Dark revelations again put cloud over Orioles

October 01, 2006|By RICK MAESE

EVER SINCE RAFAEL PALmeiro packed his bats and syringes and left town, the Orioles have opened their shutters every morning waiting for that ominous dark cloud to disappear. We know now that it hasn?t. We know that Palmeiromight have been just the tip of an enormous iceberg, the bigger mess hiding below the surface.We know now that instead of dissipating, that dark cloud is dropping everything it can onto a franchise with no umbrella.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, some of the city?s most beloved players from recent seasons have been linked to anabolic steroids, fingered by a former teammate who spilled his guts to federal investigators.

The allegations stab right at the heart of the entire organization, bleeding all the innocence and love that fans might have once held for this team into the gutters.

Say it ain?t so. Not Miggy. Not Jay. Not B-Rob. These are the heroes. Their posters decorate your children?s walls. Their autographs decorate caps and cards across the state.

Miguel Tejada, who we once compared with Cal Ripken Jr.Who was supposed to lead this franchise into a new era. Who curiously guarded a briefcase last season as though it contained the Blue Hope diamond. Who was previously eyeballed as a suspect by Palmeiro.

And Jay Gibbons, a fan favorite, a clubhouse leader. An underdog who made Camden Yards his home when other teams didn?t want him.

And Brian Roberts. Gritty, a hard worker. The kind of player your grandfather would?ve loved.

All of them, anabolic steroids, said Jason Grimsley a former teammate.

Baltimore didn?t wake up the same as Houston did this morning. We?ve been on this carnival ride before. The shock isn?t exactly the same. We skip right ahead to the questions. And what took weeks to figure out when Palmeiro was popped last August, we can process in seconds: There are no easy answers.

Do you believe the players, each of whom denies the allegations?

Do you trust the snitch, especially considering that every whistleblower seems to be batting 1.000 when it comes to identifying the game?s cheaters?

Do you lose faith in the game, in the athletes, in the system that allows this uneven playing field.

I don?t know the truth. Steroids have turned our curiosity and suspicions into giant puzzles, and we?re able to cram the pieces into whatever position suits our fancy. It isn?t out of the ballpark to understand how or why any of these players would stoop to using performance-enhancing drugs.

Roberts hit 18 homers last season ? nearly twice as many as he?s managed any other year of professional ball. You going to tell me that he couldn?t use the edge?

Gibbons is a guy who was left for dead by the Toronto Blue Jays and selected in 2000 by the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft. You don?t think he could?ve used the edge?

Tejada comes from the Dominican Republic and prides himself in an unmatched work ethic. But he?s also driven to be the very best. Would some type of edge help there?

It?s not a far reach to believe what Grimsley told those investigators. Most of us didn?t learn that steroids had invaded baseball clubhouses until well after ballplayers knew. If players know others are using and think it might be necessary to hold your spot on the roster, to add another comma to the next contract, to ink an endorsement deal, it?s not hard to see how even the game?s good guys would be enticed.

And let?s agree that Tejada, Gibbons and Roberts are some of the game?s good guys. That?s probably why it hurts more to think that they might?ve been using steroids. Palmeiro was aloof. This trio is beloved.

The evidence is not stacked heavily against them ? unlike Palmeiro, none has failed a drug test ? and ultimately, that might prove to be a saving grace. It will be easy to discredit Grimsley?s charges, mostly you don?t want to believe they?re true. Not just the Orioles, but Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte ? two others the Times says were named in the affidavit ? are also the kind of players youwant to believe.

When we talk about steroids, we all hope that baseball finds the bad guys. Go get Barry Bonds because he seems standoffish. Jason Giambi looks like a comic-book character, not someone you?d invite over for dinner.

And that?swhat makes this latest batch of names tough. These aren?t the cretins. These aren?t monsters. These are the guys we identified with. The ones you half-expected to run into at the mall. The ones who found their success through hard work, through extra hours, through sheer determination.

Thinking that they might?ve cheated challenges our good senses, saps the optimism and hope that we invest in something and someone we really don?t know.

It?s one thing to accept that bad is bad; it?s much tougher to comprehend that good might spoil.

The heart of a once-great franchise is attacked once again. Some will believe; some won?t. The guess here is that we?ll never knowfor sure.

Either way, the three-punch combo sure takes the air out of you. It?s not shock this time. Just disappointment.

Even if you choose to stand behind these accused Orioles, it?s getting harder and harder to envision the day when we throw open those shutters and see anything but darkness.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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