A stinger


Latest O's blow hardest to accept

On Brian Roberts' steroid admission

December 18, 2007|By DAN CONNOLLY

Orioles fans can seemingly take anything and keep coming back for more.

Ten seasons of terrible play, lackluster attitudes and continual roster mismanagement might have dimmed the passion, but not killed it.

Neither have drunken-driving pitchers, stanozolol-stained sluggers or B-12 injecting shortstops.

But this one is tough to take. Really tough. It'll test the mettle of Orioles fans.

Because Brian Roberts is an Oriole from his first contract. He is one of those professional athletes who has been as much a professional as an athlete.

And now, no matter the explanation or the frequency, he'll forever go down as an admitted drug cheat.

This smiling, good-looking, humble face of the franchise has become just another Orioles steroid guy, along with Rafael Palmeiro, David Segui, Jay Gibbons and Larry Bigbie to name a few.

All the contrite mea culpas in the world can't get around that.

The problem is, Roberts stands out among the fallen here. Because of who he is and the standard he set, No. 1 in the field is No. 1 in Baltimore's Class of Disappointment.

For starters, the other players mentioned above have been parts of other organizations; Roberts is an original Oriole. Fans watched him grow, pardon the verb, from a scared error-making shortstop as a rookie to a two-time All-Star second baseman.

They watched like proud parents as he matured into a team leader and an excellent ambassador of the game. He fused strong religious beliefs, an aw-shucks demeanor, a love for kids and a tireless work ethic. Now that has been compromised.

Be angry if you want, sad if you desire. But don't be surprised.

The truth is there should never be surprise anymore, no matter the athlete, the sport or the drug of choice. In this era of professional sports, no one is immune; no one can be above the suspicion. Including a polite, smart, hard-working boy-next-door from an old-school baseball family.

Roberts, generously listed as 5 feet 9, has always had to work harder and longer to compete with the big boys. That's part of the reason the blue-collar fans around here gravitated toward him.

But that size also aided in this deception. Roberts is ripped, much more muscular than he was as a rookie. But he wasn't busting out of his uniform like Gibbons or Segui. It was reasonable that his physique could have been a product of the weight room and the weight room alone.

Palmeiro was even less muscular than Roberts, and his denials - especially the one before Congress in March 2005 - were legendary in emphasis. Plus, Palmeiro's positive test for stanozolol was the first of its kind here.

So maybe that one surprised more, but it didn't sting as much. Palmeiro was a great player - better than Roberts - but he wasn't in the same league in the clubhouse or community. While Palmeiro kept to himself and some felt he was standoffish, Roberts is baseball's little brother. He can't go into a visiting city without high-fiving and chatting up opposing players.

And he's equally genuine in his charity efforts, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for sick and underprivileged children.

Taking one dose - or hundreds - of steroids doesn't change the type of person he is or the good things he does for others. And, for perspective, it's not as if he committed a violent crime or physically hurt someone.

It's simply a matter of trust, and this chips away at that fleeting hope that some athletes are clean, honorable and honest.

Perhaps it's unfair that Roberts was put on a pedestal, partially because of the dearth of Orioles who were both good and good-natured over the past decade. But, the fact is, he was there. There was a responsibility to that.

And now his admission - which came after he was fingered in the Mitchell Report - damages that image.

For years, the Orioles have been serving up bitterness in an orange-and-black dish and the fans keep swallowing, because they've always loved this team. And because it's a slap to their family tradition to turn their back now in what - one can only hope - are the darkest days of a decade-long eclipse.

But this one, this one might be the worst of them all.dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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