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January 5, 2011

Palmeiro reflects on career, failed drug test, Hall chances

At 2 p.m. today, the results of the 2011 Hall of Fame voting will be announced.

The guess is that Roberto Alomar will be elected -- albeit one year late. And so will Bert Blyleven, about a decade too late, but he’ll finally get the ultimate baseball reward.

The other one for us to keep an eye on around here is Rafael Palmeiro, who most likely won’t come close despite sparkling Hall of Fame credentials such as 3,020 hits, 569 homers and 1,835 RBIs. He also has one failed drug test -- and that’s going to wipe out the other stats -- at least for now.

I spoke at length to Palmeiro yesterday, and here are some of the things he said.

Raffy on his chances today: “I don’t know what to expect. From what I can gather, from what I see [on TV], my take on it is, yeah, it’s probably not going to happen. What can you do about it? There is not much I can do.”

Palmeiro has not wavered from his story about failing that drug test in 2005. He contends he never purposely used steroids -- as he told Congress in March of 2005. His only explanation for how the steroid stanozolol made it into his system was that the shot of liquid Vitamin B12 that he received from Orioles’ teammate Miguel Tejada must have been tainted.

“It’s not a story I made up. It is exactly what happened to me. I took B12 I got from a teammate, I took it to my house and my wife gave me an injection and I threw the stuff away and that was the end of it. … A week after the positive test, I took another test and it came back negative. Whatever was in my body was there for a short period of time and I played the rest of the season clean or whatever you want to call it. But I am sure that doesn’t matter, A positive test is a positive test.”

He feels his declaration before Congress -- complete with the now infamous finger point -- didn’t help his cause in the court of public opinion. But he said he doesn’t regret his actions that day.

“I think people hold that against me more than anything and maybe that hurts me, but I was adamant about it and about telling the truth. I could have done what Mark McGwire did. I didn’t have to speak. … Going through that with Congress, that wasn’t easy to do. It was intimidating and overwhelming and not at all easy to have to answer to the congressmen and congresswomen. And so then why would I go back and take steroids, especially knowing that tests had been going on for several years and specifically now that I know my name is out there? Why would I do anything like that? It doesn’t make sense.”

In retrospect, Palmeiro admits to making several mistakes. The big one was injecting something without getting it checked out first.

“That was my mistake, and that’s the one I have to live with for the rest of my life,” he said.

He said he had taken B12 shots before in his career -- mainly with the Texas Rangers -- and that it gave him a boost mentally and physically. And he wanted that with the grind of the early season, which included the steroids hearing and his looming 3,000th hit.

“Given the state of where my career was and where I was, it was very very stupid, I should have known better. I don’t need anything -- I never needed anything -- to play the game, to enhance my game. People saw my development as a player. I didn’t blow up to a 230-pound player. ... Obviously, I had a positive test, but for those who say I took [performance enhancers] all my career, they are full of it.”

Palmeiro said he has no problem with Hall of Fame voters who will not select him because he failed a drug test. In fact, he said his hopes are buoyed when he hears voters say that he has the credentials, but the positive test damages his chances. It’s the ones who say he is not worthy -- or that his numbers were inflated by steroids -- that bother Palmeiro.

“Look at my career as a whole and look at my steady, gradual production and how I improved as a player and my consistency. I was never anywhere near being the best ever, but I was good for a long time, I came prepared, put the work in and made sure I did the best I could."

As far as regrets, this is what Raffy said: “My biggest regret obviously is taking (the B-12 shot). And my second biggest regret is how I handled it. I wish I was out there the first day making the case that this is not what I did. … I got advice from lawyers, very expensive lawyers, that were pulling the strings. Some of my friends said, ‘Hey, you need to get out in front of the cameras and explain what happened.’ And I didn’t.’

The failed test will forever haunt him, he said.

“That’s the only thing I can think about, the only thing I can remember in my career. I mean, I remember all of it, but that’s the one thing that comes to mind, that dark spot in my career, in my life. My whole life was turned upside down. It is hard to look back on the good times, and there were a lot of good times.”

That’s why getting into the Hall of Fame means more to him now than he ever thought it would.

“I never played baseball to be a Hall of Fame player. It was never my goal or anything I wanted to obtain. It was just something that was out there. Now, it is very important. If it were to happen [Wednesday] or 50 years from now, it would be a tremendous honor. I may never in my lifetime see that day. Hopefully, I will.”

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Posted by Dan Connolly at 12:49 AM | | Comments (12)
        

Comments

Raffy was always one of my favorite Orioles, but I have a hard time believing it was a one time occurrence as a result of a B-12 shot.

On Hot Stove, they did a Prime 9 special of future locks for the HOF, and they had 3 guys on that list in ARod, Manny and Pudge that should be in the same boat as Raffy. Manny has failed twice, ARod admitted it, but the only guy that seems to get a pass is Pudge? He was pointed out by Jose along with Raffy and ARod. Is Jose an honorable man? No, but he hasn't been wrong. Bagwell has been talked about as a guy with HOF #s, but voters feel he used PEDs, but like with Pudge, no proof so it seems like the voters are picking and choosing based on allegations and whispers.

I also don't like the thought process of the voters, as it seems they are going with an approach of this guy would have been in the HOF without PEDs, which is pretty dam stupid! How can they say that with 100% certainty? If you let in one violator in, it's going to open up a bigger can of worms.

The two things that are extremely sad about the steroid era, are the players who were bypassed because voters compared them to guys like Manny, ARod, etc., and how the records that really stood the test of time till Roids came along, are now almost a joke!

Dan, can I put you in the hot seat? If you had a vote, would you vote for Raffy and any of the other violators?

---
Todd: I can't say I have a fool-proof way of deciding this; it's something we, as writers, are all wrestling with. My thought right now is to slightly devalue the power numbers for anyone who played in the Steroid Era. Stats such as homers, slugging percentage, etc. (It's trickier for pitchers) and really look more at the whole picture of the player's career. Therefore, guys who were fairly one-dimensional -- didn't hit for average, didn't get on-base impressively, didn't play strong defense, didn't have any baserunning skills, but hit lots of homers -- will have a harder time getting my support. Bottom line is I'd consider a Palmeiro or a Bonds before a McGwire or Sosa or a Manny perhaps. Again, it's a concept that I am kicking around. I don't want to put a blanket on everyone who played the game in the 1990s-2000s.

I think that the strongest argument that Palmero has is "why would I do that" - and frankly it is a convincing argument. He seems to be a smart guy, and after pointing his finger at congress he would have to be a complete fool to continue taking steroids knowing there was testing for it. The risk-reward does not make sense. Not saying he never took steroids, but his argument that he did not knowingly take it in 05 is pretty decent.

I agree that just a fraction of the probable users have been, or will ever be, exposed. The players of that era (20 years long perhaps ) might always be subject to rampant speculation. It may have been a somewhat level playing field , but not with respect to the history books, which makes baseball so unique.
Personally, i believe Canseco. He was universally vilified as whistleblowers often are, but has obviously gained much credibility so far. I'd like to hear more from him. Like who, for instance, is the roids user already in the HOF? Probably Ricky Henderson. But i digress.
As to Palmeiro's quote that GW Bush told him to "tell the truth and stick to it", it seems where truth is involved there is no need for the "stick to it" part. Also why would he have been nervous with Congress if he had nothing to hide ? And finally, anyone who watched him in his final year saw how inept he was in April, how small his forearms were and how big his jersey seemed as he struggled toward the final milestone. He had probably just received a random and decided the likelihood of another was slim. In any event, he was even more inept when he returned from the suspension.
Even if everything he says is true, the type of person who would throw a teammate under said bus like that is pretty lame, in my overly stated opinion.
Had he said, "yeah i used for a decade or more, those were the times we played in" i'd be more inclined to vote him in, but i doubt public opinion trends that way. Yet.


Re: PED's & HOF

This debate is frustrating. Do the writers, or the public, or other players, know who took how much and how often?

Do the voters/writers know if a player was a life-time user, a single season user, or a one time user?

Is there a complete and comprehensive list of players that failed? (no, "the list" is a "sample" and doesn't contain all the players...mush less all the players from that era...)

So voters/writers are now PHD chemists and can divine what each chemical did to each player? Foolishness!!!

It's foolish to think that with incomplete data any conclusions can be made one way or another.

The only choice's are NO PED user ever gets into the HOF...

or...

All players are evaluated regardless of PED's.

A-Rod goes in, but Raffy doesn't....how in the world is that right? What if A-Rod used every single day for years and years, and Raffy only once? Nobody knows the amounts, quantities, or length of use, so trying to separate one player from another is being willfully ignorant of the limits of deduction.

MLB did the writers no favors by allowing this to go on for so long unchecked. However, the writers knew before the general public and did themselves no favors either. In fact, when it was revealed the writers went after the writer who broke the story calling the Writer out!!! So much for Peter Gammon's belief that writers represent the MLB moral conscious.

The fact some writers think you determine which user was a HOF with or without PED use is stunning. Stunning. Writers should recognize the limits of their own abilities in getting to the bottom of this mess.

Dan - Your thoughts on how to judge these folks for HOF is spot on. Bonds/Clemens - no doubt - they were great regardless. McGwire - take away his HR's (or most of them) and he's just a poor man's Dave Kingman or Dick Stuart. They all aren't as easy as these but neither are judgments on those not believed to be tainted at all.

I am in the group that believes Raffy b/c like he says, why would he do something that stupid after being in front of Congress and with highly publicized testing going on in MLB at the time? The thing that really convinces me though is that he said Tejada gave him a tainted B12 vial. A few years later, Tejada is named as a steroids user. It would be one thing if Tejada was busted the same time Palmeiro was and it appeared that Palmeiro was using the convenient/easy scapegoat, but he essentially fingered Tejada for steroids 3 years prior to Tejada getting busted himself.

As for Raffy's numbers, I think they're more of a product of where he played the majority of his games during his career- OPACY, Ballpark in Arlington, and Wrigley Field; all 3 are well known hitters parks. In addition, you throw in expansion and watered down talent, a smaller strike zone, and juiced pitchers pitching to him, and it's a recipe for some gaudy numbers if you're a homerun hitter not on the juice.

I really don't think he did 'roids, and it sounds like he got great legal advice a la McGwire, but in the court of public opinion, it was awful advice.

Here's what I don't get: Raffy claims that injected "B12" given to him by a teammate, namely Miguel Tejada. If I remember correctly, the Sun reported that Miggy was very supportive of Raffy in the clubhouse after Raffy returned from his suspension. Why would Miggy allow Raffy to throw him under the bus like that if Raffy's story were not true?

Miguel Tejada, for all his talent and charisma, has a pretty checkered history of not being truthful.

I'm not saying that either of them is being truthful about his steroid use, but this alleged incident certainly paints at least one of them in a bad light.

I agree with Bruce above. At the time, when Raffy said Tejada gave him the shot that was probably tainted, it looked really bad for Raffy. But when Tejada gets nailed later on as a steroids user, it vindicates Raffy in my mind.

I liked Raffy and think his numbers should put him in the Hall.

Raffy belongs in the HOF. Remember that even MLB found his explanation for the positive test "compelling." And, as several other posters noted, why would he have done it? All he needed was that 3000th hit and that would have happened even in a mediocre season. #25 is one of the greatest 1B of all time and certainly one of the greatest Orioles. He needs to be in the Hall of Fame.

Why not just make a new wing at the Hall for "The Steroid Era"?

I don't buy the "tainted B12" story, but I also don't buy Raffy as a career user. I do believe that his positive test came from the one and only time that he used steroids, but I doubt his claim that he didn't know what it was. He absolutely knew what he was taking, and if he didn't know exactly what it was, he at least knew it was illegal.

That said, why punish a guy for life for one mistake? Maybe we shouldn't let these positive test guys in on the first ballot, but they should get in at some point. Sure, they cheated, and they gave themselves a massive advantage, but how is the steroid advantage any different than, say, the advantage that Babe Ruth had from not having to face Black, Latin and Japanese pitchers?

And since we're on the topic, why is Raffy a first-balloter (if not for steroids) while Jeff Bagwell is barely being considered?

Consider this:

Palmeiro: .288/.371/.515
Bagwell: .297/.408/.540

Palmeiro: 569 HR in 10472 AB, one every 18.4 AB
Bagwell: 449 HR in 7797 AB, one every 17.4 AB

Palmeiro: Four All Star selections
Bagwell: Four All Star selections

Palmeiro: Zero MVP Awards
Bagwell: One MVP Award

Palmeiro: Three Top 10 MVP finishes
Bagwell: Six Top 10 MVP finishes

Palmeiro: One positive steroid test
Bagwell: Zero positive steroid tests

So why is Bagwell getting the short end of the stick here? Because his shoulder gave out and he couldn't hit 51 more homers? Compare Bagwell's stats to say, Jim Rice's. And then consider that Bagwell played half of his games in the Astrodome, one of the noted pitchers parks in recent baseball history.

Jeff Bagwell should have been, without a doubt, a first ballot Hall of Famer. He was the National League's answer to Frank Thomas. A consummate professional who was the complete package of power, average and patience. Not to mention the fact that he was an excellent base runner and a solid defensive first baseman.

Don't want to listen to me?

How about Tim Kurkjian? http://www.examiner.com/houston-astros-in-houston/kurkjian-bagwell-is-a-hall-of-famer

Or Buster Olney? http://twitter.com/Buster_ESPN

A couple of his statements come across as slips of the tongue, to me anyway: "...and I played the rest of the season clean or whatever you want to call it." , "for those who say I took (performance-enhancers) ,all my career, they are full of it”. I think the best thing Raffy could do is just say, "I'm done talking about it, my career speaks for itself." Seems like a generally good guy, and his consistency tells the story. Dan, I think you're right on in distinguishing the standouts from the one dimensional types. Hopefully, he'll make it in one of these years.

Here's a devils advocate point of view for ya. Conventional wisdom is that many players were on roids at the time, and MLB management turned a blind eye to the problem because they liked the extra HRs. In that atmosphere, a player would be cheating themselves AND their employer by NOT taking roids. (Any player not taking roids would be at a competitive disadvantage compared to others who play his position... and if your employer tacitly condones taking roids, you're practically obligated to take them, if you want to maximize your productivity.)

Our disdain should be focused squarely on those who abdicated their responsibility to preserve the integrity of the game... namely, MLB upper management.

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About the bloggers
A Baltimore native, Dan Connolly has been covering sports for 14 years, and baseball and the Orioles for 10 seasons, including the past six with The Sun. His first year covering baseball on a daily basis was Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season as a player. It's believed that is just a coincidence.

Steve Gould is an assistant sports editor for The Sun, overseeing Orioles coverage. The Columbia native joined The Sun as a sports copy editor in 2006 after graduating from the University of Maryland.

Peter Schmuck has been covering baseball for a lot longer than Steve Gould has been on this earth. He is now a general sports columnist, but has been a beat writer covering three major league teams (the Dodgers, Angels and Orioles) and also spent a decade as the Sun's national baseball writer. If you want more of his insight on the Orioles and other sports issues, check out his personal blog -- The Schmuck Stops Here.


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