Chain of allegations full of links to O's

From Palmeiro to Gibbons, Orioles names keep surfacing

September 28, 2007|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,Sun reporter

Rafael Palmeiro gave the downtrodden Orioles a reason to be boastful in March 2005, when he wagged his finger on national television and proclaimed to a congressional committee on steroids that he had never, ever taken performance-enhancing drugs. While former St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire choked out "no comments" and new Oriole Sammy Sosa was unconvincing in his denial, Palmeiro emerged as a hero on an otherwise embarrassing day for Major League Baseball.

That was then. Now, for the third consecutive September, the club is stumbling its way to Sunday's finish line mired in more losing and more drug accusations involving one of its own.

Within five months of his finger-wagging declaration, Palmeiro, then the Orioles' first baseman, encountered a humiliating and ironic fall from grace as the first recognizable name to fail a drug test under the sport's newly enacted steroid policy.

Since then, seven other current or former Orioles have been linked to illegal drugs in published reports. The latest is injured outfielder Jay Gibbons, who, according to an story this month, received shipments of human growth hormone (hGH) and steroids from 2003 to 2005.

Seven of the eight, including Palmeiro, were Orioles in 2004; the other, Gary Matthews Jr., was with the club in 2002 and 2003.

Although the circumstances vary - some, for instance, are accused by federal investigators of having drugs sent to their homes while others are merely mentioned by an old teammate as possibly using steroids - the eight are linked by the Orioles uniform.

In time, more players and teams likely will be involved, because the issue is being pursued by various sources simultaneously and isn't going away anytime soon.

Former Sen. George Mitchell is still conducting MLB's steroid investigation, which could wrap up by the end of the year, while cases involving Internet drug rings are playing out in New York, Rhode Island, Florida, Alabama and Massachusetts, among other states.

A separate federal Drug Enforcement Agency sting, called "Operation Raw Deal," culminated this week with 124 arrests and the seizure of 56 steroid labs throughout the United States and has targeted international drug manufacturing and trafficking in nine other countries, including China, Mexico and Germany. No athletes have been implicated yet in those raids, but client lists are still being compiled.

Did O's officials know?

Potentially, no case could be more damaging for baseball than that of former New York Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski, who is awaiting federal sentencing after admitting to distributing steroids and hGH. According to his plea agreement, he gave the drugs to "dozens of current and former Major League Baseball players [on teams spread throughout Major League Baseball]" from 1995 to 2005.

A baseball source said at least one ex-Oriole - who has been implicated in a previous report - will be mentioned when and if Radomski's testimony is made public.

It would further fuel the public perception that, in the past decade, the Orioles were filled with juiced-up players and management was either oblivious or didn't care.

But that's completely untrue, said former Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo, who joined the club as a coach in 1996 and took over as skipper three days after Palmeiro was suspended in 2005.

"I think it is unfair for the Baltimore organization to have to take all of this on its shoulders," said Perlozzo, who was fired this June. "It has nothing to do with anybody on the Orioles condoning anything or anyone in the organization having access to it or anyone allowing anything to happen. I think it is totally coincidental."

As a longtime member of the coaching staff, Perlozzo continually interacted with players and, as bench coach in 2004, was a conduit between those Orioles and new manager Lee Mazzilli. He said he never heard or witnessed evidence of any steroid use.

"If anyone did know anything, it would have to be just among the players," he said. "But when something is among the players, it always gets out [to coaching]. And nothing ever got out. So that makes me think some of these things were just random."

One former Oriole, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, said there obviously was some individual steroid use during those years. But the users didn't congregate or discuss their personal situations.

"It wasn't like there was an underground, secretive group where guys knew about each other and talked about it and shared it," the former Oriole said. "That just didn't happen."

Clubhouse syringes

Nearly all of the Orioles' links to the drug controversies, however, started with one player and eventually spread to others. That trend began with Palmeiro.

At the time of his suspension, Palmeiro said in a teleconference that taking the banned steroid stanozolol was "not an intentional act on my part."

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