MLB's best avoid being called out

Since Palmeiro's fall, reasons vary why no stars have tested positive

August 02, 2006|By JEFF BARKER | JEFF BARKER,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON --Sen. John McCain was deep into a lecture on how the Major League Baseball players union was moving too slowly to rid the sport of steroid-using "cheaters." "How many Rafael Palmeiros are there going to be?" asked the Arizona Republican at a hearing.

It was September 2005, the month after the former Oriole became the sport's first star to test positive for steroids.

A year after Palmeiro's suspension, the somewhat surprising answer to McCain's question is that no other big baseball names have been nabbed.

Experts and ballplayers have several pet theories why.

Some players believe baseball's newly toughened steroids policy has curtailed the use of performance-enhancing drugs by stars and others. They believe Palmeiro's case is a deterrent because it demonstrates the career-shattering effect that getting caught can have.

Said one major league player recently: "Money is money. But you're a public figure and there is the embarrassment."

The player, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the subject's sensitivity, said he'd be more worried about the stigma than about the 50-game suspension if he were caught using steroids.

Other theories are darker. Some steroid experts and lawmakers say players continue to circumvent the rules by using difficult-to-detect drugs since Palmeiro's fall from grace.

While baseball should be credited for adopting stiffer penalties and requiring additional testing, "MLB's new policy still isn't up to par with the more rigorous international anti-doping programs such as the one used for the Olympics," Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat, said.

"As a result, MLB still has gaps in its policy. Most notably, MLB has failed to implement blood testing for human growth hormone - which recent events suggest is still being used by MLB players," said Lynch, a member of the House committee that summoned Palmeiro and other players to testify about steroids last year.

Here is a look at three popular theories why Palmeiro, one of only four players with 500 home runs and 3,000 hits, still stands alone among baseball luminaries in testing positive.

Palmeiro's drug was easy to uncover compared with those of other players.

Palmeiro tested positive for stanozolol, a powerful anabolic steroid. Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his 100-meter Olympic gold medal in 1988 after testing positive for the drug.

A year after Palmeiro's positive test and 10-day suspension, researchers still express amazement that such a well-known steroid would be used. Palmeiro has maintained his test result may have been triggered by a tainted vitamin B-12 shot from then-teammate Miguel Tejada.

"If I'm a professional athlete and I've got lots of people willing to help me, I'm just not sure why I'd use stanozolol," said Matt Chaney, a Missouri-based author completing a book called Spiral of Denial about steroid use in football.

Chaney says there are plenty of other harder-to-spot drugs that he suspects players in baseball, football and other sports continue to use.

"We have supplements with undetectable steroids, we have growth hormone and God knows what else," Chaney said. He said there is "a big category" of designer steroids crafted by drug "gurus" and featuring "highly covert designs."

Human growth hormone has become a drug of choice, and baseball doesn't test for it.

Questions about human growth hormone have taken on greater urgency in light of former Oriole David Segui's statements that he used the substance with a prescription. In June, the Arizona home of Jason Grimsley, also a former Oriole, was raided, and a federal search warrant affidavit said the pitcher admitted he and other players used hGH.

MLB questions the reliability of a blood test for hGH that has been used on Olympic athletes.

"Two years ago, none of us could spell hGH. I mean, who knew?" Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten said. "And I fear two years from now there will be another thing. We just have to remain dedicated to keeping the sport clean and totally engage the union in helping. Together, we can do it. I would say virtually all the players want this sport to be clean."

Some players have been "scared straight" by baseball's tougher steroids policy and by Palmeiro's example.

Palmeiro was suspended 10 days, although his career suffered irreparable public relations damage. Today, the penalties have been toughened to 50 games for a first violation, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban for a third.

Just as significant, players say, is that the number of drug tests has been increased. Players are subject to a test during the season and are subject to additional random tests as well.

"I've been tested three times randomly so far this year," one player said. "They're waiting for you when you get to the field. If you can't [urinate] they wait for you."

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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