Sorry, Raffy, but your plea is more guilt than innocence

Palmeiro Renews Claim

November 10, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

INDIAN WELLS, CALIF. -- Rafael Palmeiro finally came forth yesterday with his long-awaited explanation of the positive steroid test that has stained his great career, and the only thing missing was the last line:

"That's my story and I'm sticking to it."

We waited 3 1/2 months for Palmeiro to either come clean or give us some reason to believe that he never, ever intentionally used illegal performance-enhancing drugs, but the statement he released through his attorneys yesterday was largely a restatement of the facts and excuses that trickled out in the days and weeks after the stunning Aug. 1 announcement that he had tested positive for steroids.

Perhaps worse, the combination of his latest statement and the vitamin B-12 chain-of-custody argument that was proffered by his attorneys yesterday seems to focus the issue right back on teammate Miguel Tejada.

Let's review. The day that Palmeiro's steroid suspension was announced, he held a conference call and insisted that he had not intentionally used steroids - and that certain facts would eventually be revealed to bolster the case that he was the victim of some inadvertent ingestion of an illegal substance.

It all sounded slightly plausible until the following day, when MLB personnel leaked the identity of the substance - stanozolol - to The New York Times and cast significant doubt on the possibility that it could have been taken unintentionally.

The plot thickened when it was revealed several weeks later that Palmeiro told an arbitration panel that he had received a vial of injectable B-12 from Tejada.

Which brings us back to yesterday's non-revelation, which arrived on the day before the House Committee on Government Reform is scheduled to release the results of its investigation into whether Palmeiro committed perjury when he testified March 17 that he had never used steroids.

Palmeiro conceded that stanozolol was found in his system and continued to insist that he is not sure how it got there. He also restated the possibility that a vial of B-12 he got from Tejada was somehow tainted with steroids and delivered a seemingly heartfelt apology to his family, friends and fans for the hurt caused by his poor judgment in accepting the bootleg B-12.

"I am not trying to hold others responsible," he said in the statement. "I was careless in not seeking a doctor's advice and made a foolish mistake. Nobody is more frustrated and disappointed in me than I am. Throughout my adult life, I have worked very hard on and off the field to live my life in an honorable way.

"All my accomplishments are now tainted, and many people have been hurt. I deeply regret the pain I have caused my family, my teammates, my fans and the game of baseball. I am sorry for the distraction that I have caused to the Orioles' clubhouse and the league."

I almost feel sorry for him, but the "I'm-a-bleeping-idiot" defense doesn't really wash, either.

If Palmeiro's only crime was that he was stupid enough to trust Tejada and the purity of the suspicious vial of Dominican B-12, then (a) why did he allow his name and Hall of Fame credentials to be dragged through the mud for the last 100 days; (b) why is he suddenly apologizing so profusely for something that he still insists was not really his fault; and (c) what could he have possibly been thinking in the first place?

I'm not saying that the scenario is entirely implausible. There is a product on the international market (tanoxol) that combines B-12 and stanozolol in an injectable liquid and can be acquired from an Argentine pharmaceutical company (Burnet Laboratories) on the Internet.

There also is room to wonder just what the Orioles and Major League Baseball were thinking when they reflexively announced after the Tejada story broke that they had examined the substance that Tejada gave Palmeiro and found it to be uncontaminated.

Palmeiro's lawyers rightly point out that since the disputed B-12 came in a disposable vial, it would have been impossible to conclusively determine - several weeks later - that it was uncontaminated simply by comparing it to other vials in Tejada's B-12 stash.

Trouble is, Palmeiro's personal credibility has been so damaged by the lingering scandal that the chain-of-custody argument simply looks like one more attempt to cover his formerly Hall of Fame-bound behind with skillful lawyering.

Reasonable people are just going to come back to the same scenario: Palmeiro, a very rich and savvy veteran ballplayer with access to the best medical attention in the world, accepted a vial of injectable liquid from an offshore pharmacy and stuck a needle into his body without ever considering the possibility of its being contaminated.

That is within the wide realm of possibility, of course, and I'm guessing that a lesser cloud of suspicion will now hang over Tejada's head for the foreseeable future, but it is also reasonable to wonder why a supposedly innocent man (Palmeiro) would act so guilty for so long with so much at stake.

It still doesn't add up.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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