeiro investigation reportedly involved only his 2005 positive test and the follow-up hearings, but for the committee to establish that Palmeiro committed perjury in March, it needs to establish that he used steroids before then. Only evidence provided by friends and teammates could do the trick if no damning paperwork exists.

Whether any of his friends would give him up remains to be seen, although, having seen what happened to him, they might realize they can't treat congressional questions like post-game softballs from radio guys. They might want to tell the truth.

In the long run, it's still probably unlikely the committee will refer the matter to the Justice Department for a possible perjury charge. It would need to have irrefutable evidence, not just "he said" anecdotal authentication.

But having the federal government on your tail is seldom good for you, and given the twists this story has already taken, who knows what the investigation might turn up?

Meanwhile, Palmeiro sits at home in Texas, rehabilitating his sore knee while awaiting a return to the Orioles to take a few final swings in 2005. Like something could happen to make things better.

Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo explained recently that Palmeiro "just doesn't want to quit." He doesn't want to go out this way, in other words. Who can blame him?

But it's way too late. He has alienated the sports public by getting caught cheating and then putting up the kind of "dodge the blame" smokescreen fans can't stand. His sport is mad at him. The fans are mad at him, even here. Now, ominously, Congress is really mad at him.

His only hope is to have nothing to hide, and only he knows if he does.

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