Teammate linked to Palmeiro?

Congressional committee probing whether Oriole gave him substance

September 22, 2005|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- A congressional committee is investigating whether another Orioles player gave Rafael Palmeiro a substance that might be linked to the first baseman's positive steroid test, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The scenario of Palmeiro receiving a substance from a teammate was described by Palmeiro himself in closed-door proceedings before a three-member baseball arbitration panel earlier this year as he presented his steroid defense, one source said. A second source confirmed the account and that Palmeiro had identified the teammate by name. The sources declined to be identified because the congressional investigation is ongoing.

The House Government Reform Committee -- as part of its investigation of whether Palmeiro lied six months ago when he testified that he never used steroids -- has been trying to determine whether Palmeiro's story has merit.

The committee is interviewing people who, sources said yesterday, include members of the Orioles -- including Palmeiro himself -- and Richie Bancells, the club's head athletic trainer.

The committee declined to identify either the substance that Palmeiro cited or the name of the teammate who allegedly provided it.

Palmeiro, who reached the milestone 3,000-hit club this summer, tested positive for a steroid and served a 10-day suspension beginning Aug. 1. He has said publicly that he didn't take a steroid on purpose. "It was an accident. It was not an intentional act on my part," he told reporters on Aug. 1.

Taken together, Palmeiro's public and private statements suggest a possible defense that he was the victim of a teammate's unwitting error in passing along a substance potentially related to his positive test.

Sources familiar with Palmeiro's private statements -- both to the committee and the arbitration board -- describe his defense as "confusing." One said that while he told the arbitration board of receiving a substance from a teammate, he didn't make a case that the substance had triggered his positive test.

The committee has put no timetable on completing its probe. Besides contacting Orioles players, the panel has interviewed Colorado Rockies outfielder Jorge Piedra, who has worked out with Palmeiro and who tested positive for steroids in April.

Bancells confirmed yesterday that he spoke to the committee. He said it was during a homestand with Toronto on Sept. 5-7 and that he talked to Washington via speakerphone for 30-40 minutes.

"It wasn't anything complicated. Very simple questions, very simple answers," Bancells said.

Palmeiro has been interviewed in person by the committee at least once since he was suspended.

Palmeiro could not be reached yesterday through the offices of his agent, Arn Tellem.

Palmeiro tested positive for a steroid in May and appealed the ruling in secret arbitration proceedings in June. He lost his appeal before the three-person arbitration panel consisting of a baseball lawyer, a union lawyer and an independent arbitrator.

Palmeiro was among a handful of current and former players who appeared before the committee in March. "I have never used steroids. Period," he said.

Palmeiro has been at his Texas home rehabilitating his ailing right ankle and knee. He said he worried that he had become a distraction to the team.

Sun reporter Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.

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