(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
I was going to write a column on former Hog Joe Johnson and his recent spurning of the Phoenix Suns to sign with the hapless Atlanta Hawks.
That was the plan until I stumbled onto one of those stories that makes you stop what you’re doing and stare open-mouthed at the screen before a co-worker slaps you back into reality.
The story in question was of Rafael Palmeiro testing positive for steroids. Regular readers might think I’m being cynical – but the news really shocked me.
I thought Palmeiro was one of the good guys. He’s been a model citizen and player everywhere he’s suited up and he was a key witness in the congressional hearings earlier this year.
He said then that he had never used steroids and was so incensed he even wagged his finger at congress. Which now, in retrospect, seems kind of silly.
Just days after joining an elite group of three – now four – that includes Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray in the 3000 hit, 50 homer club, Palmeiro was busted for violating MLB’s new steroid policy.
But hold up, Raffy says he never “intentionally” took a banned substance, and that the arbitrator agreed, saying his testimony was “compelling”. I’m guessing it was compelling in the way that Michael Corleone’s testimony before congress was compelling when he said he had never been a member of “the mafia, or cosa nostra, or whatever other name you want to call it”.
While Palmeiro might not have “known” he was taking a steroid, I bet his trainer or nutritionist, or Doctor Feelgood knew.
And I’m almost sure that the substance was administered with a ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ which would enable the Orioles star to avoid the truth.
Palmeiro, 40, is currently the game’s biggest name to be busted so far.
He couldn’t explain how they got into his body, but in Jose Canseco’s tell-all, the former bash brother said he used to inject Raffy.
And quite frankly, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, considering that Palmeiro is on record as being down with certain performance enhancers. I’m sure you’ve already made up your own joke, but now those Viagra commercials starring Raffy seem like an omen of things that just passed.
But maybe we should believe Palmeiro. A White House spokesman said President Bush considers him a friend and believes that he didn’t intentionally take a steroid. And Bush is a true litmus test on who is honest. After all, Bush believed Karl Rove and Condoleezza Rice didn’t he?
Palmeiro will lose $163,000 for the 10 days he will be suspended, but this violation will cost him much more than that. This positive test will tarnish a sterling reputation that was built on one of the sweetest swings this side of Ted Williams.
He said in March that the entire era was “tainted” and “all I can do is keep playing the game with passion, and respect it”.
Maybe he will get the chance to rehab a 20-year career that was brought down with one five-minute test. Or maybe he’ll just wind up as another asterisk in what has become MLB’s nastiest scandal.