Clean up baseball's mess

November 13, 2005

The second-best ballplayer to get caught taking steroids - outfielder Matt Lawton of the Yankees - reacted this month by saying, "I made a terrible and foolish mistake that I will regret for the rest of my life. I take full responsibility for my actions. ... I apologize to the fans, the game, my family and all those people that I let down. I am truly sorry and deeply regret my terrible lapse in judgment."

Compare that with former Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who has responded to his positive test for steroids with a tangled, ugly and, according to a House committee report last week, not-so-believable tale.

Mr. Palmeiro has Hall of Fame stats. But if his failed drug test doesn't keep him out of the hallowed hall, then surely his reaction will. The stronger drug-testing regime for baseball now likely triggered by this sad affair ought to be named after him.

For better or worse, baseball has long believed what happens in the clubhouse should stay in the clubhouse. In trying to explain away his positive test, Mr. Palmeiro has blamed a tainted vial of vitamin B-12 that he says he got from the O's marquee player, Miguel Tejada. The ensuing congressional investigation turned up a troubling portrait of a locker room in which such substances were passed and injected by some players.

B-12 pills are legal; you can buy them at the local mall, and the vitamin apparently is widely used in the Dominican Republic, where Mr. Tejada obtained the stuff. But it also should be noted that injectable vitamins are available only by prescription in this country and that Mr. Tejada might not have been within the law in providing the liquid.

That aside, the dirty laundry aired by Mr. Palmeiro, exactly true or not, does no credit to the Orioles, a team with serious problems on the field. And there's no reason to believe that the O's clubhouse is unique - or by any means the worst offender.

"It's a mess," Baltimore Congressman Elijah E. Cummings declared in an understatement. What to do? Baseball's current testing has long been inadequate, and the House investigation found at least one glaring loophole. We've already called for drug testing as stringent as that imposed on Olympians. Whether this comes from the game's management or, in the absence of such initiative, is handed down by Congress, it should happen quickly. And while they're at it, there's no reason not to ban all vitamins, vials, needles and the like from major-league clubhouses as well.

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