Hairston's name surfaces

O's keep gasping for air

March 04, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

It is Groundhog Day all over again in Baltimore.

This time, cute little Jerry Hairston Jr. has poked his head out of baseball's black hole of steroid suspicion, guaranteeing at least six more weeks of the sport's seemingly endless performance enhancement scandal.

Another day.

Another disturbing revelation.

Another former Oriole.

Sports Illustrated reported Friday that Hairston's name has been connected to purchases of human growth hormone in a wide-ranging investigation of shady pharmacies and prescription-selling doctors.

The day before, it was Gary Matthews Jr., who played in Baltimore in 2002 and 2003 before his career finally blossomed in Texas.

If you want to get all comprehensive about it, we can go back to Rafael Palmeiro's positive steroid test in 2005 and an alibi that almost dragged Miguel Tejada down with him. Last year, there was the infamous Jason Grimsley affidavit that reportedly included the names of David Segui, Brian Roberts and Jay Gibbons.

Now, two more familiar names have made headlines and it's hard not to draw some obvious conclusions, but let's stop there for a moment and allow for the possibility that all is not as it appears.

Hairston has vehemently denied any involvement with illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

"It's disturbing," he told Sports Illustrated. " ... I have no idea what this is about. I'm really in the dark. Not one time have I taken steroids or anything like that. I would never do anything like that to jeopardize my career or my family's name. ... I know I'm going to be OK because I know what I've done and haven't done. ... I would never do anything to discredit the game. The game has been good not only to myself but my entire family."

And it's hard not to believe him. Hairston is a religious man who was never considered anything other than a standup guy during his years in the Orioles' organization. But people are going to look at his close relationship with Roberts - who has been fending off Grimsley questions for nearly a year - and they are, fairly or unfairly, going to connect the dots.

Matthews has made no definitive statement about the report in the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union that his name appeared along with those of Jose Canseco and former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield on the customer list of a Mobile, Ala., pharmacy whose owners recently were indicted by an Albany grand jury.

His lack of a strong denial might be a routine advice-of-attorney stall tactic, but it's not going to play that way on Main Street.

Matthews is another nice young guy who is well-liked by his teammates and the media. He's also a career backup who suddenly broke out with his first big season last year and parlayed it into a $50 million free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Angels. If he was looking for the benefit of the doubt, telling reporters he "isn't in a position to answer specific questions" probably wasn't the way to get it.

Meanwhile, the Orioles can do without another huge dose of guilt by association. The Palmeiro scandal turned a relatively upbeat 2005 season (up to that point) into a public relations disaster of epic proportions. The Grimsley affidavit hung a cloud of drug-related suspicion over the team in 2006. Now, the Albany investigation has brought the tawdry mess back to their doorstep.

This is supposed to be a corner-turning season. The Orioles added two veteran starters and four free-agent relievers to shore up the pitching staff. They signed Aubrey Huff to beef up the batting order. Nobody's talking playoffs, but there finally was reason to believe that the franchise's nine-year nightmare might be nearing an end.

Someday we will wake up and this will all be over, just not anytime soon.

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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